Iraq war and occupationState Department officials say they are open to let more Iraqi refugees into the US, but they are limited by a cumbersome and poorly financed United Nations referral system. "We're not even meeting our basic obligation to the Iraqis who've been imperiled because they worked for the US government," says Kirk Johnson, who worked for the United States Agency for International Development in Fallujah in 2005. "We could not have functioned without their hard work, and it's shameful that we've nothing to offer them in their bleakest hour." Currently, 1.8 million Iraqis have fled the country, and the number is rising every day.
Iraq war and occupationVirtually no Senate Democrats besides "Independent Democrat" Joe Lieberman support the idea. "It's Alice in Wonderland," says Republican senator Chuck Hagel. "I'm absolutely opposed to sending any more troops to Iraq. It is folly." Novak says the division in the GOP over Iraq is indicative of a similar split in the Republican Party on more general, political grounds. Novak writes, "Disenchantment with George W. Bush within the GOP runs deep. Republican leaders around the country, anticipating that the 2006 election disaster would prompt an orderly disengagement from Iraq, are shocked that the president now appears ready to add troops." Of the escalation, Novak writes, "I checked with prominent Republicans around the country and found them confused and disturbed about the surge. They incorrectly assumed that the presence of Republican stalwart James Baker as co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group meant it was Bush-inspired (when it really was a bipartisan creation of Congress). Why, they ask, is the president casting aside the commission's recommendations and calling for more troops? Even in Mississippi, the reddest of red states, where Bush's approval rating has just inched above 50 percent, Republicans see no public support for more troops. What is happening inside the president's party is reflected by defection from support for his war policy after November's election by two Republican senators who face an uphill race for reelection in 2008: Gordon Smith of Oregon and Norm Coleman of Minnesota."
Conservative media slantThe incorrect graphic, termed a mistake by CNN, comes on the heels of multiple incidents of Obama's name being intentionally aligned with that of bin Laden, who is called America's "number one enemy" while the Obama graphic is being shown to viewers. CNN has apologized for the error. During the broadcast, a pre-commercial preview of the show's next segment includes a story on the hunt for al-Qaeda's leadership. Over a photo of Osama Bin Laden and his second-in-command Ayman Al-Zawahiri, host Wolf Blitzer states, "Plus, a new year, but the same mission. Will 2007 bring any new changes in the hunt for Osama bin Laden?" But instead of asking "Where's Osama?" the graphic over the two Islamists reads "Where's Obama?" Shortly thereafter, Blitzer hosts a segment discussing Obama's presidential aspirations. The story and graphic are aired just after Blitzer's segment on Saddam Hussein, another with whom Obama's name has been deliberately conflated. (See the December 11 item for more information about the media's attempts to link Obama with bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.)
Iraq war and occupationfocusing on escalating the US troop presence in Iraq by up to 30,000 soldiers and reducing the emphasis on training Iraqi security forces. The central theme of the new plan: "sacrifice."
US torture allegationsThe documents detailing these incidents and the harsh, potentially illegal interrogations practices used by military officials and private contractors when questioning so-called enemy combatants are released today. Prisoners complained that a female guard molested them by handling their genitals and wiping her menstrual blood on their faces. Another interrogator bragged to an FBI agent about dressing as a Catholic priest and "baptizing" a prisoner, a heinous offense to a practicing Muslim. Some military officials and contractors told FBI agents that the interrogation techniques had been approved by the Defense Department, including directly by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld and others are being sued by the ACLU on behalf of former military detainees who charge they were abused. Many of the incidents in the FBI documents have already been reported and are summarized in the ACLU's lawsuit. Bush signed legislation in October that authorized aggressive interrogation tactics but did not define them. ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer says the documents show that stricter congressional oversight is needed: "If you just authorize in a vague way, there's no end to the abusive methods the interrogators will come up with." The records were gathered as part of an internal FBI survey in 2004 and are not part of a criminal investigation.
Congressional DemocratsDemocrats plan on quickly passing a number of bills, including a raise in the federal minimum wage, stricter ethics guidelines for Congressional members, loosening of restrictions on stem cell research, and cutting interest rates on student loans for college. Republicans, who insist on being able to participate more broadly in the debates and decision-making over the legislation, have already announced their intentions to do what they can to either block or fundamentally alter the Democrats' early legislative initiatives. Pelosi, Hoyer, and other Democrats run the risk of having to use some of the same hardball tactics routinely used by House Republican leaders over the past 12 years to shut Democrats out of the legislative process, if they want to carry out the wishes of the voters by energizing Congress and taking the legislative body in a different direction that is more responsive to the will of the people. Democratic leaders say they are torn between giving Republicans a say in legislation and shutting them out to prevent them from derailing Democratic bills. "There is a going to be a tension there," says Chris Van Hollen, the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "My sense is there's going to be a testing period to gauge to what extent the Republicans want to join us in a constructive effort or whether they intend to be disruptive. It's going to be a work in progress." For their part, House Republicans are already complaining that the Democrats are backing away from their pledge to work in cooperation with the GOP membership. Meanwhile, GOP House members are already planning on how to derail the Democratic initiatives, mostly by trying to woo away some more conservative Democrats.
George W. BushBush is the only person to have the Rotunda cleared for his visit, bringing an abrupt halt to the public's visit to the casket. Other former Presidents and political VIP's go to the front of the line when they appear, but still greet fellow mourners while paying their condolences. Bush officials previously ordered the Rotunda cleared for his visit. Bush spends a grand total of seven seconds at the casket and promptly leaves the building. During his New Year's message to America, Bush said comparatively very little about Ford's passing and instead spent most of his time defending his failed Iraq policies, saying, "Defeating terrorists and extremists is the challenge of our time, and we will answer history's call with confidence and fight for liberty without wavering." Blogger Lane Hudson speculates, "Perhaps that he is so politically tone deaf is the reason the Ford children decided not to welcome the President during his visit to the casket. I don't blame them one bit." (News for the Left)
George W. Bush"It doesn't matter whether it's actually the concrete representation of his father, like [ISG head James] Baker [a close friend and colleague of the elder Bush], or the voters who vote against staying in Iraq. We have become his father. We are the people he is now defying. He will turn everybody, any authority, anybody who disagrees with him, into a father figure who he'd have to defy." Karlin explains, "A sociopath is someone (to grossly generalize) who exhibits external and surface empathy and amiability, but internally cannot actually empathize with the pain and suffering of others. In fact, a sociopath may take hidden pleasure in being able to cause emotional distress, suffering, and even death to others, while -- on a day to day basis -- appearing as Mr. Affability. That, you might say, fits Bush to a 'T.' And that, you might say, is why he is willing to have everyone sacrifice for his own sociopathological 'goals' (as unarticulated as they may be to even Bush) except for himself, his family, and friends."
Religious conservatives"The Lord didn't say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that." Robertson says he spoke with God on the subject during a recent prayer retreat. Robertson says that the attack will take place sometime after September 2007.
Congressional DemocratsWithin hours, the House passes an ethics reform package designed to sever the cozy connections between lobbyists and lawmakers. The changes would prohibit House members or employees from knowingly accepting gifts or travel from a registered lobbyist, foreign agent or lobbyist's client. Lawmakers could no longer fly on corporate jets. In addition, congressional travel financed by outside groups would have to be approved in advance by the House ethics committee and immediately disclosed to the public. The measures were approved 430 to 1, with only Republican Dan Burton voting against it. Interestingly, House Republicans could barely summon the votes to pass a far weaker measure in May, and ultimately did not enact any measure because they could not reach agreement with the Senate. But voters in November identified corruption as one of their primary concerns, and the House responded. "It's amazing what an election will do," says Democrat Jim McGovern. Over the next two weeks, Democrats in the House plan to enact new homeland security measures, increase the minimum wage, allow federally funded stem cell research, permit the federal government to negotiate lower prescription-drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries, cut student-loan interest rates and fund alternative-energy research by rolling back tax breaks for oil companies.
Iraq war and occupationBush is considering sending three or four US combat brigades -- 15,000 to 20,000 troops -- instead of the larger numbers previously under consideration. Typically, a combat brigade comprises about 3,500 combat troops and more than 1,000 support personnel. "Instead of a surge, it is a bump," says a State Department official. Some experts doubt that the smaller deployment would be sufficient to halt Iraq's escalating civil war between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims. The escalation of troops is still under consideration and not yet finalized. Congressional Democrats widely oppose any increase in the roughly 140,000 US troops now in Iraq. Many want Bush to present a plan for withdrawing those troops. To marshal even 15,000 to 20,000 additional troops, Bush would have to accelerate the return of some units to the battlefield, cutting their time to train between deployments.
Iraq war and occupation"The most important thing to keep in mind, this is a guy who killed hundreds of thousands of people and received justice," says White House press secretary Tony Snow. "He got justice." "The president is focused on the new way forward in Iraq so these issues are best addressed out of Iraq, out of Baghdad," says deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel, dodging the entire issue. "Prime Minister Maliki's staff have already expressed their disappointment in the filmings, so I guess we'll leave it at that." State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says that US officials questioned conducting the execution on a Muslim festival day and as well as some procedures, such as who would be signing certain documents. He adds that Iraqis had raised questions about "comments made by people in the room" during the final minutes before the execution and are conducting an investigation into tape made on a cell phone that got out. "Clearly they didn't approve of that," he says, and adds, "Nothing that was done in any way should detract from the fact this was a very solid criminal procedure." Iraqi Sunnis are outraged by the undignified, mob-like behavior of Hussein's executioners, and have responded with additional violence. Arabs around the world are equally outraged by the spectacle, which is readily available on many Arab television stations and on the Internet. The Vatican says that the execution is a violation of human rights.
Global warming and the environmentAccording to the report, ExxonMobil has funneled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science. "ExxonMobil has manufactured uncertainty about the human causes of global warming just as tobacco companies denied their product caused lung cancer," says Alden Meyer, the Union of Concerned Scientists' Director of Strategy and Policy. "A modest but effective investment has allowed the oil giant to fuel doubt about global warming to delay government action just as Big Tobacco did for over 40 years." ExxonMobil-funded organizations consist of an overlapping collection of individuals serving as staff, board members, and scientific advisors that publish and re-publish the works of a small group of global warming deniers. The George C. Marshall Institute, for instance, which has received $630,000 from ExxonMobil, recently touted a book edited by Patrick Michaels, a long-time global warming denier who is affiliated with at least 11 organizations funded by ExxonMobil. Similarly, ExxonMobil funds a number of lesser-known groups such as the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy and Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. Both groups promote the work of several "climate change contrarians," using the UCS's term, including Sallie Baliunas, an astrophysicist who is affiliated with at least nine ExxonMobil-funded groups. Baliunas is best known for a 2003 paper alleging the climate had not changed significantly in the past millennia that was rebutted by 13 scientists who stated she had misrepresented their work in her paper. This renunciation did not stop ExxonMobil-funded groups from continuing to promote the paper. Through methods such as these, ExxonMobil has been able to amplify and prop up work that has been discredited by reputable climate scientists. (Union of Concerned Scientists)
Congressional DemocratsThe symbolism of Ellison using a holy text once belonging to the author of the Declaration of Independence and one of the founders of American democracy is powerful and almost guaranteed to undercut critics like Republican colleague Virgil Goode, who calls Ellison's use of a Koran a threat to American values. "He wanted to use a Koran that was special," says Mark Dimunation, chief of the rare book and special collections division at the Library of Congress, who was contacted by Ellison early in December. Jefferson's copy is an English translation by George Sale published in the 1750s; it survived the 1851 fire that destroyed most of Jefferson's collection and has his customary initialing on the pages. This isn't the first historic book used for swearing-in ceremonies -- the Library has allowed VIPs to use rare Bibles for inaugurations and other special occasions. Ellison will take the official oath of office along with the other incoming members in the House chamber, then use the Koran in his individual, ceremonial oath with new Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "Keith is paying respect not only to the founding fathers' belief in religious freedom but the Constitution itself," says Ellison spokesman Rick Jauert. Goode, who represents Jefferson's birthplace of Albemarle County, so far has no comment on the use of Jefferson's Koran. (Washington Post)