Tuesday, December 30, 2008

As if Things Weren't Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S.

MOSCOW -- For a decade, Russian academic Igor Panarin has been predicting the U.S. will fall apart in 2010. For most of that time, he admits, few took his argument -- that an economic and moral collapse will trigger a civil war and the eventual breakup of the U.S. -- very seriously. Now he's found an eager audience: Russian state media.

[Prof. Panarin]

Igor Panarin

In recent weeks, he's been interviewed as much as twice a day about his predictions. "It's a record," says Prof. Panarin. "But I think the attention is going to grow even stronger."

Prof. Panarin, 50 years old, is not a fringe figure. A former KGB analyst, he is dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry's academy for future diplomats. He is invited to Kremlin receptions, lectures students, publishes books, and appears in the media as an expert on U.S.-Russia relations.

But it's his bleak forecast for the U.S. that is music to the ears of the Kremlin, which in recent years has blamed Washington for everything from instability in the Middle East to the global financial crisis. Mr. Panarin's views also fit neatly with the Kremlin's narrative that Russia is returning to its rightful place on the world stage after the weakness of the 1990s, when many feared that the country would go economically and politically bankrupt and break into separate territories.

A polite and cheerful man with a buzz cut, Mr. Panarin insists he does not dislike Americans. But he warns that the outlook for them is dire.

"There's a 55-45% chance right now that disintegration will occur," he says. "One could rejoice in that process," he adds, poker-faced. "But if we're talking reasonably, it's not the best scenario -- for Russia." Though Russia would become more powerful on the global stage, he says, its economy would suffer because it currently depends heavily on the dollar and on trade with the U.S.

Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces -- with Alaska reverting to Russian control.

In addition to increasing coverage in state media, which are tightly controlled by the Kremlin, Mr. Panarin's ideas are now being widely discussed among local experts. He presented his theory at a recent roundtable discussion at the Foreign Ministry. The country's top international relations school has hosted him as a keynote speaker. During an appearance on the state TV channel Rossiya, the station cut between his comments and TV footage of lines at soup kitchens and crowds of homeless people in the U.S. The professor has also been featured on the Kremlin's English-language propaganda channel, Russia Today.

Mr. Panarin's apocalyptic vision "reflects a very pronounced degree of anti-Americanism in Russia today," says Vladimir Pozner, a prominent TV journalist in Russia. "It's much stronger than it was in the Soviet Union."

Mr. Pozner and other Russian commentators and experts on the U.S. dismiss Mr. Panarin's predictions. "Crazy ideas are not usually discussed by serious people," says Sergei Rogov, director of the government-run Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, who thinks Mr. Panarin's theories don't hold water.

Mr. Panarin's résumé includes many years in the Soviet KGB, an experience shared by other top Russian officials. His office, in downtown Moscow, shows his national pride, with pennants on the wall bearing the emblem of the FSB, the KGB's successor agency. It is also full of statuettes of eagles; a double-headed eagle was the symbol of czarist Russia.

The professor says he began his career in the KGB in 1976. In post-Soviet Russia, he got a doctorate in political science, studied U.S. economics, and worked for FAPSI, then the Russian equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency. He says he did strategy forecasts for then-President Boris Yeltsin, adding that the details are "classified."

In September 1998, he attended a conference in Linz, Austria, devoted to information warfare, the use of data to get an edge over a rival. It was there, in front of 400 fellow delegates, that he first presented his theory about the collapse of the U.S. in 2010.

"When I pushed the button on my computer and the map of the United States disintegrated, hundreds of people cried out in surprise," he remembers. He says most in the audience were skeptical. "They didn't believe me."

At the end of the presentation, he says many delegates asked him to autograph copies of the map showing a dismembered U.S.

He based the forecast on classified data supplied to him by FAPSI analysts, he says. He predicts that economic, financial and demographic trends will provoke a political and social crisis in the U.S. When the going gets tough, he says, wealthier states will withhold funds from the federal government and effectively secede from the union. Social unrest up to and including a civil war will follow. The U.S. will then split along ethnic lines, and foreign powers will move in.

California will form the nucleus of what he calls "The Californian Republic," and will be part of China or under Chinese influence. Texas will be the heart of "The Texas Republic," a cluster of states that will go to Mexico or fall under Mexican influence. Washington, D.C., and New York will be part of an "Atlantic America" that may join the European Union. Canada will grab a group of Northern states Prof. Panarin calls "The Central North American Republic." Hawaii, he suggests, will be a protectorate of Japan or China, and Alaska will be subsumed into Russia.

"It would be reasonable for Russia to lay claim to Alaska; it was part of the Russian Empire for a long time." A framed satellite image of the Bering Strait that separates Alaska from Russia like a thread hangs from his office wall. "It's not there for no reason," he says with a sly grin.

Interest in his forecast revived this fall when he published an article in Izvestia, one of Russia's biggest national dailies. In it, he reiterated his theory, called U.S. foreign debt "a pyramid scheme," and predicted China and Russia would usurp Washington's role as a global financial regulator.

Americans hope President-elect Barack Obama "can work miracles," he wrote. "But when spring comes, it will be clear that there are no miracles."

The article prompted a question about the White House's reaction to Prof. Panarin's forecast at a December news conference. "I'll have to decline to comment," spokeswoman Dana Perino said amid much laughter.

For Prof. Panarin, Ms. Perino's response was significant. "The way the answer was phrased was an indication that my views are being listened to very carefully," he says.

The professor says he's convinced that people are taking his theory more seriously. People like him have forecast similar cataclysms before, he says, and been right. He cites French political scientist Emmanuel Todd. Mr. Todd is famous for having rightly forecast the demise of the Soviet Union -- 15 years beforehand. "When he forecast the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1976, people laughed at him," says Prof. Panarin.

[Igor Panarin]

Write to Andrew Osborn at andrew.osborn@wsj.com

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Shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist's trial postponed

BAGHDAD December 30, 2008, 06:41 am ET · The trial of a journalist who has been hailed as a hero in the Arab world after throwing his shoes at President George W. Bush was postponed on Tuesday pending a review of the case by a higher court, a spokesman for Iraq's Higher Judicial Council said.

The trial of Muntadhar al-Zeidi was to begin Wednesday on charges of assaulting a foreign leader, which his defense team said carried a maximum sentence of 15 years. But court spokesman Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar said that the trial was been postponed pending an appellate court ruling on what charges the journalist should face.

Bayrkdar said the defense team was seeking a lesser charge. Two of his lawyers said they want a reduced charge of insulting a foreign leader — which carries a maximum sentence of three years.

"There is a difference between assault and insult, al-Zeidi wanted to express his objection to the occupation. So the case is within context of an insult and not an intention to kill," his lawyer Diaa al-Saadi told Associated Press Television News.

If the appellate court decides to reduce the charges, then al-Saadi said al-Zeidi could be released on bail. It was unclear when the appellate court would issue its ruling.

Al-Zeidi threw his shoes at Bush during a Dec. 14 joint news conference with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The gesture of contempt for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq made al-Zeidi a folk hero in Iraq and thousands of people have demonstrated for his release.

"According to the appeals raised by Muntadhar al-Zeidi's lawyers to the Federal Appeals Court, the Central Criminal Court has decided to postpone the trial sessions until the Federal Appeals Court issues a decision about these appeals, then another date for the trial will be set," Bayrkdar said.

Before the postponement was announced, one of al-Zeidi's lawyers told Associated Press Television News that he expected a lengthy trial and a sentence of no less than three years if he is convicted.

Al-Zeidi's brother, Dhargham al-Zeidi, said that the family would turn to an international court if they found the Iraqi jurisdiction system "biased and unfair."

"If the Iraqi jurisdiction system will be fair and transparent then its fine, but if it will be politicized," he said, then "we will rely on an international court."

The case transformed al-Zeidi from a little-know television journalist into an international celebrity for defying the U.S. leader, but it also embarrassed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who was standing next to Bush when the shoes were thrown.

Last week the Iraqi leader sought to undermine the journalist's popularity by saying the he had confessed that the mastermind of the attack was a militant known for slitting his victims' throats.

Al-Maliki said that in a letter of apology to him al-Zeidi wrote that a known militant had induced him to throw the shoes. The alleged instigator has never been identified and neither al-Maliki nor any of his officials have provided further explanation. The letter was never made public.

The journalist's family denied the claim and alleged that al-Zeidi was tortured into writing the letter.

His brother Uday al-Zeidi said he met the journalist in prison about a week after the incident and that there had been no regret for throwing the shoes.

He claimed his brother had a missing tooth and cigarette burns on his ears. He also said his brother told him that jailers also doused him with cold water while he was naked.

The investigating judge, Dhia al-Kinani, has said that the journalist was beaten around the face and eyes when he was wrestled to the ground after throwing the shoes.

There has been no independent corroboration that al-Zeidi was abused in custody, and Iraqi officials have denied al-Zeidi has been abused.

The show-throwing incident also led to a political crisis that resulted in the resignation of parliament's abrasive Sunni speaker and delayed by a week approval of key a vote on whether non-U.S. foreign troops would be allowed to stay in Iraq beyond New Year's Eve.

The parliament speaker, who angered other parliament members during a discussion of the shoe-thrower, had tried to delay a vote on the troop agreement as a way to hold onto his job, but the effort failed.

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Mrs. Bush, Rice: Bush presidency not a failure

The two most influential women in President George W. Bush's White House — first lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — are strongly defending the president's legacy against critics who are calling his administration one of the worst in history.

"I know it's not, and so I don't really feel like I need to respond to people that view it that way," Mrs. Bush said in an interview that aired Sunday. "I think history will judge and we'll see later."

Rice took a similar view in a separate interview, saying that claims that the Bush administration has been one of the worst ever are "ridiculous."

"I think generations pretty soon are going to start to thank this president for what he's done. This generation will," Rice said.

"Because I think the fact that we have really made foreign assistance not just an issue of giving humanitarian aid or giving money to poor people, but really insisting on good governance and fighting corruption," she said. "I think the fact that this president has laid the groundwork for a Palestinian state, being the first president, as a matter of policy, to say that there should be one, and now, I think, laying the foundation that's going to lead to that Palestinian state — I can go on and on."

In her interview, Mrs. Bush called the shoe-throwing incident in Baghdad an "assault." She rebuffed Bush administration critics who contend the U.S. turned its military might and resources to the war in Iraq before finishing the job in Afghanistan.

Mrs. Bush noted that under her husband's watch, the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein and liberated millions of people in Afghanistan and Iraq from oppressive governments. She also highlighted the president's work to provide treatment for disease like AIDS and malaria to millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. She said her husband responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in a way that has kept the nation safe.

"I think that's very, very important," she said.

Mrs. Bush said that while the president laughed it off when an Iraqi reporter threw his shoes at him during a news conference earlier this month in Iraq, she was not amused. The president deftly dodged the shoes and wasn't hit. He continued the news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after security officials dragged the journalist from the room.

"The president laughed it off," she said. "He wasn't hurt. He's very quick. As you know, he's a natural athlete and ducked it. But on the other hand, it is an assault. And I think it should be treated that way. And I think people should think of it that way."

On the other hand, she said the incident reflects change in Iraq.

"As bad as the incident is, in my view, it is a sign that Iraqis feel a lot freer to express themselves," she said.

Mrs. Bush challenged critics who contend that Iraq was a distraction the U.S. mission in Afghanistan where heightened violence is causing renewed instability.

"Well, I don't know that I would agree with that at all," Mrs. Bush said. "I don't think that's true at all. We've stayed very, very invested in Afghanistan. Not as invested militarily, maybe, and maybe that's what the critics say, that it should have been more military. But I think we stayed very invested."

Rice said it won't be long before Bush's contributions to the world will be acknowledged.

"When you look at what this president took on in terms of AIDS relief and foreign assistance to the world, when you look at the number of countries ... and the number of people that this president has actually liberated — you know, I really am someone who believes that you don't want to pay too much attention to today's headlines," she said.

But recognition of big achievements sometimes take a long time, Rice said.

Rice noted that while Germany was reunified in 1990, the work that made it possible was done in the 1940s, "when things didn't look quite so rosy." So historians who are now making judgments about the Bush administration and its Middle East policies aren't very good historians, Rice said.

"One cannot yet judge the effects of decisions that this president has taken on what the Middle East will become," Rice said. "I mean, for goodness' sakes, good historians are still writing books about George Washington."

Mrs. Bush spoke on "Fox News Sunday," while Rice was on CBS "Sunday Morning."

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Cheney: ‘I Don’t Have Any Idea’ Why People Don’t Like Me

dc.jpgOnly 29 percent of Americans approve of the job Dick Cheney is doing as Vice President. In an interview with his hometown Wyoming newspaper, The Caspar Star-Tribune, Cheney expressed his bewilderment over his low approval numbers:

QUESTION: How do you explain your low approval rating?

CHENEY: I don’t have any idea. I don’t follow the polls.

My experience has been over the years that if you govern based upon poll numbers, upon trying to improve your overall poll ratings, people I’ve encountered who do that are people who won’t make tough decisions. And the job the president has and those who advise him is to make those basic fundamental decisions for the nation that nobody else is authorized or able to make.

In addition to his well-documented abuse of power and disregard for the rule of law, Cheney’s public disapproval ratings might be explained in part by his own personal disregard for the public. When told that two-thirds of Americans disapproved of the Iraq war, Cheney responded “so?,” adding that he didn’t care what the American people thought.

While he says he doesn’t follow the polls, Cheney was all too proud to state shortly after the 2004 elections: “President George W. Bush won the greatest number of popular votes of any presidential candidate in history.” (That’s no longer true.)

Cheney is still holding out hope, however, that the polls will turn his way. He said recently, “I’m personally persuaded that this president and this administration will look very good 20 or 30 years down the road in light of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

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Iran orders Muslims to defend Palestinians

Dudi Cohen

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a religious decree to Muslims around the world on Sunday, ordering them to defend Palestinians against Israel's attacks on Gaza, state television said.

"All Palestinian combatants and all the Islamic world's pious people are obliged to defend the defenseless women, children and people in Gaza in any way possible. Whoever is killed in this legitimate defense is considered a martyr," state television quoted Khamenei as saying in a statement outlining the fatwa.

Khamenei also criticized some Arab governments for their "encouraging silence" towards the Israel's raids on Gaza. "The Zionist regime must by held accountable by Islamic governments. The heads of this regime must be held personally accountable for these crimes and the ongoing siege," the religious leader said.

Accordingly, a state TV report late Saturday quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying Iran will stand by the Palestinians. He also tried to garner greater support for the Palestinians by waging an informal PR campaign against Israel among Arab states.

"Israel is trying to take revenge against the Palestinians, but with God's help, it will be defeated," the president said to his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad. Ahmadinejad also spoke with Secretary General of the Islamic Jihad Ramadan Abdulla to express his support for the Palestinian group.

Also condemning Israel, Iran's Foreign Ministry called the attacks "genocide" and asked international bodies to defend the Palestinians.

Anti-Israel rally in Tehran (Photo: AFP)

Alaeddin Borujerdi, a legislator and head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, endorsed these sentiments early Sunday when he compared Israel's aerial attack on Gaza to Nazi crimes.

"The Zionists are doing what Hitler did during World War II, when they attacked innocents in a barbaric manner," Borujerdi told the state-run Iranian news agency IRNA, during a pro-Palestinian rally in the nation's capitol, attended by several Iranian parliamentarians.

Israel's air strikes in Gaza on Saturday and Sunday have targeted strategic Hamas-related targets, in an attempt to put an end to unceasing rocket fire launched by Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza against Israel towns. Of the some 270 Palestinians killed, most were members of the Gazan security forces.

But such facts don't seem to affect the anti-Israeli outcry in Iran. All across the country, masses are gathering for solidarity rallies, with the encouragement of the Islamic government. Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, attended one such rally, held in 'Palestinian Square', in Tehran.

Larijani accused Israel of undertaking the attack because of political motivations, ahead of upcoming Israeli elections. But he also expressed anger at Israel's neighbors.

Arab nations standing silent in the face of Israel's operation "are making a strategic mistake because they think that they can change the situation on the ground in their favor," he said.

Echoing Khameini and Larijani's hints, Borujerdi called Egypt out by name and censured the Arab nation for being the primary obstacle to Iran's attempts to send aid to Gaza. "Iran asked Egypt to allow aid to be sent by sea or air and received only preliminary agreement," he said.

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* News * World news * United States CBS newsman's $70m lawsuit likely to deal Bush legacy a new blow

As George W Bush prepares to leave the White House, at least one unpleasant episode from his unpopular presidency is threatening to follow him into retirement.

A $70m lawsuit filed by Dan Rather, the veteran former newsreader for CBS Evening News, against his old network is reopening the debate over alleged favourable treatment that Bush received when he served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam war. Bush had hoped that this controversy had been dealt with once and for all during the 2004 election.

Eight weeks before the 2004 presidential poll, Rather broadcast a story based on newly discovered documents which appeared to show that Bush, whose service in the Texas Air National Guard ensured that he did not have to fight in Vietnam, had barely turned up even for basic duty. After an outcry from the White House and conservative bloggers who claimed that the report had been based on falsified documents, CBS retracted the story, saying that the documents' authenticity could not be verified. Rather, who had been with CBS for decades and was one of the most familiar faces in American journalism, was fired by the network the day after the 2004 election.

He claims breach of contract against CBS. He has already spent $2m on his case, which is likely to go to court early next year. Rather contends not only that his report was true - "What the documents stated has never been denied, by the president or anyone around him," he says - but that CBS succumbed to political pressure from conservatives to get the report discredited and to have him fired. He also claims that a panel set up by CBS to investigate the story was packed with conservatives in an effort to placate the White House. Part of the reason for that, he suggests, was that Viacom, a sister company of CBS, knew that it would have important broadcasting regulatory issues to deal with during Bush's second term.

Among those CBS considered for the panel to investigate Rather's report were far-right broadcasters Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

"CBS broke with long-standing tradition at CBS News and elsewhere of standing up to political pressure," says Rather. "And, there's no joy in saying it, they caved ... in an effort to placate their regulators in Washington."

Rather's lawsuit makes other serious allegations about CBS succumbing to political pressure in an attempt to suppress important news stories. In particular, he says that his bosses at CBS tried to stop him reporting evidence of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. According to Rather's lawsuit, "for weeks they refused to grant permission to air the story" and "continued to raise the goalposts, insisting on additional substantiation". Rather also claims that General Richard Meyers, then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military official in the US, called him at home and asked him not to broadcast the story, saying that it would "endanger national security".

Rather says that CBS only agreed to allow him to broadcast the story when it found out that Seymour Hersh would be writing about it in the New Yorker magazine. Even then, Rather claims, CBS tried to bury it. "CBS imposed the unusual restrictions that the story would be aired only once, that it would not be preceded by on-air promotion, and that it would not be referenced on the CBS Evening News," he says.

The charges outlined in Rather's lawsuit will cast a further shadow over the Bush legacy. He recently expressed regret for the "failed intelligence" which led to the invasion of Iraq and has received heavy criticism over the scale and depth of the economic downturn in the United States.

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Trooper Says Election Delayed Alaska Drug Case

Associated Press

WASILLA, Alaska -- The mother of Bristol Palin's boyfriend sent text messages discussing drug transactions less than a month after the young woman's mother, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, was nominated as the Republican vice presidential candidate, according to court documents filed this week.

An affidavit from an Alaska state trooper, filed Monday, states that Sherry L. Johnston referred in her messages to two police informants to "coffee" as a code for the drug OxyContin.

Johnston, 42, was arrested on felony drug charges last week after state troopers served a search warrant at her Wasilla home. She allegedly sold OxyContin tablets to the informants on three occasions this fall, the affidavit states. Police said two of the meetings were recorded by a hidden camera and a microphone.

Johnston is the mother of Levi Johnston, 18. Sarah Palin announced in September that her daughter Bristol, also 18, was pregnant and that Johnston was the father. Their child was due to be born Dec. 18, her grandfather Chuck Heath told the Anchorage Daily News recently.

Authorities say the case against Sherry Johnston began in the second week of September, when drug investigators intercepted a package containing 179 OxyContin pills. That led to the arrest of the suspects, who agreed to be informants.

According to the affidavit, Johnston sent a text message to one informant Oct. 1, writing: "Hey, my phones are tapped and reporters and god knows who else is always following me and the family so no privacy. I will let u no when I can go for cof."

The trooper's affidavit indicates that Sarah Palin's candidacy factored into the investigation, with state officials delaying execution of a search warrant until this month, when Johnston was "no longer under the protection or surveillance of the Secret Service."

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Activists Detained For Taking Ash Spill Photographs

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Minnesota Supremes Shoot Down Crucial Coleman Lawsuit, Making A Franken Win Nearly Certain

By Eric Kleefeld

Norm Coleman just got a Christmas present from the Minnesota Supreme Court: A giant lump of coal.

In a unanimous decision handed down just now, the state Supremes denied Coleman any relief in a lawsuit he was waging to deal with allegations of double-counted absentee ballots, which his campaign says have given an illegitimate edge to Al Franken. The Coleman campaign was seeking to switch 25 selected precincts back to their Election Night totals, which would undo all of Franken's recount gains in those areas and put Coleman back in the lead.

The court, however, sided with the Franken camp's lawyers in saying that a question like this should be reserved for a post-recount election contest proceeding, as the proper forum to discover evidence -- and which also has a burden of proof that heavily favors the certified winner.

Simply put, Coleman is in very big trouble right now. With Al Franken leading by 47 votes, this lawsuit was Coleman's best shot at coming from behind. And it just failed, making a Franken win nearly a foregone conclusion when this recount finishes up in early January.

Late Update: The Coleman campaign's lead lawyer Fritz Knaak says the court's decision today "virtually guarantees that this will be decided in an election contest." So say hello to some messy litigation. But at the point where we go into an election contest, the chances of a Coleman victory are really slim to none.

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Obama's Energy Plan Must Not Be A Sound Bite

So it looks like a copy of Barack Obama's inauguration speech has been leaked.

Here's an excerpt...

“Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation, and it can also be the standard around which we rally. On the battlefield of energy we can win for our nation a new confidence, and we can seize control again of our common destiny. Our excessive dependence on OPEC has already taken a tremendous toll on our economy and our people. It's a cause of the increased inflation and unemployment that we now face. This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our nation.

The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.”

Now for the truth...

What you just read is not an excerpt from a leaked version of Obama's inauguration speech. It's an excerpt from a speech made by President Jimmy Carter on July 15, 1979.

My friends, here we are almost three decades later, and we're just as reliant upon oil as the day Jimmy Carter spoke those words.

You see, four years after President Carter took office, many enjoyed mocking his failed energy policies and conservation attempts while The Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan rushed to rip solar panels off the roof of the White House.

It was a turning point and a very sad day, indeed.

Now I'm not saying all of President Carter's energy initiatives made sense. After all, he did champion oil shale and coal as ways to provide the nation with energy security. And if you look at the water, climate change and depletion issues associated with both oil shale and coal production, you'll see that these energy resources do not provide an ounce of energy security...but just prolong the inevitable, while destroying even more of our natural capital.

However, rallying the nation today to support a new energy infrastructure heavily weighted in renewable energy, efficiency and conservation cannot be a sound bite in the history books the way Jimmy Carter's energy plan was. We do not have that luxury today. If we don't get it right this time, we can officially chalk ourselves up as a second-rate nation, loyal only to the dwindling fossil fuel resources that crippled us to begin with.

Of course, we also have to be realistic about the difficult road ahead. After all, this transition to a new, cleaner energy economy is not going to be quick, and it's not going to be easy. But we must remain optimistic too. Because, as Albert Einstein once said, “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.”

The opportunity that we have today is to build a future that embraces clean energy, social justice, and the triple bottom line. It is an opportunity that will enable better living conditions for the global community while creating new wealth for those who invest in local communities, renewable energy and organic food markets. And my friends, this is an opportunity that will not likely repeat itself if we don't act on it now.

We stand at the threshold of a new way of life and a new generation of wealth.

Let's not blow it!

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millions of monkeys

By bacchus

Once upon a time a man appeared in a village and
announced to the villagers that he would buy monkeys
for $10 each.

The villagers, seeing that there were many monkeys around, went out to the forest and started catching them. The man bought thousands at $10 and, as supply started to diminish, the villagers stopped their effort. He next announced that he would now buy monkeys at $20 each. This renewed the efforts of the villagers and they started catching monkeys again. Soon the supply diminished even further and people started going back to their farms. The offer increased to $25 each and the supply of monkeys became so scarce it was an effort to even find a monkey, let alone catch it! The man now announce d that he would buy monkeys at $50 each! However, since he had to go to the city on some business, his assistant would buy on his behalf. In the absence of the man, the assistant told the villagers: ‘Look at all these monkeys in the big cage that the man has already collected. I will sell them to you at $35 and when the man returns from the city, you can sell them to him for $50 each.’ The villagers rounded up all their savings and bought all the monkeys for 700 billion dollars.

They never saw the man or his assistant again, only
lots and lots of monkeys!

Now you have a better understanding of how the

Original here

Top 10 political scoops of 2008


Katie Couric in New York

In an interview with CBS 'Evening News' anchor Katie Couric, Gov. Sarah Palin was unable to answer such simple questions as what newspapers and magazines she regularly read.
Photo: AP

As the curtain comes down on 2008, it’s hard to let go. Political junkies couldn’t have asked for a better year — even news veteran David Broder dubbed the 2008 election the best he ever covered.

Game-changing moments came from mainstream and new media outlets, traditional newsmaker interviews, and off-the-cuff remarks captured by amateurs.

So herewith, Politico’s take on the top ten political scoops of 2008. There’s no accounting for tastes, so we welcome your picks, too. What stories turned your engine?

1. Couric and Palin (CBS News): Charlie Gibson scored the first Sarah Palin interview, now remembered mostly for the ABC anchor’s professorial manner and his question about the 6-year-old “Bush Doctrine” of military preemption, on which Palin effectively drew a blank. But rival anchor Katie Couric proved even tougher for the vice presidential candidate, who was unable to answer such simple questions as what newspapers and magazines she regularly read. Palin’s stumbling responses were spoofed verbatim by her comedic doppelganger, Tina Fey.

2. McCain’s houses (Politico): John McCain answered several questions from Politico’s Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin in an August interview, but it was the one he couldn’t answer that grabbed the headlines — how many houses he owned. Not surprisingly, Democrats pounced on the notion that the Republican nominee was out of touch, and Obama supporters donned buttons at the Denver Democratic convention reading: “Ask me how many houses I own.”

3. Obama on “bitter” small-town Americans (Huffington Post): Obama committed few major gaffes during his nearly two-year run for president, and his worst verbal misstep wasn’t caught by a big-time media outlet, but by citizen journalist Mayhill Fowler. At a San Francisco fundraiser, Obama talked about small-town voters who “get bitter” and “cling to guns or religion.” Aside from the political fallout, the Huffington Post report showed how citizen journalists — using their own cell phones, cameras and laptops — can scoop the boys on the bus.

4) Palin’s shopping spree (Politico): Palin’s folksy public persona was put to the test when Politico’s Jeanne Cummings reported that the Republican National Committee had shelled out $150,000 to upgrade her and her family’s wardrobe. The campaign tried to brush off the Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus tabs by claiming the clothes would be given to charity after the campaign. But by that time, late-night talk show hosts and "Saturday Night Live" writers were already busy at work.

5) Clinton camp turmoil (Washington Post and The Atlantic): Just two days after Hillary Rodham Clinton chalked up wins in Ohio and Texas, the Washington Post's Peter Baker and Anne Kornblut revealed bitter squabbling among her top advisers, including Harold Ickes and Mark Penn. The behind-the-scenes tension was captured by the reporters in one memorable exchange: "'[Expletive] you!' Ickes shouted. '[Expletive] you!' Penn replied. '[Expletive] you!' Ickes shouted again." Months later, The Atlantic’s Joshua Green returned to the theme armed with a treasure trove of top staffer memos.

6) Jeremiah Wright tapes (ABC News): ABC’s Brian Ross first aired snippets of the fiery sermons by Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, that became YouTube staples, including his “God Damn America!” outbursts and his post-9/11 comments about how “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” Dogged by Wright’s remarks, Obama — who until then had avoided openly discussing race — was forced to give a major speech on the subject. Although McCain refused to exploit Wright’s comments in advertisements, the sermons continued as hot topics through Election Day on right-wing radio and blogs.

7) Network TV’s military analysts (New York Times): The Times’ David Barstow exhaustively reported on lucrative ties between TV’s military analysts, the Pentagon and lobbying firms. While broadcast and cable news networks largely ignored the front-page scoop, bloggers kept on the story. Last month, in a story headlined “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” Barstow followed up with a lengthy look at NBC analyst and retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who’s profited from deals with private military contractors.

8) McCain’s inner circle (New York Times Magazine): Although it was published before Election Day, Robert Draper’s deeply reported profile of McCain’s inner circle read more like a post-mortem. In “The Making (and Remaking) of John McCain,” Draper used his extraordinary access to provide both a tick-tock of events and overall portrait of a campaign struggling relentlessly, and often fruitlessly, to craft an effective message against Obama.

9) Edwards’ extramarital affair (National Enquirer): Even after mainstream outlets ignored the National Enquirer’s initial reports on John Edwards’ affair, the tabloid kept digging. Their efforts culminated in July with a successful stakeout of the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles — where Edwards met with the woman — and Edwards’ subsequent admission of an affair in an interview with ABC’s Bob Woodruff. Of course, the news would have been bigger if Edwards had still been in the race, but the story likely kept the former senator off short lists for top jobs in Obama’s administration.

10) Powell’s endorsement (NBC): Despite the absence of Tim Russert, who passed away in June, “Meet the Press” and other Sunday shows continued to be the favored weekly pit stop for candidates, supporters, and public figures needing to get an announcement off their chests. With the campaign winding down, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose support would benefit either candidate, told Tom Brokaw on Oct. 19 that was he was bucking the Republican Party and backing Obama.

Original here

Top 10 people we'll miss in 2009

Alexander Burns

With control of the White House turning over in January and the impossibly long election of 2008 slipping into memory, there's a collection of political personalities we'll be hearing less from in the coming year — and whose frequent presence in the news cycle will be sorely missed.

We'll miss their unpredictability, their tell-it-like-it-is TV appearances, or their predilection for conflict and controversy. A few of them are political throwbacks, the likes of which may never be seen again in Washington.

Some of these figures may be back at some point: In politics, goodbye doesn't always mean goodbye. But there's no doubt this cast of characters won't be as ubiquitous in 2009 as it was in 2008, and the world of political theater will be the poorer for it.

Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.): The famously off-message Rendell became a cable news fixture during the 2008 cycle, particularly in the six-week run-up to the Keystone State's Democratic presidential primary.

He's a reporter's dream: a powerful, plugged-in pol who actually speaks his mind. A staunch backer of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rendell famously caused a stir when he told local media that "there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate" in Pennsylvania. Later, at the Democratic National Convention, Rendell soured the kickoff to his party's unity-fest when he complained about what he called the "embarrassing" pro-Obama tilt in the media.

He's the first to admit that his loose-lipped ways make him a liability in national politics.

We'll surely be hearing from Rendell again — he's already drawn post-election fire for saying homeland security appointee Janet Napolitano has "no life" — but he won't be a daily presence in our lives anymore. One more reason to look forward to 2012, or a Cabinet appointment that will catapult him back into the national spotlight.

Carly Fiorina: The former Hewlett-Packard CEO reinvented herself this year as a spokeswoman and adviser for the McCain campaign. By the end of the cycle, she'd carved out a role for herself that might be called "mavericky" — sometimes too much so for her candidate's comfort.

Fiorina was a valuable surrogate, on television and on the campaign trail, selling John McCain's economic proposals. But more than once she indulged in what might be called excessive straight talk, first voicing opinions on birth control that clashed with McCain's and later telling MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that Sarah Palin was not qualified to run a major corporation.

Fiorina has already taken steps to maintain an active role in public life, appearing on "Meet the Press" during David Gregory's first turn as the show's host. It remains to be seen how her performance on the campaign trail will affect her future political ambitions.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean: Initially seen as a risky choice for chairman of the Democratic National Committee due to his volatile personality, Dean morphed into something of a bland partisan character during his time in Washington. His committee's fundraising numbers were often disappointing, but his 50-state strategy for party development is now seen as a success following the results of 2008.

Dean's departure from the DNC signals a fading of the personalities and debates of the 2004 election cycle, and underscores the sense that a new phase is starting for the Democratic Party. Still, there will always be a place in national politics for a smart, tart-tongued pol like Dean and it's hard to imagine that after a trailblazing presidential campaign and a term as DNC chair Dean will be content to return to a medical practice in Vermont.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska): When he lost reelection on Nov. 4, Stevens wasn't just the longest-serving Republican in Senate history and one of the GOP's most powerful members of Congress. He was also one of Capitol Hill's most colorful personalities, prone to public displays of emotion — usually anger.

In 2005, when Congress moved to strip Alaska of its beloved bridge to nowhere funding, Stevens vowed to resign from the Senate. In 2006, Stevens took to the Senate floor after Congress defeated an attempt to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, wearing an Incredible Hulk tie and threatening his colleagues: "I'm going to go to every one of your states and I'm going to tell them what you've done."

When Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) rose to counter Stevens, it resulted in what "The Daily Show" called a "coot-off." But with Stevens convicted of corruption and cast out by the voters of Alaska, it might be a while before Americans see another.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden: Once he's sworn into national office, the loquacious senator from Delaware will have to exercise a level of self-restraint that will not come easy to a man who has spent 36 of his 66 years in the United States Senate. He's off to a good start though, waiting 47 days before giving his first post-election interview.

That kind of discipline will be something new for Biden, whose proclivity for off-color and off-the-cuff remarks have led to his reputation as a gaffe machine. Anybody remember that "articulate and bright and clean" comment? How about "generated crisis"? Or "Barack America"?

We certainly do and, God love ya, we're going to miss the improvisations and spontaneity enabled by a safe Senate seat.

Vice President Dick Cheney: How many politicians, in either party, would respond to a tough question about public disapproval of foreign policy by asking, "So what?"?

And how many would tell a senior senator to "go f***" himself," as Cheney notoriously did to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in 2004? Proving his old-school ways, just last weekend the vice president said Leahy "merited it at the time." Now that's what we call straight talk.

For better or worse, Cheney has personified the cold-blooded, do-whatever-it-takes side of the Bush administration. Loathed by liberals and largely hidden from public view, the secretive Cheney's influence over the policies of the past eight years may never be fully understood.

He may not miss the political arena, but it will miss him, since it will likely be a long time before we have another vice president so seemingly insouciant about his public image.

Alan Colmes: After more than a decade as Sean Hannity's sparring partner on Fox News, Colmes is throwing in the towel. The "Hannity and Colmes" co-host has taken more than a few blows in his day, becoming an object of scorn not only for conservatives, but also for liberals who have called him a flimsy counterpart to his hard-hitting conservative rival.

America will miss Alan Colmes for a number of reasons. Like Cheney and Howard Dean, he seems tied up in a political moment that's passing. And after a dozen years with a prominent platform on national television, Colmes's personality still seems so undefined. Will we ever get a chance to know this man?

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.): After teasing the media with musings on a possible 2008 presidential campaign (remember the incomprehensible Omaha press conference where he announced that he would later announce something?), Hagel passed on a bid and retired from his Senate seat at the end of his second term. Then, after a trip to Iraq with Barack Obama fueled speculation about a cross-party presidential endorsement, Hagel kept silent in the general election (though his wife, Lilibet, endorsed the Democratic ticket).

Hagel, whose friendship with McCain deteriorated as a result of disagreements on the Iraq war, may have one or two more political strip-teases in store for us. But by leaving the Senate, he's depriving the chamber of a true maverick, the rare pol who could draw mention as a vice presidential prospect for George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg.

Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.): We'll miss Jefferson, though not nearly as much as congressional Republicans will. No matter how many of their own were under an ethical cloud, they could always point to Bill Jefferson as an example of how corruption was a bipartisan pastime.

And let's face it — his case was a doozy, something even Nancy Pelosi once acknowledged. "Anybody with $90,000 in their freezer has a problem," she said in 2006.

Still, Jefferson soldiered on, winning reelection in 2006 and nearly pulling it off again in 2008. While the long shot who defeated him in Louisiana's 2nd District, Anh "Joseph" Cao, is himself a compelling story, it's hard to see how Cao could keep us as mesmerized as Jefferson.

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.): This was the year that Charlie Brown finally kicked the football. Ahab caught the white whale. Sisyphus got to the top of the hill. The impossible finally happened: After years of targeting him, Democrats defeated Chris Shays, the last Republican House member from New England.

With Shays gone from Connecticut's 4th District, the press will have to find a new token Republican moderate. And the media will need to look elsewhere for agonized public statements about contentious legislation and angst-filled pronouncements about the future of the Republican Party.

Speculation has already started about a possible Senate bid down the line, but Shays has said he doesn't "see [himself] running for any office." If we know Shays, he'll reconsider that statement — publicly — but unfortunately for now, the thoughful veteran legislator will be dropping out of public view.

Original here

Poll: 75% glad Bush is done

By Paul Steinhauser
CNN Deputy Political Director

-- A new national poll suggests that three out of four Americans feel President Bush's departure from office is coming not a moment too soon.
Twenty-eight percent of those polled say President Bush is the worst president in U.S. history.

Twenty-eight percent of those polled say President Bush is the worst president in U.S. history.

Seventy-five percent of those questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Friday said they're glad Bush is going; 23 percent indicated they'll miss him.

"Earlier this year, Bush scored some of the lowest presidential approval ratings we've seen in half a century, so it's understandable that the public is eager for a new president to step in," said Keating Holland, CNN polling director.

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider added, "As President Bush prepares to leave office, the American public has a parting thought: Good riddance. At least that's the way three-quarters feel."
The portion who say they won't miss Bush is 24 percentage points higher than the 51 percent who said they wouldn't miss President Bill Clinton when he left office in January 2001. Forty-five percent of those questioned at that time said they would miss Clinton.

The poll indicates that Bush compares poorly with his presidential predecessors, with 28 percent saying that he's the worst ever. Forty percent rate Bush's presidency as poor, and 31 percent say he's been a good president.

Only a third of those polled said they want Bush to remain active in public life after he leaves the White House. That 33 percent figure is 22 points lower than those in 2001 who wanted Bill Clinton to retain a public role.

"It's been like a failed marriage," Schneider said.

"Things started out well. When President Bush first took office in 2001, more than 60 percent saw him as strong and decisive. That impression was confirmed after the September 11th attacks. The public still saw Bush as strong and decisive when he took office a second time in 2005.

"But no more. The public has completely lost confidence in this president," Schneider said.

Bush has dropped on a number of measures, but possibly the biggest is that only 20 percent say he inspires confidence, Holland said.

"That's an important figure when the country is facing its biggest economic crisis in a generation," he added.

When running for the White House in the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush promised to be a uniter and not a divider. But 82 percent of poll respondents felt that Bush did not unite the country, compared with 17 percent who said he did.

"The vast majority of Americans believe he betrayed his promise to unite the country," Schneider said. "He took a country that was divided under President Clinton and he divided it worse."

Only 27 percent of those questioned in the poll approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president; 72 percent disapprove.

"President Bush's job approval rating has been at or below freezing since the beginning of the year," Schneider said. "The current 27 percent approval rating is one of the lowest ratings for any president, ever."

The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll was conducted December 19-21, with 1,013 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Original here

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Dismantling the Imperial Presidency

By Aziz Huq

President-elect Obama's first appointments to the Justice, State and Defense Departments mark no radical change. Rather, they return to a centrist consensus familiar from the Clinton years. But pragmatic incrementalism and studied bipartisanship will do little to undo the centerpiece of the Bush/Cheney era's legacy. At its heart, that regime was intent on forcing the Constitution into a new mold of executive dominance.
Obama enters the White House in a slipstream of forces that will hinder attempts to abandon this constitutional vision. He may be a careful constitutional scholar, but we can't rely on Obama alone to reorient the constitutional order. It will be up to progressives to insist on fundamental repudiation of the Bush/Cheney era.

At first blush, Obama's victory is cause for optimism. As a senator he roundly rejected the signature Bush/Cheney national security policies: torture, "extraordinary rendition," Guantánamo and--until July--warrantless surveillance. Obama appointees like Eric Holder as attorney general speak unequivocally against these violations of constitutional and human rights (to be sure, in Holder's case it was after early equivocation).

The most significant Bush/Cheney innovation was planted at the taproot of our Constitution. It was the insistence that the president can exercise what Cheney in 1987 called "monarchical notions of prerogative." That he can, in other words, override validly enacted statutes and treaties simply by invoking national security. This monarchical claim underwrote not only the expansion of torture, extraordinary rendition and warrantless surveillance but also the stonewalling of Congressional and judicial inquiries in the name of "executive privilege" and "state secrets."

The Bush/Cheney White House leveraged pervasive post-9/11 fears to reverse what Cheney called "the erosion of presidential power" since Watergate. Relying on pliant Justice Department lawyers for legal cover, it put into practice a vision of executive power unconstrained by Congress or the courts. It achieved what James Madison once called the "accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands," which he condemned as "the very definition of tyranny."

Radical change is needed to re-establish legitimate bounds to executive power. We must again place beyond the pale Nixon's famous aphorism that "when the president does it, that means it's not illegal." But radical change--as early appointments and policy signals from the Obama transition team suggest--comes easier as campaign slogan than governing practice. And there are many reasons to fear a go-slow approach from Obama when it comes to restoring the constitutional equilibrium.

No matter how decent, any new president is tempted by the tools and trappings of executive authority. However tainted the Oval Office is now, Obama's perspective will change dramatically on entering the White House. He is already reading more daily security briefs than Bush and beginning each day with a barrage of fearful intelligence, hinting at dangers that largely never materialize. Submersion in that flow of intelligence will wrenchingly change his sense of the world's risks.

So Obama will be tempted to maintain Bush's innovations in executive power. While the terror threat remains substantial, as the Mumbai attack shows, the Bush administration has left counterterrorism policy in tatters. We have no rational strategy for terrorist interdiction and prevention. Obama's nominations of Robert Gates as defense secretary and Gen. James Jones as national security adviser suggest he is acutely aware of these deficits and of the Democrats' perceived vulnerability on national security. Nor are terrorists the only threat that might lead Obama to reach for emergency powers: credit crunches and fiscal meltdowns can also prompt unilateral executive action, with consequences as sweeping as any national security initiative.

Internal pressure for changing the White House position on executive power will thus wane as the new administration settles in. And pressure from the other two branches is unlikely to swell. The Obama White House will at first face a friendly Congress eager to show results on the economy and healthcare. Unlike the recently oppositional Congress, legislators in the majority have little incentive to make constitutional waves (expect some stalwarts, such as Senator Russ Feingold, to buck this trend). Matters are not helped by the turn from the feckless to the competent. Legislators and the public care most about the constitutional restraints on executive power when the occupant of the White House raises concerns about abuses of power. A more capable leader's entrance saps immediate pressure for reform, even when openings for such limits can be glimpsed.

Nor will the judiciary, listing rightward with President Bush's 324 appointments, provide much constraint. In his appointments to the Supreme Court and the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals (which hears many key constitutional cases), Bush seems to have selected executive-power mavens, including Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito and Judge Janice Rogers Brown. Their opinions already evince strong deference to executive claims of secrecy and expediency. Paradoxically, then, one of Bush's key legacies will be a judiciary that instinctually hews to an executive controlled by a Democratic president.

I am thus not optimistic that the Obama administration will of its own volition restore the constitutional balance, even if it gives up some of Bush/Cheney's most extravagant and offensive policies. With formidable forces arrayed against them, advocates for the Constitution's original equilibrium of powers must choose their battles carefully.

Three areas are particularly important in the administration's early days: torture, the law that the executive follows and accountability. In each case, measures can be taken that would correct a policy the Obama administration clearly disagrees with and simultaneously help dismantle the Bush/Cheney constitutional revolution. (The other pressing issue to face the incoming administration--detention policy--is so complex and difficult, largely thanks to the outgoing administration's compounded mistakes, that it needs to be looked at separately.)

Begin with torture. President Bush's repeated disavowals of government-sanctioned torture have created cognitive dissonance: White House protestations that "we don't torture" are no longer believed. An Obama administration dedicated to restoring America's tarnished international reputation must do more than talk. The best way to begin is for Congress to enact and President Obama to sign already introduced legislation that would limit the intelligence community to the specific interrogation tactics listed in the recently revised Army Field Manual. This law would make it clear that the CIA in particular cannot use what it euphemistically calls "enhanced interrogation techniques." In signing the law, Obama should eschew the weaseling signing provisos favored by Bush and instead forthrightly recognize that there is no presidential override when it comes to torture. This bill is a golden opportunity to restore international credibility and repudiate the monarchical presidency. So it is unfortunate that Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Ron Wyden have already begun backsliding on it.

Also on the torture front, the Obama administration should candidly acknowledge past wrongs, thereby abandoning the Bush/Cheney demand for absolute secrecy. In legal cases filed by torture victims such as Maher Arar, Khaled el-Masri and Shafiq Rasul, the Bush administration has parried demands for acknowledgment or restitution with a sweeping constitutional theory of "state secrets." Rejecting this theory would be a significant step in dismantling the Bush/Cheney view of executive unilateralism. It would be the smallest measure of justice to abandon this theory as ill founded and also to offer profound apologies and restitution to victims. It would be a public acknowledgment that our fears are never an excuse for anyone's suffering.

Torture is only one aspect of a larger distortion of the Constitution. Changing the executive's operating definitions of the law will be critical to rolling back the Bush/Cheney vision. Now this vision is largely memorialized in Justice Department opinions, many still secret. Some of them directly address presidential prerogatives to override laws. Others deal with specific constitutional rights, such as Fourth Amendment privacy rights and the freedom from indefinite detention without trial.

While there is not much general public pressure to change these positions, many constitutional scholars and advocacy groups have protested these opinions. Consistent pressure is required to ensure that the Obama Justice Department cleans house. All department opinions on executive power should be revealed, and troubling ones should be red-flagged so officials will know they can no longer rely on them. The Justice Department should then develop opinions that systematically repudiate the most offensive positions, in particular the idea of monarchical prerogatives to override the law.

Traditionally, opinions have been prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel in secret and then closely held within the administration. Given executive-branch lawyers' habitual pro-presidential tilt, this process should be refashioned. Not only should opinions be made public after publication; the OLC should invite comment and criticism from the public and scholars during drafting, much as other federal regulations are subject to pre-publication "notice and comment."

Finally, there is the thorny matter of accountability. Absent accountability, the lesson of the Bush/Cheney era would be that those who violate the law can, if brazen enough, get away with it. Yet the Obama transition team has signaled no appetite for criminal proceedings. And in any case, indictments might be pre-empted by a blanket pardon before January 20.

Many others have made a compelling case for prosecutions. But what if they don't happen? Paradoxically, blanket presidential pardons may be the least bad alternative. If prosecutions proceed, they may not be edifying. Admissible evidence will be sparse, given secrecy rules. Officials will protest at being sandbagged after having relied on (flawed) OLC opinions. And there is the danger of a repeat of the Iran/Contra trials, where Oliver North used the dock as a soapbox. Given these risks, a blanket pardon perversely might send the clearest signal that the malaise of the Bush/Cheney era was endemic.

Yet this is no reason to renounce accountability. Several commentators have urged a commission to establish full documentation of what was done and its legal justifications. An investigative commission could be less amenable to manipulation than trials. If it could carry out its work in a bipartisan spirit, while insisting on the investigative tools needed to cut through secrecy, such as subpoena power, it could establish a definitive historical record of Bush/Cheney's extraordinary power grab. Bringing to public scrutiny the imperial presidency's infractions will, I suspect, be as good a way as any of thoroughly discrediting that constitutional vision.

No one should assume that the end of the Bush presidency marks the end of the imperial presidency. The Obama administration faces a geostrategic environment of growing uncertainty, with treasury, reputation and military depleted by eight feckless years. It would be foolhardy simply to assume that the worst will be swept away. Yet the opportunities exist for progressives to insist that Obama stay true to his message of hope and his promise of restoring America's tarnished Constitution.

Original here

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

For Now, Obama Proves to Be Elusive Target for G.O.P.

Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

President-elect Barack Obama met with Senator John McCain, his Republican rival, after the election in November.


WASHINGTON — It’s not so easy being the loyal opposition these days.

Almost two months after Barack Obama’s election, Republicans are struggling to figure out how — or even whether — to challenge or criticize him as he prepares to assume the presidency.

The president-elect is proving to be an elusive and frustrating target. He has defied efforts to be framed ideologically. His cabinet picks have won wide praise. An effort by the Republican National Committee to link Mr. Obama to the unfolding scandal involving Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois and his alleged attempt to barter for Mr. Obama’s Senate seat was dismissed by no less a figure than Senator John McCain, the Republican Mr. Obama beat for the presidency.

The toughest criticism of Mr. Obama during this period — in fact, the real only criticism of him during this period — has come not from the right but from the left, primarily over his selection of the Rev. Rick Warren, an evangelical pastor who is a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, to deliver the invocation at the inauguration.

Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

Current Republican criticism of Barack Obama is “ineffective,” Newt Gingrich said, adding that he would offer suggestions.

There are plenty of battles ahead that may provide Republicans with an opportunity to find their footing. They will no doubt find arguments to use against Mr. Obama when, for example, he starts to lay out the details of his economic stimulus plans. While Mr. Obama is the beneficiary of the kind of post-election honeymoon Washington has not seen in at least 16 years, honeymoons tend to end.

Still, this display of Republican uncertainty is testimony to the political skills of the incoming president, and a reminder of just how difficult a situation the Republican Party is in. More than that, though, members of both parties say, it is evidence of the unusual place the country is in: buoyed by the prospect of the inauguration of a president who appears to enjoy great favor with the public, while at the same time deeply worried about the country’s future. It is going to be complicated making a case against Mr. Obama, many Republicans said, in an environment where people want him to succeed and may not have much of an appetite for partisan politics.

“I think the country is so tired right now of a style of Republican attack politics that has become a caricature of itself, they instinctively go, ‘I’m tired of that,’ ” said Newt Gingrich, a Republican and former speaker of the House. “It’s ineffective against Barack Obama right now. The country is faced with serious problems and is about to have a brand new president. You’d have to be irrational not to want the new president to succeed.”

Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and a leading candidate to become the next leader of the Republican National Committee, offered a similar message on his blog. “Where necessary,” Mr. Anuzis wrote, “we should stand for what is right and forcefully be the loyal opposition. But partisan politics in times like these for the sake of politics is not healthy. “

Republican leaders in Congress have made clear that they are looking, at least initially, to work with Mr. Obama, reflecting what they said was the seriousness of the times.

“You’ve seen very little criticism coming out of the gates of the president-elect or his cabinet selections,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, said on Tuesday. “We want to work with him on behalf of the American people and hope that he governs in the open and bipartisan way in which he promised.”

The situation Republican leaders find themselves in is reminiscent of the frustration displayed by Mr. McCain and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, in the presidential campaign. As a candidate and as president-elect, Mr. Obama has proved deft at skirting ideological definitions; that has become even clearer as he has put together his cabinet and left open his options on issues like repealing the tax cuts for the wealthy. The presidential campaign clearly taught him how to avoid political mistakes and to clean them up quickly when made: when, at his first news conference as president-elect, he made an unkind remark about Nancy Reagan — a joke about her holding séances in the White House — Mr. Obama called her and apologized before the evening news.

Beyond that, the historic nature of his presidency — of his being the first African-American president, and all the interest that has generated here and abroad — has complicated things even more for an opposition party looking to go on the attack.

The Republican National Committee appears to be having particular trouble in finding the right tone. Since Election Day, it has continued with the daily patter of attacks on Mr. Obama that it offered throughout the general election campaign, a strategy pushed by the national chairman, Mike Duncan, but one that clearly does not have universal support.

The committee’s effort to link Mr. Obama to the corruption investigation in Illinois, through statements and a television advertisement it produced, drew criticism from Mr. McCain as well as Mr. Gingrich.

“It was amazingly wrong,” Mr. Gingrich said.

For his part, Mr. Duncan, who is seeking re-election as chairman when the party gathers here in January, said there was a role for his party to act as “the loyal opposition: to ask questions, agree where you can, but ask questions all the time.”

Mr. Duncan acknowledged that this was not easy, though he suggested it would be easier after Mr. Obama took office and was faced with dealing with problems and fulfilling campaign promises.

“It’s too early,” he said. “We’re still in this honeymoon phase, and we will hold him accountable. We will work with him and try to make sure he keeps his promises.”

The other complications for Republicans is that it is difficult to go on the attack without having a positive program to offer as an alternative. Mr. Gingrich said he would lay out positions in coming weeks that the party could embrace to offer a contrast with Democrats, like suggesting that government needs the same kind of management overhaul that Congress is talking about imposing on the auto industry.

Still, in the wake of the party’s losses in November, Republicans are having trouble reaching any kind of consensus about anything beyond the broadest of generalities. And that does not appear likely to change any time soon, as the party tries to figure out exactly how it should handle this new president.

Original here

Barack Obama to Swear into Office on Homosexual Atheist's Bible

BY: Dennis DiClaudio

Well, it seems to be official. Barack Obama will be taking the Oath of Office on January 20, 2009, with his right hand planted firmly on the Bible owned by a man who neither believed in a personal god nor preferred the company of women in the bedroom.

That's right. He somehow managed to score the same Bible on which fellow Illinoisiate Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president...

"President-elect Obama is deeply honored that the Library of Congress has made the Lincoln Bible available for use during his swearing-in," said Presidential Inaugural Committee Executive Director Emmett Beliveau.

"The President-elect is committed to holding an Inauguration that celebrates America's unity, and the use of this historic Bible will provide a powerful connection to our common past and common heritage."

Such a thumbing of the nose at all the good old fashioned family values on which this country was founded will almost certainly come as a blow to all the decent Americans who were hoping that anti-gay rights Christian Pastor Rick Warren's prayer at the inauguration was a signal to their ranks that he would be continuing the current administration's policy of coddling them.

No such luck. By deliberately choosing the Bible of Abraham Lincoln -- a man who, if not an absolute homosexual, certainly had strong homosexual leanings, and who believed in neither the Bible nor a personal god -- Obama seems to be giving aid and comfort to the enemies of American values.

The day seems to belong to the degenerate heathen sodomites.

Update: Reading through the comments to this post, it occurs to me that yet another tired old stereotype has now been laid to rest...

Liberals are no better at interpreting satire than conservatives are.

Cold, empty, meaningless universe bless America.

Original here

The Untouchables

Diplomatic immunity affords foreign diplomats in America a blank check for bad behavior. Unpaid bills, drunk driving, sex crimes and even slavery - what's the recourse?

Diplomatic Impunity

In early 2005, Virginia police closed in on a suspected child predator -- a man in his 40s who cops say drove four hours to meet a 13-year-old girl he'd met on the Internet, promising to teach her about sex. It turned out the girl was really a cop, and officers arrested the man at a shopping mall.

But then it was the police who got an unpleasant surprise. Their suspect, Salem Al-Mazrooei, was a diplomat from the United Arab Emirates -- and therefore covered by "diplomatic immunity." The cops had to let him go. Days later, Al-Mazrooei left the country, never having spent a night in jail.

Unpaid bills, drunk driving, sex crimes and even slavery -- isn't there any recourse for this conduct?
Diplomatic immunity? Diplomatic impunity is more like it. Thanks to several international treaties observed by most nations, diplomats and embassy workers get special protections and privileges in the places they're posted. Many of them can't be arrested, sued or even taxed by host countries.

Some forms of diplomatic immunity are extremely important. For example, we need to make sure foreign diplomats -- especially our own people overseas -- don't get locked up for political reasons. The problem is that immunity has come to be used as an absurdly broad cover for sleazy or criminal behavior. As a result, many of the 100,000 foreign diplomats and their dependents in America can break laws, blow off bills, even park where they please -- and never pay for it.

While the vast majority act responsibly, some of them -- including citizens of countries that get billions in taxpayer-funded U.S. foreign aid -- behave in ways that would land anyone else behind bars. Immunity, says UN critic Joshua Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute, "invites abuse. And sure enough, the invitation has been accepted."

Nobody knows this like the people of New York City, home to the United Nations. The UN rarely gets much done, but somehow its officials are still too busy to park legally. Between 1997 and the end of 2002, foreign diplomats racked up more than 150,000 unpaid parking tickets -- totaling a staggering $18 million. But thanks to diplomatic immunity, the city has no power to collect.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg: The money is even bigger when it comes to property taxes. Diplomats get tax-exempt real estate for their official business, but some use the property to turn a profit. According to New York officials, diplomats from the Philippines, for example, ran a bank, a restaurant and even an airlines office from their Manhattan complex -- for which they neglected to pay more than $1 million in taxes. Since the city can't go after the diplomats directly, it has resorted to suing foreign governments. But when New York sued Turkey for $70 million in back property taxes in 2003, the city wound up settling for a puny $5 million.

Perhaps the most brazen deadbeats, though, were officials from Zaire who stopped paying rent to their private landlord and ran up $400,000 in debt. When the landlord sued, the U.S. State Department defended the Zaireans, saying they were protected by immunity -- and a circuit court agreed. The landlord finally cut off the utilities; that's when the officials fled without paying their back rent. (Later, the landlords reportedly reached an "amicable agreement" with Zaire.)

Then there's behavior that's not only sleazy but also dangerous. Diplomats are famous for driving recklessly and often under the influence of alcohol. According to the New York Police Department, in April, a young Russian attaché, Ilya Sergeyevich Morozov, was allegedly driving drunk when he struck and injured a New York police officer who was trying to stop him from barreling into a closed roadway. Morozov was protected by diplomatic immunity and let go.

Or how about the people who use their protection to smuggle drugs? In July, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced the indictment of a UN employee who allegedly had smuggled drugs into the United States in special diplomatic pouches meant for official documents. The law also protects those pouches from inspection by local authorities, leaving us vulnerable not only to drugs coming into the country but also to weapons, chemicals and other destructive materials that can be used by terrorists.

Some of the most shocking crimes involve the way well-heeled diplomats treat their domestic workers. A recent essay by the American Anti-Slavery Group warned of "a growing concern among labor activists that diplomatic immunity has become a convenient cover for slavery."

In 1999, a Bangladeshi woman named Shamela Begum said she was essentially enslaved by a senior Bahraini envoy to the UN and his wife. Begum charged that the couple took her passport, struck her and paid her just $800 for ten months of service -- during which she was only twice allowed out of the couple's New York apartment. But when Begum sued her employers, U.S. Justice Department lawyers argued that the case had to be dismissed because the Bahraini envoy and his wife had diplomatic immunity. Never mind that our Constitution bans slavery. (Begum later reached a settlement with her employers.) An isolated case? Estimates show that hundreds of women have been exploited by their diplomat employers over the past 20 years.

Unpaid bills, drunk driving, sex crimes and even slavery -- isn't there any recourse for this conduct? The State Department is right to worry about retaliation against U.S. diplomats abroad (who aren't always on perfect behavior themselves). And we can't just break our promises in a treaty. But Congress has power here -- either by shaming guests into better behavior through public hearings or by chopping serious foreign aid to countries with troublemaking emissaries.

When Congress took a look at diplomatic immunity in the 1980s, a New York police detective testified about tracking down a suspect in a series of rapes. Although the suspect had been identified by two victims, the police had to let him go after 45 minutes because he was the son of a diplomat from Ghana. As he left, the former detective told The New York Times, "he snickered and said, 'I told you I had diplomatic immunity.' He was looking at the women, too, and laughing." Twenty years later, it sounds like that attitude hasn't changed.
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