Domestic spyingBush signed a postal reform bill into law on December 20, but added a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions. The media just learns of the signing statement today, mostly because Bush signed the bill during the winter Congressional recess. Most Congressional lawmakers were shocked at Bush's blatant assertion of illegal authority. "Despite the President's statement that he may be able to circumvent a basic privacy protection, the new postal law continues to prohibit the government from snooping into people's mail without a warrant," says Democratic representative Henry Waxman, the incoming House Government Reform Committee chairman, who co-sponsored the bill. Experts say the new powers could be easily abused and used to vacuum up large amounts of mail. "The signing statement claims authority to open domestic mail without a warrant, and that would be new and quite alarming,"Washington. "The danger is they're reading Americans' mail." A career senior US official agrees, saying, "You have to be concerned. It takes Executive Branch authority beyond anything we've ever known."
Partisan Bush appointeesKhalilzad, who had also served as ambassador to Afghanistan during Bush's first term, would replace John Bolton, who left the UN post last week. Khalilzad is a former Unocal executive. Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Pakistan, would be nominated to replace Khalilzad in Baghdad. The changes are part of a big realignment of administration personnel as Bush seeks to change his approach to Iraq, where nearly four years of a large US military presence has failed to bring stability and an end to violence. In other changes, Bush will nominate Admiral William Fallon to replace General John Abizaid as the head of US Central Command, which is in charge of US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fallon currently is the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific. The move would place a Navy admiral in control of two land wars. Lieutenant General David Petraeus was expected to become the top ground commander in Iraq, replacing General George Casey. Both Petraeus and Fallon are considered more reliable supporters of Bush's Iraq policies than either Abizaid or Casey. (Reuters/Yahoo! News)
Partisan Bush appointeesNegroponte will be replaced by retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell, a 25-year intelligence veteran who directed the NSA from 1992 through 1996. The White House is working to dispel the idea that Negroponte's shift is a demotion; Bush asked Negroponte to take the long-vacant position under Rice, vacant since Robert Zoellick's resignation in July 2006. Congressional Democrats plan on holding hearings to examine the intelligence overhaul that Negroponte helped put into place. Both Negroponte and McConnell must be conformed by the Senate. (AP/Yahoo! News, ABC News)
Election fraudDemocrat Christine Jennings is going through the courts to challenge the veracity of the election results (see related items). Democratic representative Juanita Millender-McDonald, the chair of the House Administration Committee, sends a letter to the Florida appeals court currently hearing the case. The lower courts refused Jennings's request to allow her attorneys and technicians to examine the source code used in the Diebold voting machines that, Jennings alleges, cost her the election. Jennings is appealing the verdict. Millender-McDonald calls the rejection a "matter of concern," and warns that if the Florida courts don't handle the case properly, Congress will intervene. "[R]esolution of these issues may obviate the need for the House to address them," she notes. ()
Prewar intelligence on IraqMatthews says, "I think [Dick] Cheney had his thumb on the scale, do you agree? That they were pushing this war so hard, they were working to look at any evidence that backed the war and ignore any evidence that didn't back the war." Instead of spinning, backpedaling, or challenging Matthews's patriotism, Lott says, "They were pushing the evidence that justified going to the war. A lot of us, Republicans and Democrats, were concerned about what we were told, and we bought the packet." (MSNBC/TPM Muckraker [link to video])
Iraq war and occupationHarman writes, "We have already spent at least $400 billion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But only about 9% of those funds were approved through the normal appropriations process. The rest was passed in 'Emergency Supplemental' appropriation bills not subject to budget caps or the normal congressional oversight process. These supplementals -- because their numbers do not appear on the budgetary bottom line -- allow the White House to pretend it is maintaining a semblance of fiscal discipline. But our deficits are already spiraling out of control and there is no way to bring the budget into balance without taking the staggering war costs into account." Harman calls administration explanations of the necessity for the emergency expenditures "nonsense," and notes that "[b]oth the Korean and Vietnam Wars were almost entirely financed through the regular appropriations process -- not emergency supplementals."
Conservative smear campaignsFox begins its early-morning coverage, on its morning show "Fox and Friends," by inaccurately portraying Pelosi's decision not to name Democrat Jane Harman as the chair of the House Intelligence Committee as a "catfight." In reality, Pelosi and the Democratic leadership decided not to name Harman to the chairmanship because they felt Harman was too accomodating of the Bush administration and too supportive of the Iraq debacle. The three hosts portray the decision as based on Harman's "willingness to work with Republicans." While the three discuss the story, Fox displays a banner reading "Congress Catfight." Media watchdog site NewsHounds writes, "The term 'catfight' is a belittling term often used to ridicule disagreements among women, casting them as fights among animals (especially an animal that is often seen as fickle and hard to understand like a cat). Saying a disagreement among women is a 'catfight' is akin to saying that the women are less than human and their disagreement is based on something other than rationality, intellect or principle. Men do battle. Women have catfights." Co-host Steve Doocy later mocks Pelosi's ascension to power by playing the song "Pomp and Circumstance" while saying, "All rise, Nancy Pelosi takes control." The musical slap will be repeated again. Instead of celebrating the rise of a woman to such a position of power -- third in line for the presidency behind the president and vice president, with the power to set the agenda for the House -- the co-hosts mock Pelosi for being a woman in such a lofty position. (Co-host Gretchen Carlson does say, "You either like her or you don't, but it is historic in the sense that she is assuming this position, and I think for women in general this shows that any door is open for you, no matter what.." The co-hosts spend the rest of their show rehashing Republican complaints about being shut out of offering amendments for the first 100 hours, while failing to mention how Republicans shut out Democrats for 12 years.
Iraq war and occupationGeneral John Abizaid, the top US commander in the Middle East, and General George Casey, the chief general in Iraq, are on their way out, to be replaced, respectively, by Admiral William Fallon, the top US commander n the Pacific, and Lieutenant General David Petraeus, who headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces. While replacing Abizaid and Casey gives the appearance that Bush is taking steps to shore up the US's failed policies in Iraq, it also gets rid of two top military officials who oppose his "surge" strategy for escalating the US presence in Iraq.
Secrecy of Bush administrationThe media just now learns that Bush and the Secret Service quietly made a deal last spring to seal the White House visitors' records from public scrutiny. The justification is that, despite the fact that the Secret Service makes and keeps the visitor records, which are public documents, they're not really Secret Service records even though they'd been treated that way in the past, they're White House records, and thus not subject to FOIA requests. A federal judge has ruled that the White House must produce the logs identifying visitors to the office of Dick Cheney; the government is appealing that decision. And, the Washington Post is suing for access to the logs. The memo, dated May 17, 2006, was issued a day after the watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked a federal judge to impose sanctions on the Secret Service in a dispute over the logs. "It appears the White House is actually manufacturing evidence to further its own agenda," says Anne Weismann, a Justice Department lawyer for 19 years and now chief counsel to CREW.
Iraq war and occupationThe group of "informal" policy advisors includes William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard and former chairman of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the neocon think tank which has for years advocated the military takeover of an entire swath of oil-rich Middle Eastern countries by the United States. Kristol's group also includes Douglas Feith, the hardline ideologue who was once Donald Rumsfeld's chief of policy in the Pentagon, and another PNAC member, who was one of the Bush officials primarily responsible for cherrypicking intelligence in order to build a specious case for invading Iraq. Plessner writes acidly, "The incompetence and arrogance of Rumsfeld and his assistants are the primary causes for the difficulties we now face in Iraq. It is difficult to believe that Feith could contribute anything of value to new war plans." As with the PNAC, the influence of Dick Cheney on the neoconservative advisory group is hard to underestimate. Plessner writes, "The return to influential positions of men whose initial advice was so wrong does not bode well for achieving an end to the war. Because of their presence, we can probably expect more failures costing precious American military and Iraqi civilian lives. ...The American people voted decisively to tell this administration that it should end our involvement in Iraq. If the president and his vice president refuse to honor the expressed will of the American people, then they should resign. Failing that, the Congress should begin to consider impeachment."
Iraq war and occupationIn October 2002, the Senate voted 77-23 to approve Bush's call for military action. Only 43, at most, of the 2002 Senate would now vote for the war, and at least 57 say they would vote against it. "For any Senate vote to switch from 77-23 in favor to essentially 57-43 against is quite remarkable, and far more so for a decision as significant as the one to go to war," writes ABC's Jake Tapper. In December 2006, Republican Gordon Smith galvanized the country when he came out in public, bitter self-recrimination over his vote for the war, saying, "I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal. I cannot support that any more." 28 of the 77 senators who voted to authorize the war in Iraq indicate, many for the first time, that they would not vote the same way with the benefit of hindsight. Six others indicate that, in retrospect, the intelligence was so wrong the matter would not have passed the Senate, or would not have even come up for a vote. "This is very significant," says congressional scholar Norman Ornstein of the hardline, neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. "If they were asked that question a year ago, I think the likelihood of getting anywhere close to a majority voting against the war would be impossible. What this tells me is that Gordon Smith's very stunning speech was in some ways the tip of the iceberg."
Domestic spyingThe excuse is that the federal government wants to make it easier to track down child pornographers. But many believe it is another step towards the Bush administration's desire to engage in total surveillance of citizens, joining warrantless wiretapping, secret scrutiny of library records and unfettered access to e-mail as another power that could be abused. "I don't think it's realistic to think that we would create this enormous honeypot of information and then say to the FBI, 'You can only use it for this narrow purpose,'" says Leslie Harris, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an organization that promotes free speech and privacy in communication. "We have an environment in which we're collecting more and more information on the personal lives of Americans, and our laws are completely inadequate to protect us." The attempt is spearheaded by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. In September testimony before a Senate committee, Gonzales painted a graphic and disturbing picture of child pornography on the Web, which he called an urgent threat to children. The production and consumption of child pornography has exploded as the Internet makes it easier to exchange images, Gonzales said. Federal agents and prosecutors are hampered in their investigations because Internet companies don't routinely keep records of their traffic, he told the committee. In April, Gonzales said in a speech at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, "Privacy rights must always be accommodated and protected as we conduct our investigations. [But] the investigation and prosecution of child predators depends critically on the availability of evidence that is often in the hands of Internet service providers. This evidence will be available for us to use only if the providers retain the records for a reasonable amount of time. Unfortunately, the failure of some Internet service providers to keep records has hampered our ability to conduct investigations in this area."
Iraq war and occupationHe asks, "Does anyone, including the President, really believe that another 10,000 or even 30,000 soldiers and Marines on top of the 140,000 now in Iraq are somehow going to make Baghdad more secure, or clean up the Sunni insurgents who control much of Anbar province? This isn't a new way forward, nor is it a recipe for the victory that the desperate architect of an unnecessary and costly war seems to believe is waiting out there to rescue his legacy. It's no more than a continuation of George W. Bush's urgent flight from reality." The "surge" proposed by Bush -- 20,000 to 40,000 troops, at last note -- is too small to achieve anything lasting in Baghdad or Anbar. It goes against the advice of the military commanders on the ground, or did, before Bush announced a round of firings and replacements with more like-minded commanders. It flaunts the will of the American people who "no longer have any trust in Bush's conduct of the Iraq war or those like-minded voters who turned Congress over to the Democrats in the November mid-term elections. What on earth is this president thinking?" Galloway continues, "Those who've sacrificed the most -- America's Army and Marine ground forces and their families -- will be asked to continue bearing the burden and paying an even higher price in dead and wounded for a president's ego and intransigence. The very troops who will make up the temporary bump in U.S. forces in Iraq are those who've already paid that price over and over. They'll be found by a sleight-of-hand maneuver: ordering units already tapped to return to Iraq to go there earlier than scheduled. That isn't even robbing Peter to pay Paul. It's robbing Peter to pay Peter. George W. Bush believes that he can buy another couple of years of violent stalemate so he can hand off the disaster to whoever succeeds him in the White House on January 20, 2009. How many more Americans and Iraqis must die to ensure that Bush's parting words as he retreats to Crawford, Texas, will be: I never cut and ran. I stood tall. I kept America safe. The problem with that scenario is that it, like all the others drawn by George Bush and Dick Cheney, is far too rosy. The way forward in Iraq is a spiral toward an even bloodier future, and the real decisions are the Iraqis', not George Bush's. It's too little, too late, Mr. President." (Editor and Publisher)
Conservative smear campaignsResponding to a relatively inane comment by Democratic House member Heath Shuler, who said his two-year old daughter "is inspired by Nancy Pelosi's ascension to the speakership," Limbaugh says, "His 2-year-old can't possibly know who Pelosi is other than as a cartoon figure on television. Maybe Pelosi breastfed him, I don't know, when the kid was pregnant. Who knows? She's capable of doing everything else." Limbaugh later adds, "[L]ook at Ms. Pelosi. Why, she can multitask. She can breastfeed, she can clip her toenails, she can direct the House, all while the kids are sitting on her lap at the same time." The day before, Limbaugh denied again that he indulges in personal attacks, saying, "I mean whatever it was that I said in criticism of Democrats, it was not personal, like they have turned it into on the Democrat [sic] side." (MediaMatters)
US nuclear programThe administration justifies the construction of a new nuclear weapon, intended to replace the existing nuclear arsenal, by saying that the new weapons will be sturdier, more reliable, safer from accidental detonation and more secure from theft by terrorists. The announcement, to be made by the interagency Nuclear Weapons Council, avoids making a choice between the two designs for a new weapon, called the Reliable Replacement Warhead, which at first would be mounted on submarine-launched missiles. The effort, if approved by President Bush and financed by Congress, would require a huge refurbishment of the nation's complex for nuclear design and manufacturing, with the overall bill estimated at more than $100 billion. But the council's decision to seek a hybrid design, combining well-tested elements from an older design with new safety and security elements from a more novel approach, could delay the weapon's production. It also raises the question of whether the US will ultimately be forced to end its moratorium on underground nuclear testing to make sure the new design works. Bryan Wilkes, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration of the Energy Department, says the government would not proceed with the Reliable Replacement Warhead "if it is determined that testing is needed," but other officials in the administration, including Robert Joseph, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, have said that the White House should make no commitment on testing.
Iraq war and occupationClark, who once commanded NATO forces in Kosovo, is a possible candidate for the Democratic nomination for president. Clark says the time for a military solution was past, and a region-wide initiative was needed to try to end the bloody sectarian violence. "We've never had enough troops in Iraq," says Clark. "In Kosovo, we had 40,000 troops for a population of two million. For Iraq, that ratio would call for at least 500,000 troops, so adding 20,000 now is too little, too late. What the surge would do is put more American troops in harm's way, further undercut US forces' morale, and risk further alienation of elements of the Iraqi populace." (AFP/Yahoo! News)
War with IranTwo Israeli Air Force squadrons are training for the mission. Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open "tunnels" into the targets. "Mini-nukes" would then immediately be fired into a plant at Natanz, exploding deep underground. "As soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike and the Iranian nuclear project will be demolished," says one of the sources. Israeli intelligence officials with Mossad believe that Iran is close to producing enough enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons within two years. Israeli military commanders believe conventional strikes may no longer be enough to annihilate increasingly well-defended enrichment facilities. Several have been built beneath at least 70 feet of concrete and rock. The nuclear-tipped bunker-busters would be used only if a conventional attack was ruled out and if the United States declined to intervene.
Oil profiteering and the "oiligarchy"Iraq's oil industry was nationalized in 1972. Many believe that this oil deal may be the actual centerpiece of the entire Iraq agenda, and point to, among other things, the 1999 statement by Dick Cheney, then the CEO of Halliburton, when he said, "The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies." (The editorial staff of the Independent asks, "So was this what the Iraq war was fought for, after all?") The law will allow Western oil companies to pocket up to 75% of the profits genarated, at least in the early years until initial costs are recouped (10% is the global standard), and assume unprecedented control of Iraq's oil industry. Greg Muttitt, a researcher for Platform, a human rights and environmental group which monitors the oil industry, says Iraq will pay an enormous price over the next 30 years for its present instability: "Iraq would end up with the worst possible outcome. ...They would lose out massively, because they don't have the capacity at the moment to strike a good deal." James Paul of the international government watchdog organization Global Policy Forum, says that the Iraqi population would be against such a deal by an overwhelming margin, and "[t]o do it anyway, with minimal discussion within the [Iraqi] parliament is really just pouring more oil on the fire."
Anti-terrorism and homeland securityThe helicopter attacks follow two days of airstrikes by US forces, the first US offensives in Somalia since 18 American soldiers were killed here in 1993. Although US sources claim that only 5 to 10 people, mostly suspected al-Qaeda fighters, die in the attacks, multiple eyewitnesses and other US officials later confirm that 31 civilians, including a newly married couple and members of the wedding party, are killed in the attacks. The US refuses to confirm the identity of any of the al-Qaeda members killed, or how the US knew they were attacking an al-Qaeda gathering, casting doubt on the accuracy of the US reports. The US is hunting down Islamic extremists in Somalia, according to one Somali defense official. One of the people supposedly caught in the strikes is an al-Qaeda operative who helped carry out the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in East Africa. Since before the UN-sponsored peace mission in 1993 failed, Somalia has been in essential anarchy, with its government unable to do much of anything to prevent the violence and terrorism that embroils the country. However, Somali president Abdullahi Yusuf, head of the UN-backed transitional government, says that the US "has a right to bombard terrorist suspects who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania." Ethiopian troops are already in Somalia to attempt to counter the violence and chaos throughout the country, but have not had much success defeating the Islamist and anarchist forces in the country; until these attacks, the US has been content to work through the Ethiopians.
Iraq war and occupationHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls Iraq a nation embroiled in "complete chaos," and, like many of her fellow Democrats, says the Bush escalation of the Iraq war goes against the advice of senior US commanders and the drastic change of course sought by American voters. As a result, Pelosi says, the Democrats will treat the plan, and new funding requests, with strong skepticism. "If the president wants to add to this mission, he's going to have to justify it," Pelosi says on CBS's Face the Nation, and emphasizes that while Congress will not cut off funding for troops now in Iraq, the White House will no longer have a "blank check" for expanding the war effort. Referring to a new $100 billion supplemental spending request, she says, "When the bill comes...it will receive the harshest scrutiny." Since September 11, 2001, more than $500 billion has been spent on the wars and counterterrorism-related expenditures around the world, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Iraq war and occupation"I think we've got to tell the president what he's doing as wrong," Reid says. "We've got to start bringing our folks home." Reid and the Congressional Democratic leadership is expected to take what steps it can to block Bush's plan to deploy an additional 20,000 troops in Iraq. Fellow Democratic senator Ted Kennedy says he and his fellows are considering a vote to deny the use of funds for any increase in US deployments. Kennedy is readying legislation that would require Congress to approve the deployment of more troops, and was hoping for a roll call on the topic swiftly, before any increase is implemented. And Reid implies that Congressional Democrats will closely scrutinize, and perhaps block, Bush's expected call for an additional $100 billion for the war. "We have a platform we didn't have before, Leader Pelosi and I, and we're going to...focus attention on this war in many different ways," says Reid. "We ought to insist that the Congress and the Senate take action, so that before we're going to have a surge [of troops], the members of Congress and the members of the Senate will have an opportunity to speak on this issue," says Kennedy. And fellow Democratic senator Dick Durbin adds, "It is time for us to announce we achieved our goals in Iraq and now the American people need to hand this responsibility over to the people of that nation in Iraq."
Iraq war and occupationConstruction of what critics call "Fortress Baghdad" has led to arguments inside the State Department amid fears that the overwhelming diplomatic presence will perpetuate a sense of US occupation and become a focus of local anger. US diplomats say that just as the armed forces are being stretched to breaking point, the US foreign service is suffering from low morale and operations in the rest of the world are being damaged by the diversion of resources to Iraq. Officials are also questioning why the Bush administration is sending more civilians into a deteriorating war zone, and the effectiveness of the work they can do.
Iraq war and occupationBrown says that mistakes have been made in the aftermath of the invasion and that he will be "very frank" with Bush on the topic. He says that Britain will scale back its commitment of troops to Iraq over the next few years. "Obviously, people who know me know that I will speak my mind [to Bush," he says. "I will be very frank. The British national interest is what I and my colleagues are about." He adds, "I believe it is true to say that by the end of the year, there may be thousands less in Iraq than there are now." Blair has said he will step down as prime minister and leader of the governing Labour party before September. Brown, who is credited with helping Blair reinvigorate the Labour party, is unlikely to face any credible challenge when the party elects a new leader, who will automatically become Britain's new prime minister. Brown also calls the way Saddam Hussein was executed was "a deplorable set of events." Blair, who first refused to comment on the hanging, now says that the manner of Hussein's execution was "completely wrong." (AP/Yahoo! News)
Conservative media slantMany of these same news outlets are now reporting that the execution came across to the world as, in the words of the Guardian, "little more than a US-sponsored lynching in which the central player, Hussein, was the only actor to perform his part with dignity." Yet, the Guardian notes, such belated regrets have done little than to prove the mainstream media has all but lost control of what reaches the public eye. The New York Times observes that the cellphone video of Hussein's execution was, in effect, "a snuff reality show." The Guardian adds, "Stripped of the pretense that the execution was the 'important milestone' on the road to Iraqi democracy that President Bush predicted, the film offered further evidence that America's foreign policy blunders since 2001 are without end." Even conservative Times columnist Thomas Friedman notes "it resembled a tribal revenge ritual rather than the culmination of a constitutional process in which America should be proud to have participated." The Guardian editors observe that the Hussein execution stood in strange, "surreal" contrast to the outpouring of grief and sympathy for the funerals of former president Gerald Ford and R&B singer James Brown, whose funerals spanned the controversial Hussein execution: "American television viewers could be forgiven for confusion over an apparent clash of sentiments about mortality."
Iraq war and occupation"Observing President Bush in action lately," the Times editorialists write, "we have to wonder if he actually watched the election returns in November, or if he was just rerunning the 2002 vote on his TiVo. That year, the White House used the fear of terrorism to scare American voters into cementing the Republican domination of Congress. Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney then embarked on an expansion of presidential power chilling both in its sweep and in the damage it did to the constitutional system of checks and balances. In 2006, the voters sent Mr. Bush a powerful message that it was time to rein in his imperial ambitions. But we have yet to see any sign that Mr. Bush understands that -- or even realizes that the Democrats are now in control of the Congress. Indeed, he seems to have interpreted his party's drubbing as a mandate to keep pursuing his fantasy of victory in Iraq and to press ahead undaunted with his assault on civil liberties and the judicial system."