Monday, March 31, 2008

Bush gets loudly booed at Nationals home opener

Bush gets loudly booed at Nationals home opener

Or maybe they were yelling “Boooooosh!”?? We report, you decide.

video_wmv Download | Play video_mov Download | Play (h/t Scarce)

Cheney got a similar greeting in 2006.

ThinkProgress notes that Paul Lo Duca, the former NY Mets catcher who was mentioned 37 times in the Mitchell Report, was replaced by Manager Manny Acta to catch the first pitch.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Hillary and Obama Dance

Iraq Is Falling Apart

Iraq Is Falling Apart

And with all of King George’s horses and all of King George’s men, I don’t think we can put it back together again. I am so sick of hearing how the surge is working because a small discreet part of Baghdad is overmanned militarily.

One word: Basra. The Iraqi bloggers of Gorilla Guides are eyewitness to the devastation:

Parts of Basra were relatively quiet in the morning following the withdrawal of some fighters to the outskirts of the city however much of the city is seeing intensifying armed clashes. Eyewitness reports say that groups of Mahdi Army withdrew to the outskirts of the city after GZG forces backed by British tanks and US warplanes tried to eradicate them from areas that are strongholds of the Mahdi Army. Some witnesses confirmed that a group of the Mahdi Army captured two vehicles belonging to the GZG army type there are reliable reports that GZG barracks have been overrun.

One of our members in the city says that withdrawals appear to have been planned long before as part of a defense in depth strategy. Our members and contacts in city say that there is still a lot fighting going on. They also say that reports in the British media that british troops and aircraft are not involved in the fighting is a flat out lie and that British tanks are heavily involved. .

Udpate: [sic] The American war criminal Bush whose death squad in uniform called the U.S. armed forces are still trying to subjugate Irak and who have murdered innumerable Iraki Children women and men calls the carnage a “positive moment” you can read what he has to say for himself to the UK Times newspaper here.Tahseen al-Sheikhli one of the two main spokesmen for the “surge” was unavailable for comment because he has been kidnapped.

I considered editing the post to remove the reference to George Bush, but honestly, can you blame them for their characterization? These people do not think of American forces as liberators, no matter how many times that’s repeated on American TV.

There is too much and it is too difficult in this blog format to list all the reports of carnage, chaos and destruction, so click on the “Basra” link for multiple reports that shame all the media spin about the surge’s success, including the heart breaking report that the 9 year old brother of one of the bloggers passed away yesterday as a result of burns he received during an airstrike. His brother, Mohammed, author of this heartbreaking poem, already the victim of so much violence, survived being shot at while trying to carry his brother to the hospital.

Joshua Holland and Raed Jarrar write the Five Things You Need To Know To Understand The Latest Violence In Iraq.

Mourning Their Loss?

Mourning Their Loss?

I love Helen Thomas. Look how flustered she makes Perino.

Media Bloodhound watched this presser and Dana Perino’s assertion that Bush mourn every military loss and asked “Really?”

And how was our mourner-in-chief spending his day as our four thousandth soldier took one last breath in the sands of Iraq? Goofing around the White House and posing for pictures with a six-foot-tall Easter Bunny. No, really.

As Edward M. Gomez pointed out in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Noted the British newspaper the Daily Express yesterday: “Bush larked about with a 6-[foot-tall] Easter Bunny yesterday [Sunday, March 23] as his troops mourned their 4000th death in Iraq. The grim milestone was reached after four U.S. servicemen were killed when their patrol in southern Baghdad was hit by a roadside bomb on Easter Sunday. The president was pictured hugging the [Easter Bunny] at the White House as children…took over the South Lawn for the [annual] Easter Egg Roll….”

Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Violence Across Iraq Between US And Shiite Forces

Violence Across Iraq Between US And Shiite Forces

AP: Clashes Could
"Reverse Security Gains"

Dominos: How Bear Stearns default threatens the entire world financial system

Dominos: How Bear Stearns default threatens the entire world financial system

03/25/2008 @ 12:38 pm

Filed by Mike Aivaz and Muriel Kane

When we hear of turmoil in world financial markets, it can be difficult to understand how so much chaos can result from a relatively small number of defaults on individual home mortgages. Paul Solman, the business and economics correspondent for PBS's NewsHour, undertook to explain how those modest defaults could escalate to the point where they "now threaten the entire world financial system."

Solman began by noting that "the money you borrow to buy your home no longer comes from the local bank. It comes from investors from all over the world."

A firm like Bear Stearns buys up the mortgages on lots of houses, combines them into a pool, and sells slices of that pool to investors. This has been an attractive investment, because it offers a high rate of return, and it has also been considered extremely safe, because even if one mortgage defaults that will have little effect on the pool. With the US housing market booming thanks to the easy credit these deals opened up, it seemed there was no way that anyone could lose.

However, the problem was that "the more investors got into the act, the greater the pressure to lend." Lenders were competing with one another to offer more favorable mortgage terms. Eventually, new buyers had so little actually invested in their homes that if any problems arose, it was easiest to just walk away from both house and mortgage.

Making things worse, the return on these mortgage pools was so high that the big lenders began investing in them on their own, often using money borrowed at a lower rate from banks like Citicorp and JP Morgan. And the banks were also investing directly in securities backed by mortgages, credit cards, or auto loans. Even more investments went into so-called "derivatives," essentially side bets on these other loans.

Everybody wanted to get in on the action and nobody was using their own money, so the debts quickly multiplied from billions to trillions. And the only thing of real value holding up the whole house of cards was the homes owned by individual buyers. If the value of those homes drops -- as it now has -- and too many of the buyers walk away, the whole structure can collapse.

If that happens, as Solman explained, there's a further problem. "The world financial system runs on credit -- on paper promises. If big borrowers and lenders don't make good on those promises, panic can set in, and the biggest financial institutions in the world can find themselves under siege."

That sort of panic was the reason Bear Stearns became unsustainable. And if a firm like Bear Stearns goes down, its creditors -- the major banks -- can become unsustainable as well. That is why the federal government has stepped in to try to salvage the situation.

And, Solman concluded, "That's why they call it the domino effect."

The following video is from PBS's Jim Lehrer News Hour, broadcast on March 21, 2008.

Mondale issues blistering attack on Cheney

Mondale issues blistering attack on Cheney

Former Vice President Walter Mondale today accused the current vice president, Dick Cheney, of a wholesale assault on the Constitution, the balance of powers, and the system that evolved since World War II to coordinate intelligence and defense policy.

"They wrecked that system," Mondale said this morning at a University of Minnesota scholarly conference on the vice presidency.

This isn't some academic difference of opinion over the proper balance between branches of the federal government, Mondale said, during a question and answer session after his prepared remarks:

"I think this was a brutal, deliberate policy to ignore a wide range of written laws and constitutional principles and the legitimate powers of Congress…It's different than anything we've seen in American history and I think it ought to be seen not as two responsible positions, but ought to be seen as a dramatic challenge to American's system of government."

In the case that led to the conviction of Cheney's top aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Mondale said Cheney functioned as "an ideological enforcer, silencing dissent, punishing critics, to sustain a flawed war policy based on cooked facts. It's all there. Read the case."

Mondale challenged an occasional theme that arises in interpreting the Cheney vice presidency, holding that because Cheney had no presidential ambitions of his own, he was more useful and faithful to the president. On the contrary, Mondale argued, this freedom from higher political ambition freed Cheney to disrespect the Congress, the American people and the law.

Mondale said: "The other morning, Mr. Cheney was on 'Good Morning America.' A reporter asked him: 'Well, polls now show that two thirds of the American people are opposed to this war. Shouldn't that mean something?' And [Cheney] said, 'So?'

"Y'know, maybe he didn't say it correctly or say it the way he meant it. And I don't say that public opinion should govern everything. But public opinion deserves respect and the president and the vice president ought to be worried about it.

"I think our vice president ought to wake up every morning, like I did, wondering what he can do to enhance public support and respect. And I believe an election-free unaccountable vice president, clothed with some of the aura and power of the president may, as this vice president has, act as though he were beyond accountability to anybody but the president — beyond the reach of the Congress, the court, the press, the Constitution and the American people.

"It scares me and I think we ought to be thinking about it this fall as we pick a vice president."

In a blistering close to his 30-minute presentation at the Humphrey Institute for Public Policy, Mondale said that in looking back on his tenure as Jimmy Carter's vice president, he took pride in three claims: "We told the truth; we obeyed the law; and we kept the peace." The Bush-Cheney administration, Mondale said, "can't say any of that with a straight face about those first four years. And it's cost us terribly. Let's not make that mistake again."

Scholars views on Mondale, Cheney
It's not surprising that Mondale feels this way, and he has criticized Cheney publicly before. The event, sponsored by the Humphrey Institute's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance (CSPG) and the journal Presidential Studies Quarterly, was supposed to be about the upcoming choice of running-mates for the 2008. And the other scholars and former public officials who spoke devoted most of their remarks to the assigned theme.

But Mondale clearly decided to seize the occasion to go further, deeper and stronger than ever before into what must be described as his disgust with the way Cheney used the office that Mondale once held.

Mondale may have special standing on the topic. Scholars of the vice presidency are unanimous that he was a breakthrough figure in turning the office into an important part of the executive branch, based on an understanding that he reached with Carter. The same scholars agree that Cheney now holds the title of most powerful vice president ever. Mondale said he wasn't sure whether Cheney had Bush's agreement for some of the policies he pursued, or whether he had turned the vice presidency into an independent power center, a possibility that Mondale clearly thinks would be far outside the Constitution.

Mondale said his criticisms of Cheney had nothing to do with policy differences. He had no fundamental objections to the way other vice presidents have worked. While fielding questions from the audience and from Larry Jacobs, director of the CSPG, Mondale reiterated the criticisms he had made in his prepared remarks.

When Jacobs asked what the administration could do about the problem, Mondale replied: "It's not that difficult. If you're doing something that's against the law, stop it…We never thought we had the right to ignore laws that were clearly applicable to the president."

Although Mondale's strong word choices about what he sees as Cheney's abuses of power were consistent with many arguments made by those who argue for an impeachment drive against Cheney and/or Bush, Mondale explicitly rejected the idea, saying impeachment "just tears us apart — wouldn't get anywhere."

The second audio link below contains the question and answer session. Warning, it's about 30 minutes long and includes not only an expansion of Mondale's criticisms of Cheney and Bush, but also questions about likely running mates for this year's presidential nominees and other topics.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

U.S. policy in Iraq can lead to human rights abuses like those under British rule in last century, says Hebrew University researcher

U.S. policy in Iraq can lead to human rights abuses like those under British rule in last century, says Hebrew University researcher

U.S. policy in Iraq courting tribal leaders may be yielding positive results in combating al-Qaida and stabilizing the country, but may also be repeating British policy of the previous century which led to severe human rights abuses, particularly against women, says a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In an article being released in conjunction with Human Rights Week, now being marked around the world, Dr. Noga Efrati, head of the Iraq research group at the Hebrew University’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, reviews British tribal policy in Iraq from 1914-1932, during which Britain first occupied the country and then (from 1920) ruled it under mandate authority. Her article on the subject appears in a new book, Britain and the Middle East, to be published later this month

The British, who came to Iraq during the First World War in order to defend their interests in the region, sought to revive a disintegrating tribal system in order to control the vast rural areas of the country. To accomplish this, they appointed sheikhs as tribal leaders, granting them wide discretionary powers, including the settling of disputes via “tribal law.” This had an adverse effect particularly on women.

“Under the British mandate, rural women — the majority of women in Iraq — were not constructed as citizens of a modern state whose rights and liberties should be protected, but as tribal possessions, abandoned and left outside state jurisdiction,” Dr. Efrati writes in her article. Among other things, this meant that women could be offered in marriage to settle disputes or be forced to marry within their family. Even more serious was that the state had essentially legitimized "honor" murders.

The British maintained a “blind eye” toward these customs even though they were incompatible with both Islamic and Iraqi criminal law. "Tribal justice" could not be undermined lest it weaken the powers of the sheikhs who were serving British interests. Only in 1958, with the overthrow of the “old regime,” was the tribal justice system annulled. Even so, these practices did not disappear entirely and even achieved renewed recognition under Saddam Hussein, notes Dr. Efrati.

Like the British of yesterday, the Americans today are increasingly depending on local leaders to restore order. However, in its effort to break the Sunni insurgency, stabilize the country and bring about political progress, the Bush Administration should learn from the mistakes of its predecessors, says Dr. Efrati, and be aware of the severe consequences that will arise by leaving the administration of "tribal" affairs in the hands of local leaders. If women are again to become “tribal property” this will be yet another strike against their human rights; the very rights the U.S. set out to defend when it went to war.

The video that China doesn't want the world to see

The video that China doesn't want the world to see

This footage of the rioting in Tibet is raw and harrowing. It's also, for the most part, not being seen in China where authorities have blocked access to, which has many videos on Tibet.

The Internet as a liberating force? Not always.

The ability of Beijing to control information about the crisis points to the limitations of the big U.S. Web brands and others when news breaks that the Chinese government doesn't like. "There are a lot of people that think the Internet is going to bring information and democracy and pluralism in China just by existing," says Rebecca Mackinnon, assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism & Media Studies Center. "I think what we're seeing with this situation in Tibet is while the Chinese government's system of Internet censorship controls and propaganda is not infallible by any means, it works well enough in times of crisis like this."

The whole thing is a bloody mess as the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing draws near. I think a vast majority of people have no stomach for another boycott -- most Americans would rather defeat evil on the athletic field, as Jesse Owens did in Berlin in 1936, than take our ball and go home, as Jimmy Carter did in 1980. That said, I'd like to see freedom-loving people, from the U.S. and elsewhere, figure out how to make some kind of statement this August.

This is something:

PARIS (AP) - Moves to punish China over its handling of violence in Tibet gained momentum Tuesday, with a novel suggestion for a mini-boycott of the Beijing Olympics by VIPs at the opening ceremony.

Such a protest by world leaders would be a huge slap in the face for China's Communist leadership.

France's outspoken foreign minister, former humanitarian campaigner Bernard Kouchner, said the idea "is interesting."

The problem is that a more effective protest would be one mounted by athletes -- but that's banned under the Olympic charter (anyone remember this?). I think the VIPs should attend the ceremony -- and at the right moment all hold up signs in Mandarin calling for free speech and a free Tibet.

I'm sure we could convince Dick Cheney to do that.

Bush’s Legacy of Failure

Bush’s Legacy of Failure

Posted on Mar 18, 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Murtha endorses Clinton

U.S. Rep. Murtha endorses Clinton for president
Published: Tuesday March 18, 2008

MILLERSVILLE, Penn. - U.S. Rep. John Murtha, a leading congressional opponent of the war in Iraq, on Tuesday endorsed Hillary Clinton's presidential bid, saying her position on the war made her the best candidate to take over the White House.

Murtha, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, which holds a crucial presidential nominating contest next month, said Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady, was best placed to deal with the issues surrounding the war and the economy.

"Senator Clinton is the candidate that will forge a consensus on health care, education, the economy and the war in Iraq," he said in a statement.

He cited a speech Clinton gave on Monday in which she said withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq did not mean defeat.

"This week, she highlighted the policy failures in Iraq and addressed the real challenges we face in regards to rebuilding our military, restoring our readiness and fully preparing our armed forces to meet and deter future threats," the former Marine said.

"I know that Senator Clinton has a similar position that I have in regards to the war in Iraq," he said.

Clinton's Democratic opponent Barack Obama, a senator from Illinois, also favors withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq and has criticized Clinton for her vote giving President George Bush the authorization to go to war in the first place.

But Murtha said Clinton's experience gave her an edge.

"Her experience and careful consideration of these issues convinced me that she is best qualified to lead our nation and to bring credibility back to the White House."

The endorsement gives Clinton a boost in Pennsylvania, which she hopes to win handily in an effort to catch up with Obama's lead in pledged delegates who determine the Democratic nominee.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Country of Laws

Country of Laws

The Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, has resigned for being a longtime customer of a high-priced prostitution ring.

The President of the United States, George W. Bush, remains, disgracing his office for longtime repeated violations of the Constitution, federal laws and international treaties to which the U.S. is a solemn signatory.

In his forthright resignation statement, Eliot Spitzer—the prominent corporate crime buster—asserted that “Over the course of my public life, I have insisted, I believe correctly, that people, regardless of their position or power, take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself.”

In a recent speech to a partisan Republican fund-raising audience, George W. Bush fictionalized his Iraq war exploits and other related actions, and said that next January he will leave office “with his head held high.”

Eliot Spitzer violated certain laws regarding prostitution and transferring of money through banks—though the latter was disputed by some legal experts—and for such moral turpitude emotionally harmed himself, his family and his friends.

George W. Bush violated federal laws against torture, against spying on Americans without judicial approval, against due process of law and habeas corpus in arresting Americans without charges, imprisoning them and limited their access to attorneys. He committed a massive war of aggression, under false preteneses, violating again and again treaties such as the Geneva Conventions, the UN Charter, federal statutes and the Constitution.

This war and its associated actions have cost the lives of one million Iraqis, over 4000 Americans, caused hundreds of thousands of serious injuries and diseases related to the destruction of Iraq’s public health facilities. As the popular button puts it, "He Lied, They Died".

From the moment the news emerged about Spitzer’s sexual frolics the calls came for his immediate resignation. They came from the pundits and editorialists; they came from Republicans and they started coming from his fellow Democrats in the Assembly.

Speaker Sheldon Silver told Spitzer that many Democrats in the Assembly would abandon him in any impeachment vote.

George W. Bush is a recidivist war criminal and chronic violator of so many laws that the Center for Constitutional Rights has clustered them into five major impeachable “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” (under Article II, section .4)

Scores of leaders of the bar, including Michael Greco, former president of the American Bar Association, and legal scholars and former Congressional lawmakers have decried his laceration of the rule of law and his frequent declarations that signify that he believes he is above the law.
Many retired high military officers, diplomats and security officials have openly opposed his costly militaristic disasters.

Only Cong. Dennis Kucinich (Dem. Ohio) has publicly called for his impeachment.

No other member of Congress has moved toward his impeachment. To the contrary, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Dem. Calif.), Rep. Steny Hoyer (Dem. MD) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman, John Conyers (dem. Mich.) publicly took “impeachment off the table” in 2006.

When Senator Russ Feingold (Dem. Wisc.) introduced a Resolution to merely censure George W. Bush for his clear, repeated violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—a felony—his fellow Democrats looked the other way and ignored him.

Eliot Spitzer came under the rule of law and paid the price with his governorship and perhaps may face criminal charges.

George W. Bush is effectively immune from federal criminal and civil laws because no American has standing to sue him and the Attorney General, who does, is his handpicked cabinet member.

Moreover, the courts have consistently refused to take cases involving the conduct of foreign and military policy by the president and the Vice President regardless of the seriousness of the violation. The courts pronounce such disputes as “political” and say they have to be worked out by the Congress—ie. mainly the impeachment authority.

Meanwhile, the American people have no authority to challenge these governmental crimes, which are committed in their name, and are rendered defenseless except for elections, which the two Party duopoly has rigged, commercialized, and trivialized. Even in this electoral arena, a collective vote of ouster of the incumbents does not bring public officials to justice, just to another position usually in the high paying corporate world.

So, on January 21, 2009, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney will be fugitives from justice without any Sheriffs, prosecutors or courts willing to uphold the rule of law.

What are the lessons from the differential treatment of a public official who consorts with prostitutes, without affecting his public policies, and a President who behaves like King George III did in 1776 and commits the exact kinds of multiple violations that Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and other founders of our Republic envisioned for invoking the impeachment provision of their carefully crafted checks and balances in the Constitution?

Well let’s see.
First, Bush and Cheney are advised not to travel to Brattleboro or Marlboro Vermont, two New England towns whose voters, in their frustrated outrage, passed non-binding articles instructing town officials to arrest them inside their jurisdictions.

Second, George W. Bush better not go to some men’s room at an airport and tap the shoe of the fellow in the next stall. While one lame-duck Senator barely survived that charge, for the President it would mean a massive public demand for his resignation.

We certainly can do better as a country of laws, not men.

Spitzer's mouthpiece has his own secrets to hide

Spitzer's mouthpiece has his own secrets to hide
Peter Lance

As the sex scandal hurricane engulfed Eliott Spitzer last week, one of his closest advisors at the eye of the storm was Dietrich “Dieter” Snell. An ex U.S. Attorney from the same office conducting the prostitution probe, Snell is now defending Spitzer in the “Troopergate” scandal and reportedly raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees for the international law firm he joined last year.

A former Southern District prosecutor who later became Senior Counsel to the 9/11 Commission, Snell is also one of the ex Feds who rewrote history in the Commission’s “Final Report” by relying entirely on the tortured “confession” of 9/11’s purported “mastermind” to pinpoint the origin of the “planes as missiles” plot.

He’s the same investigator who dismissed as not “sufficiently credible” the testimony of a decorated Navy Captain who was part of a secret data mining operation that uncovered evidence of 9/11 hijackers in the U.S. more than a year before the attacks.

A former Deputy Attorney General under “the Sheriff of Wall Street,” Snell is now attempting to quash the subpoenas of investigators probing whether Spitzer misused state troopers to investigate his chief political rival, protecting his ex boss and mentor with a “separation of powers” defense worthy of Dick Cheney.

Despite Spitzer’s sudden flameout, there are currently three separate probes pending of Troopergate, the scandal that erupted when Spitzer’s aides reportedly used State Police to investigate the travel expenses of Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno.

The New York Daily News estimated that while the initial use of state resources to benefit Bruno was $72,000.00, the cost to the taxpayers of defending Spitzer, who refused to cooperate with the New York A.G.’s office, could amount to $1.54 million. And $400,000 of that figure will probably go to Snell’s law firm.

But from this reporter’s perspective it is Dieter Snell himself who ought to be in the hot seat answering questions, not about a petty state corruption probe but questions that go to the heart of the greatest mass murder in U.S. history: 9/11.

It was just four years ago Saturday, March 15th, 2004, when Snell led me into a windowless conference room at 26 Federal Plaza, the building that houses the FBI’s New York Office (NYO). It was then the temporary New York quarters of the 9/11 Commission’s staff.

Months earlier, Commission Chairman Gov. Tom Kean had read my first investigative book for HarperCollins, 1000 Years for Revenge, which presented probative evidence that Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the first WTC bombing in 1993, had designed “the planes” operation as early as the fall of 1994 in Manila and that his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) had merely carried out the plot after Yousef was captured in February of 1995.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), one of the top FBI oversight lawmakers on the Hill, had read the book and pronounced it a “must read for the FBI, Congress, the 9/11 Commission and anyone whose job it is to protect national security,” so Gov. Kean directed Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow to arrange for my testimony.

Cherry Picking the Evidence
But I was cautious. A source I had on the Commission staff told me that Zelikow and staffers on both side of the aisle were “cherry picking” the evidence, in an effort to remove Yousef, from the 9/11 scenario.

Why? Because as I’d reported in 1000 Years, the FBI’s NYO could have stopped Yousef in the fall of 1992 while he was building the 1,500 pound urea nitrate-formaldehyde device that he detonated on the B-2 level below the Twin Towers on February 26th, 1993, killing six and injuring 1000.

It was a plot directly funded by al Qaeda and tied to the cell around blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. If the Bureau’s elite Joint Terrorism Task Force had simply done its job and stopped Yousef then, he would never have executed the first attack on the Towers or escaped New York the night of the bombing to commence the 9/11 plot from Manila, half a year later.

1000 Years For Revenge contained probative evidence suggesting that prosecutors in the SDNY – including Dietrich Snell – had received evidence from the Philippines National Police (PNP) in early 1995 that, if acted upon, would have tipped the Feds to the 9/11 plot six years earlier.

Snell had prosecuted Yousef in 1996 for Bojinka, a non suicide plot to blow up airliners over the Pacific that was separate from the “planes as missiles” scenario, and as I saw it, he should have been called before the 9/11 Commission as a witness, testifying under oath about what he and other SDNY officials knew of this second suicide plot involving airliners.

The Fox and the Chicken Coop
Instead, Snell was given a senior Commission leadership role and put in charge of determining the single most important conclusion in the Commission’s investigation: the origin of the plot. Without knowing precisely when the plot began, no U.S. officials could be held accountable for failing to stop it.

So four years ago, when I learned that Snell would take my “testimony,” I was properly skeptical.

Also, my source had warned me that despite the televised public Commission hearings, and the appearance of transparency, more than 90 percent of the witness intake to the Commission had been anecdotal and unrecorded.

So I prepared my “testimony” ahead of time.

In the presence of an FBI agent assigned to the Commission staff, Snell sat across from me at a conference table. There was no stenographer or recording equipment present. The sandy-haired former AUSA took out a small spiral notebook and began to take notes as I read my statement.

Because I was writing a second book on the failures of the Feds on the road to 9/11, and because Snell had played such a key role in the prosecution of Yousef, I ended up asking him as many questions as he asked me.

I wanted to know why he had flown over eleven PNP officials to testify at the Bojinka trial but not Col. Rodolfo B. Mendoza, the top PNP investigator who had interrogated Yousef’s partner Abdul Hakim Murad, a pilot trained in four U.S. flights schools. It was Murad who was to have been the original lead pilot of the plot – the role later assumed by hijacker Mohammed Atta.

I wanted Snell to answer why he and other SDNY Feds had kept the hunt for KSM secret for more than two and a half years, only quietly passing his name to the press in January of 1998 when the plot was well underway, when they had arrested Yousef, his nephew, via a very public $2 million rewards program that had caused one of Ramzi’s cohorts to “rat him out.” Why not use the same method to capture his uncle KSM who was executing the “planes operation?”

“That’s Classified”
But each time I asked a question, Snell would smile and say, “That’s classified” or “I can’t discuss that.” At the end of my testimony I told him I would send along the transcript of my March 19, 2002 interview with Col. Mendoza, which documented Yousef’s creation of the planes-as-missiles plot in 1994.

I had evidence from the PNP that Yousef’s Toshiba laptop, passed on to the CIA in January of 1995, contained the full blown “9/11” plot, including seven targets: the WTC, the Pentagon, the White House, CIA headquarters, the Transamerica and Sears Towers, and an unnamed nuclear facility.

But as it turned out, that was evidence that Snell, as an alumnus of the SDNY, did not want to hear. Why? Because it corroborated the findings of the PNP that Ramzi Yousef was the architect of the 9/11 attacks and that, in turn, put blood on the hands of the FBI’s NYO for failing to stop him back in 1992.

Given Snell’s apparent bias, I sent the additional evidence directly to Commission co-chairman Tom Kean. In a cover letter, I asked him to make sure that it was a part of the permanent Commission record.

But when the Commission’s final report was published, that evidence was flushed – reduced to a single footnote that didn’t even mention Col. Mendoza by name, even though he was the investigator who had first uncovered Yousef’s suicide-hijack plot.

Rewriting History
In the Commission’s final Staff Statement #16, largely authored by Snell, the Commission removed Yousef from the “planes as missiles” plot and supported the fiction that the plot didn’t even begin to germinate until 1996, well after Yousef’s capture. The new finding, per Snell, was that KSM merely “pitched” the idea to Bin Laden in ’96 but it didn’t get a green light from the Saudi billionaire until 1998.

Worse, Snell and the staffers based their evidence for the origin of the plot entirely on the word of KSM, who we now know was subjected to waterboarding and torture in his interrogation.

Taking the sole word of KSM on the origin of the plot was a bit like taking the word of David Berkowitz for when he committed his first “Son of Sam” murder. But as the primary author of Staff Statement #16, the Commission’s last word on the plot origin, that’s what Dietrich Snell decided to do.

To this day, KSM’s questionable testimony has served to define the official record on the origin of the 9/11 plot, even though Snell himself admitted under oath, at the March 2005 German trial of an al Qaeda suspect, that he himself had never met Khalid Shaikh, that he’d merely submitted questions to KSM’s interrogators, and that he (Snell) had no control over how or even whether questions were asked.

Back on the Ides of March, 2004, as I left 26 Federal Plaza, I had no idea that a group of Army investigators in the year 2000 had been on a parallel investigative track to mine. But Snell would soon reject their evidence as well.

Discrediting the Able Danger Findings
In the early winter of 2000, a multi-million dollar data mining operation funded by the U.S. Army uncovered evidence that Mohammed Atta and three other 9./11 hijackers were present in the country months before the 9/11 Commission would conclude they’d arrived, thus making a number of U.S. agencies, including the FBI, culpable for their failure to stop them.

In the fall of 2003, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, a key player in what had been termed Operation Able Danger, told 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow of the Operation’s stunning findings during Zelikow’s visit to Afghanistan, where Shafer had been hunting bin Laden with Task Force 180.

By July 12th, 2004 as the Commission was wrapping up its investigation on the origin of the 9/11 plot, one of Shafer’s Able Danger colleagues, Capt. Scott Phillpott, met with a top Commission leader to corroborate Shafer’s findings.

The senior counsel he met with was Dietrich Dieter Snell.

Like Tony Shaffer’s account, Capt. Phillpott’s input about the al Qaeda connections to the New York cell of Sheikh Rahman would have defied the spin that Snell and the Commission staff had decided to sell.

Phillpott was a Navy veteran who had previously commanded three ships, a decorated veteran with immense integrity and reliability as a witness. But after the meeting, Snell spurned Phillpott’s evidence on the hijacker’s U.S. presence, and not a word of it showed up in the final Commission Report.

Nothing more might have come of it until August of 2005, when the New York Times broke the story of how tens of thousands of pages of Able Danger evidence had been ordered destroyed in March of 2000. The scandal grew, and by mid February 2006 the House Army Services Committee called Snell to testify.

Spitzer KO’s Snell Appearance
But on the day of the hearing, February 15th, 2006, it was learned that Eliott Spitzer himself had intervened with the Committee’s counsel to keep Snell from having to account under oath for his dismissal of the Able Danger evidence. Citing Snell’s “heavy workload” in New York, Spitzer got him a pass from having to testify.

During his tenure on the 9/11 Commission, pushing the “origin of the plot” forward to 1996 and ignoring the Able Danger evidence weren’t Snell’s only lapses.

As Larisa Alexandrovna pointed out in a RAW STORY piece on February 28th, citing Phil Shenon’s recent book, The Commission, Snell also seemed to defy his own staffers who wanted to explore the Saudi government’s ties to Omar al-Bayoumi.

Al-Bayoumi was the San Diego based Saudi defense contractor whose company had multiple contracts with Prince Sultan, the father of Saudi Arabia’s then U.S. ambassador Prince Bandar. The flamboyant Bandar was so tight with the Bush family that over the years he’d earned the nickname “Bandar Bush.”

As reported in Triple Cross, Bayoumi played host to two of the 9/11 muscle hijackers, al-Midar and al-Hazmi, who flew AA # 77 into the Pentagon on 9.11:

“…using their own names, al-Midhar and al-Hazmi jetted from Bangkok to Los Angeles on January 15th. There they were met by Omar al-Bayoumi a Saudi, suspected of being an intelligence officer, who had visited the Saudi consulate in L.A. the same day. After three weeks the two would-be hijackers moved to San Diego, where they lived openly for the next five months. During that period al-Bayoumi helped them get settled, finding them an apartment across from where he lived. It was later reported by Newsweek and the Washington Times that al-Bayoumi may have been the recipient of funds sent to his wife indirectly from Princess Haifa bin Faisal, wife of the then-Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar.
In Ms. Alexandrovna’s account for RAW STORY:

Bayoumi moved to London in 2001 and lived there until his arrest immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks. Following his release, Bayoumi returned to Saudi Arabia, where he was interviewed in October 2003 by the Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow, and Senior Counsel Dieter Snell.

Snell did not respond to requests for comment; Zeilkow could not be reached.

According to Shenon, several staff members working under Snell, “felt strongly that they had demonstrated a close Saudi government connection,” based on “explosive material” on al-Bayoumi and Fahad al-Thumairy, a “shadowy Saudi diplomat in Los Angeles.”

Shenon recounts how Snell, in preparing his team’s account of the plot, purged almost all of the most serious allegations against the Saudi government and moved the “explosive” supporting evidence to the small print of the report’s footnotes. (The Commission, pp. 398-399)

Two commission investigators who were working on documenting the 9/11 plot, Michael Jacobsen and Raj De, argued that it was “crazy” to insist on 100 percent proof when it came to al-Qaeda or the Saudi regime. In the end, however, and with a publishing deadline looming, Snell’s caution and Zelikow’s direction buried apparently promising leads.
Entering Private Practice
On April 30th, Snell left his job as Deputy Attorney General to join the law firm of Proskauer Rose, which has offices in seven U.S. cities as well as Paris, London and Sao Paulo. Within months, the firm had been retained by Spitzer’s office to defend him in the Troopergate scandal.

Last July, New York Attorney General Cuomo’s office issued a report finding that Spitzer’s staff had acted improperly but not illegally. But the Senate Committee’s probe is ongoing along with an investigation by the state’s Public Integrity Commission. Also, after closing his inquiry into Troopergate last year, Albany District Attorney David Soares has reopened it. On Thursday Snell charged Soares with continuing on a “fishing expedition” and acting as “grand jury and grand inquisitor.”

It was an ironic use of the term.

Elliott Spitzer prosecuted Wall Street white collar crime with the same venom he used on call girl services and high-end pimps. Using the Attorney General’s office as a state-based strike force against local, state, even national corruption, he redefined the modern day inquisition.

As Governor, he apparently saw himself in the same role. Last year he reportedly told Assembly Minority leader James Tedisco that he was “a fucking steamroller” who would “roll over” Tedisco “and anybody else.”

Steamroller or Sheriff, we now know that Spitzer also redefined the term hypocrisy.

On Tuesday after the New York Times broke the call girl story, Dietrich Snell, with a few key advisors, was reportedly holed up in Spitzer’s Fifth Avenue co-op working on the damage control. In defense of Spitzer, and reportedly billing the public for his hours, he continued the spin in court on Thursday.

Disgraced and out of office, it’s time that Spitzer made a full accounting of his public sins along with his private ones. In the process, his loyal retainer and counsel Dietrich Snell needs to come clean as well.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Opportunity Destroyed - How the Iraq War's $2 Trillion Would Have Helped Entire Planet

Opportunity Destroyed - How the Iraq War's $2 Trillion Would Have Helped Entire Planet

By Craig and Marc Kielburger
Jan 21, 2008

January 21, 2008 - In war, things are rarely what they seem. Back in 2003, in the days leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon adamantly insisted that the war would be a relatively cheap one. Roughly $50 billion is all it would take to rid the world of Saddam Hussein, it said.

We now know this turned out to be the first of many miscalculations. Approaching its fifth year, the war in Iraq has cost American taxpayers nearly $500 billion, according to the non-partisan U.S.-based research group National Priorities Project. That number is growing every day.

But it's still not even close to the true cost of the war. As the invasion's price tag balloons, economists and analysts are examining the entire financial burden of the Iraq campaign, including indirect expenses that Americans will be paying long after the troops come home. What they've come up with is staggering. Calculations by Harvard's Linda Bilmes and Nobel-prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz remain most prominent. They determined that, once you factor in things like medical costs for injured troops, higher oil prices and replenishing the military, the war will cost America upwards of $2 trillion. That doesn't include any of the costs incurred by Iraq, or America's coalition partners.

"Would the American people have had a different attitude toward going to war had they known the total cost?" Bilmes and Stiglitz ask in their report. "We might have conducted the war in a manner different from the way we did."

It's hard to comprehend just how much money $2 trillion is. Even Bill Gates, one of the richest people in the world, would marvel at this amount. But, once you begin to look at what that money could buy, the worldwide impact of fighting this largely unpopular war becomes clear.

Consider that, according to sources like Columbia's Jeffrey Sachs, the Worldwatch Institute, and the United Nations, with that same money the world could:

* Eliminate extreme poverty around the world (cost $135 billion in the first year, rising to $195 billion by 2015.)

* Achieve universal literacy (cost $5 billion a year.)

* Immunize every child in the world against deadly diseases (cost $1.3 billion a year.)

* Ensure developing countries have enough money to fight the AIDS epidemic (cost $15 billion per year.)

In other words, for a cost of $156.3 billion this year alone – less than a tenth of the total Iraq war budget – we could lift entire countries out of poverty, teach every person in the world to read and write, significantly reduce child mortality, while making huge leaps in the battle against AIDS, saving millions of lives.

Then the remaining money could be put toward the $40 billion to $60 billion annually that the World Bank says is needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, established by world leaders in 2000, to tackle everything from gender inequality to environmental sustainability.

The implications of this cannot be underestimated. It means that a better and more just world is far from within reach, if we are willing to shift our priorities.

If America and other nations were to spend as much on peace as they do on war, that would help root out the poverty, hopelessness and anti-Western sentiment that can fuel terrorism – exactly what the Iraq war was supposed to do.

So as candidates spend much of this year vying to be the next U.S. president, what better way to repair its image abroad, tarnished by years of war, than by becoming a leader in global development? It may be too late to turn back the clock to the past and rethink going to war, but it's not too late for the U.S. and other developed countries to invest in the future.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are children's rights activists and co-founded Free The Children, which is active in the developing world. Online: Craig and Marc Kielburger discuss global issues every Monday in the World & Comment section. Take part in the discussion online at

Don't Drink the Water: Going Beyond Naive Health Coverage

Don't Drink the Water: Going Beyond Naive Health Coverage

Millions of people, (down to young children prescribed psychiatric medications) take meds, but those who don't got the bad news this week that they too are unwillingly imbibing a weird chemical brew of multiple meds.

Delving past the official denials and half-truths, an Associated Press team of reporters (in a rare and laudable example of true investigative health journalism) found that 41 million Americans drink water contaminated by antidepressants, hormones, heart medications and other prescription and over the counter meds. The substances excreted by those taking them end up in the water supply. Standard water treatment methods don't remove them.

Scientists don't know how small quantities of a wide variety of agents never intended to be taken together interact in our bodies, or among themselves, where unintended toxic synergies can result.

But many fear to face the truth about the presence of chemicals within each of us.

In Bill Moyers' 2001 PBS special Trade Secrets, testing revealed that Moyers had a eighty-four different chemicals in his bodily tissues. But until mass use drives down testing costs, few can afford similar tests.

What we don't know could be hurting us but don't count on reading all about it.

Unlike Moyers and the AP team, health coverage rarely probes the interconnection between personal and environmental health. Most coverage is at a third grade level, but unfortunately true health information isn't.

So what we get is a media that purveys the latest research finding as "objective proof," overlooking the vested interests that typically pay for the research, and quickly bury studies that don't support the sponsor's intended product claims.

Scrutiny is called for. In a number of federal regulatory agencies with oversight on food and health, so-called public servants regularly traipse to and fro the industries they supposedly regulate.

For example, aspartame, a known neurotoxin, gained FDA approval when Donald Rumsfeld (then Chairman of Searle, the aspartame patent holder) reportedly played a role in the appointment of Reagan's FDA commissioner. Soon after breaking a tie at the panel that approved aspartame, this commissioner left the FDA, going on to serve as the PR czar for the companies producing aspartame.

Few journalists face up to a compromised policy context. Nevertheless, it shapes what's regulated, what's studied, how it's studied, what's regarded as "proof" in a study, what's stamped as "safe," and what's targeted as "dangerous," and what makes it on to a label and into our bodies, food supply, water supply, and the earth.

Instead of navigating this complex context, the health media either proffers "health tips" or offers information uncritically as if it descended from a scientific ivory tower, untainted by economic interest.

All of these factors meet in addressing the widespread contamination of the water supply.

As researchers attempt to get their hands around the problem, standard health science research may prove inadequate. Our current research model was developed to target substances patentable as drugs, not to explore the complexity of the human organism and the multiple influences (biochemical, psychological, and spiritual) upon it.

Researching only a single agent (as either cause or treatment) overlooks three factors:

A. Biochemical individuality, which causes people to react differently to various agents.

B. Multi-factorial impacts, in which multiple agents act together synergistically, or in unpredictable ways, beyond the limits of single agent testing to identify.

C. Environmental impacts

If many factors act in synergy to produce harm, testing only one, as we commonly do "proves" nothing. Although each individual drug in our water supply is "proven safe" for use by certain people, research into a single agent fails to deal with the real health dangers posed by multiple agents. Understanding multipliers will force as reassessment of the assumption that the earth and its creatures, including us, have infinite capacity to dilute whatever is poured into us.

"The chemical stress that's put on any organism is the result of minute stresses of a multitude of chemicals," says Christopher Daughton, the EPA's chief of environmental chemistry in a recent article in Chemical and Engineering News on the impact of drugs in water on wildlife, which has resulted in the feminization of certain species of fish, whose males now bear eggs.

It's the job of health reporting to connect the dots on some of these realities, and their attendant risk to human, animal, and global health.

But if instead you next read headlines about a study that refutes any potential health problem from drug contaminated water, don't forget:

Deniability has a bottom line: the hefty price tags for the clean-up and health harm. Unless well-informed people call for a collective accounting for health risks and impacts, individuals will be forced to dig into their own pockets to cover the damages. Those interested in collective health journalism and action can sign up at:

Bomb Kills 39 in Iraqi City of Karbala

BAGHDAD — A female suicide bomber attacked a group of Shiite worshippers near a mosque in Karbala on Monday, killing at least 39 people and wounding 54, officials said.

The worshippers were gathered at a sacred historical site about half a mile from the Imam Hussein shrine, one of the holiest sites for Shiites.

Karim Khazim, the city's chief health official, said the 39 dead included seven Iranians.

Police said the attacker was a woman but provided no other immediate details. Karbala is located about 50 miles south of Baghdad.

Police closed the area around the twin golden dome mosques and blocked all roads leading to the sites. The site includes tombs of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson who was killed in a seventh-century battle, and his half brother, also a Shiite saint.

Ali Hassan, 30, a clothing merchant who was wounded in the blast, said he was standing near his stall "when I heard a big explosion and I felt strong fire throwing me in the air."

"The only thing I know is there was a big explosion and I saw bodies flying in the air," said Hassan Khazim, 36, who was wounded in the face. "All the tight security measures designed to protect us were in vain."

Separately, a roadside bomb killed two U.S. soldiers Monday as they were clearing a route north of Baghdad, the military said.

The violence came as Vice President Dick Cheney and Arizona Sen. John McCain made overlapping visits to the capital, touting recent security gains and promising to uphold a long-term military commitment to the country so long as al-Qaida in Iraq is not defeated.

Explosions also struck earlier Monday not far from Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, shortly after Cheney arrived. Helicopter gunships circled central Baghdad, but no other details were immediately available on the cause of the explosions.

McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate for president who has linked his political future to military success in Iraq, met Monday with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shortly before the Iraqi leader began separate talks with Cheney.

Al-Maliki said he and the vice president discussed ongoing negotiations over a long-term security agreement between the two countries that would replace the U.N. mandate for foreign troops set to expire at the end of the year.

"This visit is very important. It is about the nature of the relations between the two countries, the future of those relations and the agreement in this respect," the prime minister told reporters. "We also discussed the security in Iraq, the development of the economy and reconstruction and terrorism."

McCain stressed it was important to maintain the U.S. commitment in Iraq, where a U.S.-Iraq military operation is under way to clear al-Qaida in Iraq from its last urban stronghold of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

"We recognize that al-Qaida is on the run, but they are not defeated," McCain said after meeting al-Maliki. "Al-Qaida continues to pose a great threat to the security and very existence of Iraq as a democracy. So we know there's still a lot more of work to be done."

McCain, who arrived in Iraq on Sunday, told reporters that he also discussed with the Shiite leader the need for progress on political reforms, including laws on holding provincial elections and the equitable distribution of Iraq's oil riches.

At a news conference with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, Cheney said that given the nearly 4,000 U.S. troop deaths and billions of dollars spent on the war, it is very important that "we not quit before the job is done."

Cheney credited reductions in violence to President Bush's decision to deploy an additional 30,000 troops to the war zone. He said one of Bush's considerations in whether to draw back more than the 30,000 before he leaves office will be whether the U.S. can continue on a track toward political reconciliation and stability in Iraq.

"It would be a mistake now to be so eager to draw down the force that we risk putting the outcome in jeopardy," said Cheney, on an unannounced visit to Iraq. "And I don't think we'll do that."

Violence has dropped throughout the capital with the U.S. troop buildup as well as a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq and a cease-fire by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

The U.S. military has said attacks have fallen by about 60 percent since last February.

McCain, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was accompanied by Sens. Joe Lieberman, an independent, and Republican Lindsey Graham, two top supporters of his presidential ambitions. The weeklong trip will take McCain to Israel, Britain and France.

Police said they found the bodies of three members of a U.S.-allied group fighting al-Qaida in Udaim, 70 miles north of Baghdad. Members of the mostly Sunni groups have been increasingly targeted by suspected al-Qaida members seeking to derail the recent security gains.

A bomb in a parked car in Baghdad's central Karradah neighborhood killed three civilian bystanders and wounded nine, police said, while a separate roadside bomb in eastern Baghdad killed one and wounded three others.


Associated Press writers Bushra Juhi and Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.

Was a political operative behind the fall of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer?

Intrigue: Novak suggests GOP operative behind Spitzer fallJohn Byrne

Was a political operative behind the fall of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer?

That's the suggestion in a Sunday column by conservative columnist Robert Novak. A Republican operative, he's found, predicted the governor's fall specifically -- several months in advance.

"Republican political operative Roger Stone, Eliot Spitzer's longtime antagonist, predicted his political demise more than three months in advance," Novak writes. "Spitzer's entrapment by federal authorities investigating a prostitution ring raised speculation that Stone, with a 40-year record as a political hit man, somehow was behind it."

"Eliot Spitzer will not serve out his term as governor of the state of New York,'' Stone said Dec. 6 on Michael Smerconish's radio talk show," Novak added. "He gave no details."

Novak's post was titled "GOP strategists at work."

In an interview last week, Stone cheered the governor's demise, and hinted further that he'd known about the governor's fall.

"I didn't make him go to a prostitution ring," Stone told a Newsday columnist Mar. 12. "He did that all on his own."

Asked whether he had a hand in Spitzer's woes, Stone said, "No comment."

"I will say I knew it was coming," he added. "That's why I wasn't too upset about the results of the special election," where a Democrat won control of a formerly Republican seat in the State Senate, where the Republicans have a one-vote margin.

Speaking of the scandal Stone added cryptically: "My work isn't done there. Just watch."

Stone now runs an anti-Clinton political 527 group, Citizens United Not Timid, the acronym of which has sparked fury among liberal groups.

Alan Dershowitz, writing last week in the Wall Street Journal, averred that the story of Spitzer's 'capture' doesn't entirely ring true to career prosecutors.

"There is no hard evidence that Eliot Spitzer was targeted for investigation, but the story of how he was caught does not ring entirely true to many experienced former prosecutors and current criminal lawyers," Dershowitz wrote. "The New York Times reported that the revelations began with a routine tax inquiry by revenue agents 'conducting a routine examination of suspicious financial transactions reported to them by banks.' This investigation allegedly found 'several unusual movements of cash involving the Governor of New York.' But the movement of the amounts of cash required to pay prostitutes, even high-priced prostitutes over a long period of time, does not commonly generate a full-scale investigation."

"We are talking about thousands, not millions, of dollars. We are also talking about a man who is a multimillionaire with numerous investments and purchases," he added. "The idea that federal investigators would focus on a few transactions to corporations -- that were not themselves under investigation -- raises as many questions as answers."

Ben Stein deeply disturbed by Spitzer investigation

Ben Stein deeply disturbed by Spitzer investigation

03/16/2008 @ 9:51 pm

Filed by Nick Langewis and David Edwards

"Like every other American, I was stunned by the fall of Eliot Spitzer," opens Nixon speechwriter, notable Brat Pack-era cinema actor, comedian, lawyer and former game show host Ben Stein.

Stein is troubled by what he calls the actions of a few "nosy civil servants" using evidence gained from wiretaps to unravel the career of the outgoing New York Governor, and undo a majority vote by the people of New York.

"Something sinister is happening," he says, "and it scares me."

"Men hire prostitutes by the thousands," Stein continues, "maybe tens of thousands, every day. They also bring women across state lines for sex every day.

"The punishment for the men who hire hookers is usually nil, or at most, a small fine, close to what you'd get for a traffic ticket."

Spitzer, on the other hand, was humiliated and run out of office as punishment, with Stein protesting a small number of federal officials having what he essentially calls veto power over the electoral process. Spitzer, he continues, has been stripped of his career for something picked up on a wiretap that was not a high crime like terrorism or treason.

"Having elected officials kicked out of office by appointed officials is a very dicey proposition," argues Stein.

He concludes: "Elections are a lot more important than call girls."

Stein's entire monologue, as aired on CBS's Sunday Morning on March 16, 2008, is available to view below.

The Second 9/11

Marty Kaplan

My Goat Ate the Economy

If George W. Bush had read The Pet Goat to his Economic Club of New York audience on Friday, his speech would have been no less infantile. If the first 9/11 was caused by a massive failure of intelligence about terrorism, the second 9/11 -- the slow-motion collapse of the American, and maybe the global, economy -- has been caused by a catastrophic failure of intelligence about Wall Street rapacity. If the now five-year-old Iraq war was the inevitable, tragic consequence of the neoconservatives' Project for the New American Century, then the subprime mortgage quagmire, the Bear Stearns bailout, and the foreclosure fiasco are the foreordained outcome of the Republican ideology which holds that regulation of corporate financial behavior is the domestic equivalent of Islamofascism.

The economic meltdown is the new 9/11, and it's George W. Bush's fault -- his, and the fundamentalist free-marketeers who have been living high on the hog, feeding at the public trough, intimidating Democrats, and getting away with capitalist murder ever since Ronald Reagan made "government" a dirty word.

"An interesting time," Bush called it at the Economic Club. That's the financial version of Rumsfeld's "stuff happens" analysis when rioting and looting engulfed Baghdad. (Will the media celebrate that five-year anniversary, too?) Every cocky corporate titan who has been caught in flagrante delicto has been written off by Republicans as an isolated exception. Every ingenious, computer-assisted Ponzi scheme has turned out, Milton Freedman be praised, to be legal. Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling? A couple of bad apples. Pump and dump? In the eye of the beholder. Slice-and-dice derivatives? As patriotic as a flag lapel pin.

"Moral hazard" is a term given currency by today's subprime mortgage crisis. It means that people will take a stupid risk if they believe they won't have to pay a price if things go sour. Years ago, during the savings and loan crisis, the principle of moral hazard was front and center; gamblers like Neil Bush, of Silverado Savings and Loan, flourished because buccaneers of his ilk were protected from the downside of their speculation by no-fault taxpayer-funded insurance. (No doubt that's what his brother the President meant in his first inaugural about ushering in an era of personal responsibility.) Today, the Fed's rescue of Bear Sterns -- the poster child of Wall Street greed and recklessness -- has brought "moral hazard" back to the fore. Bear Stearns says these guiding principles are the blueprint for how it does business: "respect, integrity, meritocracy, innovation and a commitment to philanthropy." In the wake of the bailout, maybe they should switch their motto to Alfred E. Newman's: "What, Me Worry?"

"Moral hazard" is how we got into Iraq. Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule -- "you break it, you own it" -- is wrong. Bush broke Iraq, but we own it. Just as we, the taxpayers, are being forced to pay for the crockery broken by the Bush Party on Wall Street, we -- the taxpayers, the soldiers, their families, and America's reputation in the world -- are being forced to pay the price for the hubris of the neocon "freedom agenda." Is it too farfetched to compare Bush's pardon of Scooter Libby with Ben Bernanke's pardon of Bear Stearns? If you want to see why the insane risks of invading Iraq seemed so tolerable to the White House, look no farther than the unitary executive, the signing statements, and an opposition that would take impeachment off the table.

Toxic dumps are required to have warning signs on them. It would be fitting if schoolchildren saw a mandatory DANGER: MORAL HAZARD notice when, on a day that can't come too soon, they enter the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

Friday, March 14, 2008

JP Morgan and NY Federal Reserve bail out Bear Stearns

JP Morgan and NY Federal Reserve bail out Bear Stearns
by Chris in Paris ·

Oh sorry, we don't do bailouts for Wall Street. Isn't that what Paulson told us? Why are American taxpayers funding the stupidity and greed of Wall Street?
JPMorgan Chase says that in conjunction with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York it will provide temporary funding for Bear Stearns.

The funding will be provided as necessary for up to 28 days. During that time, JPMorgan Chase will also help Bear Stearns find permanent financing.

Bear Stearns says its liquidity significantly deteriorated over the past day and the temporary funding will help it continue operating normally. The investment bank added there is no guarantee any permanent strategic alternatives will be successful.

House passes improved FISA bill without retroactive telecom immunity

House passes improved FISA bill without retroactive telecom immunity
by Joe Sudbay (DC) · 3/14/2008 02:38:00 PM ET · Link

From The Gavel:
The House has just passed the House amendment to the Senate amendment to H.R. 3773, to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to establish a procedure for authorizing certain acquisitions of foreign intelligence, and for other purposes, by a vote of 213-197-1. The revised House legislation to amend FISA grants new authorities for conducting electronic surveillance against foreign targets while preserving the requirement that the government obtain an individualized FISA court order, based on probable cause, when targeting Americans at home or abroad. The House bill also strongly enhances oversight of the Administration’s surveillance activities. Finally, the House bill does not provide retroactive immunity for telecom companies but allows the courts to determine whether lawsuits should proceed.
This is the version of the FISA bill Bush threatened to veto.

has a good wrap up of who did what to make this happen (and I would say McJoan deserves a lot of credit, too.)

GOP scam

GOP Group: Ex-Treasurer Diverted Up To $1M

The former treasurer for the National Republican Congressional Committee diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars -- and possibly as much as $1 million -- of the organization's funds into his personal accounts, GOP officials said yesterday, describing an alleged scheme that could become one of the largest political frauds in recent history.

For at least four years, Christopher J. Ward, who is under investigation by the FBI, allegedly used wire transfers to funnel money out of NRCC coffers and into other political committee accounts he controlled as treasurer, NRCC leaders and lawyers said in their first public statement since they turned the matter over to the FBI six weeks ago.

"The evidence we have today indicated we have been deceived and betrayed for a number of years by a highly respected and trusted individual," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the NRCC chairman.[...]

The magnitude of the alleged fraud staggered Republicans, who are bracing for the final accounting from the forensic audit in six to eight weeks. Many said they expect a total far greater than the minimum cited yesterday.

Keep reading

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Carlyle Fund's Assets Seized

Carlyle Fund's Assets Seized

Leaders Fail to Stop Securities Sell-Off

A publicly traded affiliate of the Carlyle Group said yesterday that lenders were seizing its assets, sending the fund, Carlyle Capital, into insolvency.

The collapse of Carlyle Capital is the first time a Carlyle Group fund has failed and is a stinging embarrassment for the District private-equity powerhouse, which has built an international reputation with a client list that reaches around the world.

The high-profile downfall, part of the broad turmoil in credit markets worldwide, followed a week of frantic negotiations between the Carlyle Group and a number of lenders. Carlyle Group's three founders as recently as Monday were considering injecting cash into the fund as a way to usher it through the credit crisis.

By yesterday the fund had defaulted on $16.6 billion of debt and said it expected to default soon on its remaining debt. The fund's $21.7 billion in assets were exclusively in AAA mortgage-backed securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, traditionally considered secure and conservative investments, which it was using as collateral against its loans.

In a statement, Carlyle Capital said that it had been unable to meet margin calls in excess of $400 million over the past week and that it expected its lenders to take control of its remaining assets. The lenders, headed by Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan Chase, began selling the securities last night, according to a report on the Wall Street Journal's Web site.

The problems at Carlyle Capital have preoccupied the top leaders at Carlyle Group. The firm's founders, David M. Rubenstein, William E. Conway Jr. and Daniel D'Aniello, had been in meetings with lenders in an effort to resolve Carlyle Capital's problems, not only to protect their own investment and that of employees who have put millions of dollars into the company, but also to preserve Carlyle's Midas-touch reputation.

Forbes magazine last year estimated Carlyle's three founders to each be worth about $2.5 billion.

Carlyle Capital is incorporated on Guernsey, an island in the English Channel, and is traded on Amsterdam's Euronext exchange.

The fund was set up in August 2006 with roughly $670 million in cash from Carlyle's owners and other investors, and about $300 million in additional capital raised from a public stock sale.

The capital allowed the fund to go to banks and borrow far more, leveraging its cash investment some 20 times into the portfolio.

Carlyle Capital's prospects were dimmed by the same doubts that have upended securities linked to riskier subprime mortgages, namely whether the underlying assets were losing value and whether the homeowners would continue to make their payments.

As the market value of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities has dropped, Carlyle Capital's lenders asked it to increase its cash equity from what was 1 percent to as much as 5 percent. An increase of that amount on $20 billion in loans amounts to several hundred million dollars.

The Carlyle Group last summer loaned Carlyle Capital $150 million to cover debt obligations.

Conway and Rubenstein were in New York much of this week, accompanied by a team of Carlyle Group insiders, including the company's chief financial officer, negotiating a "standstill" agreement with lenders as they tried to work out a financial solution.

The agreement would have stopped lenders from foreclosing on loans they made to Carlyle Capital.

Carlyle Capital stock closed at $2.80 in Amsterdam yesterday before the announcement, off 89 percent from its peak.

FBI Privacy Abuses

Audit to cite FBI privacy abuses

Justice Department Audit to Outline Privacy Abuses, Cite Steps to Prevent Them
The FBI improperly obtained personal information about Americans as part of terrorism investigations in 2006, but steps were taken by the agency to prevent future privacy abuses, an upcoming Justice Department report says.

The long-anticipated audit, to be released Thursday, is expected to show a fourth consecutive year of privacy breaches by FBI agents using so-called national security letters to gain access to telephone, e-mail, and financial records of Americans and foreigners without a judge's approval.

Officials familiar with the report say it will note that the lapses all took place before the FBI and Justice Department enacted broad new reforms in March 2007 aimed at protecting individual privacy rights.

The report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine follows a similar audit he released last year. That report found 48 violations of law or rules during 2003-2005 in the bureau's use of national security letters.

Fine estimated that there could be 3,000 more such violations among the more than 143,000 FBI requests for information during that period.

Additionally, last year's audit found that the FBI had underreported to Congress how many national security letters were requested by more than 4,600. Fine blamed agent error and shoddy record-keeping for the bulk of the problems and did not find any indication of criminal misconduct.

Thursday's audit largely is expected to mirror last year's findings, FBI Director Robert Mueller said in Senate testimony last week.

National security letters, as outlined in the USA Patriot Act, are administrative subpoenas used in suspected terrorism and espionage cases.

Following last year's audit, the Justice Department enacted guidelines that sternly reminded FBI agents to carefully follow the rules governing national security letters. The new rules caution agents to review all data before it is transferred into FBI databases to make sure that only the information specifically requested is used.


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