Wednesday, July 16, 2008

McCain's Perez Hilton Problem

It's no secret that last week was not a good one for John McCain. His old friend, Phil Gramm, demonstrated such a sad case of foot in mouth disease with his "mental recession" line that it was almost as though Gramm was acting as an Obama campaign covert operative. Then McCain had a little trouble performing, shall we say, when asked by a reporter to clarify his position on insurance coverage of Viagra but not of contraception. But those may not be the only media moments from last week that come back to haunt McCain on the general election campaign trail.

In an interview with the New York Times, McCain sought to affirm his conservative credentials. This included stating definitively that he opposes adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples. On Sunday, celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton (real name Mario Lavandeira) selected McCain's statement on the matter as his "Quote of the Day." The quote simply reads, "I think that we've proven that both parents are important in the success of a family so, no, I don't believe in gay adoption." At last count Hilton's post garnered around 700 comments, some of which are blatantly homophobic, (which is ironic considering Lavandeira himself is openly gay, which begs the question: if you disapprove of gay people so much why are you visiting a blog run by one?). But for the most part, the comments -- many of which are too colorful to print here -- highlight a fundamental problem for John McCain as he tries to formulate a winning strategy for November: How to win an election decided by voters in the middle, while continuing to pander to voters on the right.

It's no secret that gay marriage has long been a highly contentious political issue (one that arguably cost Democrats the 2004 election, since according to some polls gay marriage bans in states like Ohio had an impact on the presidential election) but gay adoption has emerged as a classic centrist issue. Barack Obama, who has been accused by the left of undergoing a political "Extreme Home Makeover" into a moderate in recent weeks, does not explicitly support gay marriage but does support equal adoption rights for gays and lesbians.

Younger voters in particular, who have been raised in a world of Will & Grace and Ellen have become increasingly intolerant of intolerance. John McCain may need to take particular note since polls show that young white evangelicals, once a cornerstone of the GOP, have begun to drift away from the party. Additionally, while she may be viewed as controversial now, (thanks to her lively stint on The View, Rosie O'Donnell certainly deserves some of the credit for helping to introduce the average American to the idea that gay parents are just like other parents.

While for some Americans religious beliefs remain an obstacle to their support of marriage rights for gays and lesbians, many of those same Americans have a tough time reconciling their religious conviction and compassion -- with the idea that a child may remain homeless in spite of the fact that a loving home exists in which they could be raised, simply because the home is inhabited by a same sex couple. A Pew Research Center poll shows that a clear majority of Americans now support adoption rights for gays and lesbians.

Like many Americans, I applauded Barack Obama's speech about absentee fathers. And I must say for the record, that I do believe that in an ideal world, a young black boy will be raised in a household in which he has the opportunity to see firsthand an image of a strong, responsible, black man; an image to serve as a roadmap for the type of man he will aspire to be someday. But I also believe that families come in all shapes and sizes (Barack Obama is living proof of this), and that when a family is both financially and emotionally sound enough to provide love and stability for a child, their skin color and gender matter don't matter as much.

Perhaps someone should ask John McCain, whose family rescued his youngest daughter Bridget from an orphanage in Bangladesh, if she would have been better off remaining there, than raised by a loving gay and lesbian couple.

Original here

CNN exclusive: Obama on foreign policy

CNN's Fareed Zakaria interviews Sen. Barack Obama.

CNN's Fareed Zakaria interviews Sen. Barack Obama.

(CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama discussed his vision for the world in a wide-ranging foreign policy discussion with CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

The Democratic presidential hopeful answered some tough questions about how he would deal with the world's crises, what he would do if Osama bin Laden is caught and his plan for Iraq.

Here are some highlights from the interview, which aired Sunday on "Fareed Zakaria -- GPS."

ZAKARIA: Tell me, what is your first memory of a foreign policy event that shaped you, shaped your life?

OBAMA: A first memory. Well, you know, it wasn't so much an event.

I mean, my first memory was my mother coming to me and saying, "I've remarried this man from Indonesia, and we're moving to Jakarta on the other side of the world." Video Watch part of Obama's discussion on foreign policy »

And that's, I think, my first memory of understanding how big the world was. And then, flying there and landing. This was only maybe a year, or even less than a year, after an enormous coup, the military coup in which we learned later that over half-a-million people had probably died.

But it was for me, as a young boy, a magical place. And I think that probably is when it first enters into my consciousness that this is a big world. There are a lot of countries, a lot of cultures. It's a complicated place.

ZAKARIA: But you were an American in Indonesia. How did that make you feel?

OBAMA: Well, you know, it made me realize what an enormous privilege it is to be an American. I mean, it certainly was at that time, even more so, because the gap in the wealth of the West at the time compared to the East was much wider.

But it wasn't simply the fact that my mother was being paid in dollars by the U.S. Embassy, and so, that gave us some additional comfort.

It was also becoming aware that, for example, the generals in Indonesia or members of Suharto's family were living in lavish mansions, and the sense that government wasn't always working for the people, but was working for insiders -- not that that didn't happen in the United States, but at least the sense that there was a civil society and rules of law that had to be abided by.

My stepfather was essentially dragged out of the university he'd been studying in in Hawaii, and was conscripted and sent to New Guinea. And when he was first conscripted, he didn't know whether he was going to be jailed, killed -- that sense of arbitrariness of government power.

Those were the things that you felt you were protected from as an American, and made me, as I got older, appreciate America that much more.

ZAKARIA: Why did you major in international affairs?

OBAMA: Well, obviously, having lived overseas and having lived in Hawaii, having a mother who was a specialist in international development, who worked -- was one of the early practitioners of microfinancing, and would go to villages in South Asia and Africa and Southeast Asia, helping women buy a loom or a sewing machine or a milk cow, to be able to enter into the economy -- it was natural for me, I think, to be interested in international affairs.

The Vietnam War had drawn to a close when I was fairly young. And so, that wasn't formative for me in the way it was, I think, for an earlier generation.

The Cold War, though, still loomed large. And I thought that both my interest in what was then called the Third World and development there, as well as my interest in issues like nuclear proliferation and policy, that I thought that I might end up going into some sort of international work at some point in my life.

ZAKARIA: Do you believe, when looking at the world today, that Islamic extremism is the transcendent challenge of the 21st century?

OBAMA: I think the problems of terrorism and groups that are resisting modernity, whether because of their ethnic identities or religious identities, and the fact that they can be driven into extremist ideologies, is one of the severe threats that we face.

I don't think it's the only threat that we face.

ZAKARIA: But how do you view the problem within Islam? As somebody who saw it in Indonesia ... the largest Muslim country in the world?

OBAMA: Well, it was interesting. When I lived in Indonesia -- this would be '67, '68, late '60s, early '70s -- Indonesia was never the same culture as the Arab Middle East. The brand of Islam was always different.

But around the world, there was no -- there was not the sense that Islam was inherently opposed to the West, or inherently opposed to modern life, or inherently opposed to universal traditions like rule of law.

And now in Indonesia, you see some of those extremist elements. And what's interesting is, you can see some correlation between the economic crash during the Asian financial crisis, where about a third of Indonesia's GDP was wiped out, and the acceleration of these Islamic extremist forces.

It isn't to say that there is a direct correlation, but what is absolutely true is that there has been a shift in Islam that I believe is connected to the failures of governments and the failures of the West to work with many of these countries, in order to make sure that opportunities are there, that there's bottom-up economic growth.

You know, the way we have to approach, I think, this problem of Islamic extremism ... is we have to hunt down those who would resort to violence to move their agenda, their ideology forward. We should be going after al Qaeda and those networks fiercely and effectively.

But what we also want to do is to shrink the pool of potential recruits. And that involves engaging the Islamic world rather than vilifying it, and making sure that we understand that not only are those in Islam who would resort to violence a tiny fraction of the Islamic world, but that also, the Islamic world itself is diverse.

And that lumping together Shia extremists with Sunni extremists, assuming that Persian culture is the same as Arab culture, that those kinds of errors in lumping Islam together result in us not only being less effective in hunting down and isolating terrorists, but also in alienating what need to be our long-term allies on a whole host of issues.

ZAKARIA: If U.S. forces in Afghanistan captured Osama bin Laden, what would you do with him, and you were president?

OBAMA: Well, I think that, if he was -- if he was captured alive, then we would make a decision to bring the full weight of not only U.S. justice, but world justice down on him. And I think that -- and I've said this before -- that I am not a cheerleader for the death penalty. I think it has to be reserved for only the most heinous crimes. But I certainly think plotting and engineering the death of 3,000 Americans justifies such an approach. Video Watch what Obama says about bin Laden »

Now, I think this is a big hypothetical, though. Let's catch him first. And the fact that we have failed to seriously go after al Qaeda over the last five years, because of the distraction of Iraq, I think we are now seeing the consequences of that in Afghanistan.

That's not the only problem we have in Afghanistan. We have not dealt with the narco-trafficking that's taking place there. We have not provided farmers there an option beyond poppy. I think the Karzai government has not gotten out of the bunker and helped organize Afghanistan and government, the judiciary, police forces, in ways that would give people confidence.

So, there are a lot of problems there. But a big chunk of the issue is that we allowed the Taliban and al Qaeda to regenerate itself when we had them on the ropes. That was a big mistake, and it's one I'm going to correct when I'm president.

ZAKARIA: You talked about the other threats we face. In dealing with these threats, how should we approach other nations?

John McCain has talked about a new G-8, the group of the richest countries in the world, which would exclude Russia, expel Russia, and not include China. So, it would be an attempt to draw a line in the sand and cast out, as it were, the non-democracies.

Do you think that's a good idea?

OBAMA: It would be a mistake.

Look. If we're going to do something about nuclear proliferation -- just to take one issue that I think is as important as any on the list -- we've got to have Russia involved. The amount of loose nuclear material that's floating around in the former Soviet Union, the amount of technical know-how that is in countries that used to be behind the Iron Curtain -- without Russia's cooperation, our efforts on that front will be greatly weakened.

China is going to be one of the dominant economies -- already is -- and will continue to grow at an extraordinary pace. The notion that we don't want to be engaged in a serious way with China, or that we would want to exclude them from the process of creating international rules of the road that are able to maintain order in the financial markets, that are able to address critical issues like terrorism, that are able to focus our attention on disparities of wealth between countries -- that does not make sense.

Now, I think that we have to have a clear sense of what our values are and what our ideals are. I don't think that we should shy away from being straight with the Russians about human rights violations. We should not shy away from talking to the Chinese about those same subjects.

I think that we have to be tough negotiators with them when it comes to critical issues. For example, if China is not working cooperatively with us on trade issues, I think that there's nothing wrong with us being tough bargainers.

But we have to engage and get them involved and brought into dealing with some of these transnational problems. And that kind of tough, thoughtful, realistic diplomacy used to be a bipartisan hallmark of U.S. foreign policy.

And one of the things that I want to do, if I have the honor of being president, is to try to bring back the kind of foreign policy that characterized the Truman administration with Marshall and Acheson and Kennan.

But also characterized to a large degree -- the first President Bush -- with people like Scowcroft and Powell and Baker, who I think had a fairly clear-eyed view of how the world works, and recognized that it is always in our interests to engage, to listen, to build alliances -- to understand what our interests are, and to be fierce in protecting those interests, but to make sure that we understand it's very difficult for us to, as powerful as we are, to deal all these issues by ourselves.

We need to show leadership through consensus and through pulling people together wherever we can. There are going to be times where we have to act unilaterally to protect our interests. And I always reserve the right to do that, should I be commander in chief.

ZAKARIA: What about if you don't get that consensus, let's say, in a place like Darfur? You've called for a no-fly zone. But it's a U.N. no-fly zone.

OBAMA: Right.

ZAKARIA: Now, but the U.N. isn't going to have a no-fly zone, probably, because the Chinese and the Russians will probably not go along with it.

So, in that event, do you want to have a U.S. or a NATO no-fly zone? In other words, do you want to do something, even if you can't get consensus?

OBAMA: Well, look. There are going to be times where it's the right thing to do, and the consensus is not going to be perfect.

I think our intervention in the Balkans ultimately was the right thing to do, although we never got the sort of formal consensus and coalition that we were able to achieve, for example, in the Gulf War. And so, the situations are going to vary.

My point is this, that we should always strive to create genuine coalitions -- not coalitions that are based on us twisting arms, withholding goodies, ignoring legitimate concerns of other countries, but coalitions that are based on a set of mutual self-interests.

In a situation like Darfur, I think that the world has a self-interest in ensuring that genocide is not taking place on our watch. Not only because of the moral and ethical implications, but also because chaos in Sudan ends up spilling over into Chad. It ends up spilling over into other parts of Africa, can end up being repositories of terrorist activity.

Those are all things that we've got to pay attention to. And if we have enough nations that are willing -- particularly African nations, and not just Western nations -- that are willing to intercede in an effective, coherent way, then I think that we need to act, even if we haven't achieved 100 percent consensus.

But the principle of us wanting to build effective alliances with other countries and to lead in that way through persuasion and organization, I think that's something that has historically been when we are at our best.

ZAKARIA: One area where you're outside the international consensus -- and certainly, perhaps, some others -- is the statement you made in a recent speech supporting Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.

Now, why not support the Clinton plan, which envisions a divided Jerusalem, the Arab half being the capital of a Palestinian state, the Jewish half being the capital of the Jewish state?

OBAMA: You know, the truth is that this was an example where we had some poor phrasing in the speech. And we immediately tried to correct the interpretation that was given.

The point we were simply making was, is that we don't want barbed wire running through Jerusalem, similar to the way it was prior to the '67 war, that it is possible for us to create a Jerusalem that is cohesive and coherent.

I was not trying to predetermine what are essentially final status issues. I think the Clinton formulation provides a starting point for discussions between the parties.

And it is an example of us making sure that we are careful in terms of our syntax. But the intention was never to move away from that basic, core idea that they -- that those parties are going to have to negotiate these issues on their own, with the strong engagement of the United States.

And if you look at the overall tenor of that speech and what I've said historically about this issue, you know, Israel has an interest not just in bunkering down. They've got to recognize that their long-term viability as a Jewish state is going to depend on their ability to create peace with their neighbors.

The Palestinian leadership has to acknowledge that the battles that they've been fighting, and the direction that they've been going in and the rhetoric they've been employing, has not delivered for their people.

And it is very hard, given the history of that region and the sense of grievance on both sides, to step back and say, let's be practical and figure out what works. But I think that's what the people of Israel and the people in the West Bank and Gaza are desperate for, is just some practical, commonsense approaches that would result in them feeling safe, secure and able to live their lives and educate their children.

ZAKARIA: You've also said that the chief beneficiary of the Iraq war has been Iran, which now poses a significant strategic threat to, or challenge to, the United States in the region.

If we were to leave Iraq entirely, would that not cede the field to them and allow Iran to consolidate its gains in the region and in the country?

OBAMA: I don't think so. Look, first of all, I have never talked about leaving the field entirely. What I've said is that we would get our combat troops out of Iraq, that we would not have permanent bases in Iraq.

I've talked about maintaining a residual force there to ensure that al Qaeda does not re-form in Iraq, that we're making sure that we are providing logistical support and potential training to Iraqi forces -- so long as we're not training sectarian armies that are then fighting each other -- to protect our diplomats, to protect humanitarian efforts in the region.

So, nobody's talking about abandoning the field.

ZAKARIA: That might be a large force.

OBAMA: Well, it -- you know, I'm going to make sure that we determine, based on conditions on the ground, how we effectively carry out those limited, temporary missions.

But what is going to prevent Iran from having significant influence inside of Iraq -- or at least, so much influence that Iraq is not functioning -- is to make sure that the government has stood up, that it has capacity, that the Shia, the Sunni, the Kurds have come to the sort of political accommodation that allows them to divide oil revenues that are now coming in quite handsomely, that ensures that, in fact, we're serious about ending corruption in some of the ministries, that provincial federalist approaches to governance are being observed.

The stronger the Iraqi government is on its own -- not with us, but on its own -- the less likely that Iran is going to exert its influence.

And again, this is -- you know this better than I do, Fareed -- the assumption that, because many in Iraq are Shia, that they automatically are going to align themselves with Iran, ignores the fact that you've got Arab and Persian cultures that are very different. And there's -- if Iraqi Shias feel that their government is actually functioning, then I think their identity as Iraqis reasserts itself.

If, on the other hand, the perception is that the government in Iraq is just an extension of the U.S. government, then sympathies for the kind of mischief that Iran has been engaged in may increase.

Now, the last point I would make on this is, this is going to be a messy affair. There's no elegant and easy solutions to what I believe has been an enormous strategic blunder by this administration.

We're going to have to work our way through it. There are going to be -- there's going to be progress in some areas. There is going to be slippage in others.

What we do have to make certain of is that, by creating a phased withdrawal in Iraq, that we are mounting the sort of diplomacy and reaching out to our allies in ways that actually strengthen our ability to isolate Iran, if it continues to pursue what are unacceptable foreign policy decisions by their leadership.

ZAKARIA: But you could imagine a situation where, if the Iraqi government wanted it, 30,000 American troops are still in Iraq 10 years from now.

OBAMA: You know, I have been very careful not to put numbers on what a residual force would look like. What I am absolutely convinced of is that, to maintain permanent bases, to have ongoing combat forces, to have an open-ended commitment of the sort that John McCain and George Bush have advocated, is a mistake. It is a strategic mistake.

It weakens our ability to go after al Qaeda in Afghanistan. It continues to fan anti-American sentiment. I think it allows Iran to more effectively engage in mischief in the region. And it prevents us from isolating them and making clear to the world that they are the authors of their own isolation by their behavior.

Those costs cannot be borne. And that's before we even start talking about the hundreds of billions of dollars and American lives that are lost or profoundly disrupted as a consequence of this engagement.

ZAKARIA: You are going to Europe and the Middle East. You know that in places like France you have 85 percent approval ratings.

Isn't that going to make some Americans very suspicious? If all of Europe likes you, if France likes you, there must be something wrong.

OBAMA: Well, I tell you what. You know, it's interesting. As I travel around the country, here in the United States, I think people understand that there has been a price to the diminished regard with which the world holds the United States over the last several years.

It's something that bothers people. It's something that's brought up.

You know, when I'm doing a town hall meeting in some rural community, invariably, somebody will raise their hand and they'll say, "When are we going to restore the respect that the world had for America?"

And, you know, the American people's instincts are good. It's not just a matter of wanting to be liked. It's the fact that, as a consequence of that diminished standing, we have less leverage on a whole host of critical issues that have to be dealt with.

So, I think the American people are ready for a president who is not alienating the world. And if that president is liked a little bit, well, that's just a bonus.

Now, I don't know how long that will last. We'll see if my approval ratings hold up after I'm president.

ZAKARIA: You're bound to disappoint people. I mean, with approval ratings that high, it's bound to be a letdown. Don't you think?

OBAMA: You know, my job is to make sure that, here in the United States, the American people feel confident that I'm going to be advocating for their interests, that I'm going to keep them safe.

The way to do that though, I believe, is to make sure that we're paying attention to the rest of the world, their hopes, their aspirations, as well, and that we're leading with our values and ideals, and not just with our military.

Original here

The motivation for blocking investigations into Bush lawbreaking

Harper's Scott Horton yesterday interviewed Jane Mayer about her new book, The Dark Side. The first question he asked was about the Bush administration's fear that they would be criminally prosecuted for implementing what the International Red Cross had categorically described as "torture."

Mayer responded "that inside the White House there [had] been growing fear of criminal prosecution, particularly after the Supreme Court ruled in the Hamdan case that the Geneva Conventions applied to the treatment of the detainees," and that it was this fear that led the White House to demand (and, of course, receive) immunity for past interrogation crimes as part of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. But Mayer noted one important political impediment to holding Bush officials accountable for their illegal torture program:

An additional complicating factor is that key members of Congress sanctioned this program, so many of those who might ordinarily be counted on to lead the charge are themselves compromised.
As we witness not just Republicans, but also Democrats in Congress, acting repeatedly to immunize executive branch lawbreaking and to obstruct investigations, it's vital to keep that fact in mind. With regard to illegal Bush programs of torture and eavesdropping, key Congressional Democrats were contemporaneously briefed on what the administration was doing (albeit, in fairness, often in unspecific ways). The fact that they did nothing to stop that illegality, and often explicitly approved of it, obviously incentivizes them to block any investigations or judicial proceedings into those illegal programs.

In December of last year, The Washington Post revealed:

Four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

The article noted that other Democratic members who received briefings on the CIA's interrogation program included Jay Rockefeller and Jane Harman. While Harman sent a letter to the CIA asking questions about the legality of the program, none ever took any steps to stop or even restrict the interrogation program in any way.

Identically, numerous key Democrats in Congress -- including Rockefeller and Harman -- were told that Bush had ordered the NSA to spy on American without warrants and outside of FISA. None of them did anything to stop it. In fact, while Rockefeller wrote a sad, hostage-like, handwritten letter to Dick Cheney in 2003 (which he sent to nobody else) -- assuring Cheney that he would keep the letter locked away "to ensure that I have a record of this communication" -- Harman was a vocal supporter of the illegal NSA program. Here's what she told Time in January, 2006 in the wake of the NYT article revealing the NSA program:

Some key Democrats even defend it. Says California's Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee: "I believe the program is essential to U.S. national security and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities."
Harman then went on Fox News and pronounced that the NSA program was "legal and necessary" and proudly said: "I support the program." Even worse, in February, 2006, Harman went on "Meet the Press" and strongly suggested that the New York Times should be criminally prosecuted for having reported on the illegal program. And indeed, in 2004, Harman demanded that the NYT's Eric Lichtblau not write about the NSA program. As Lichtblau wrote in his recent book about a 2004 conversation with Harman:
"You should not be talking about that here," she scolded me in a whisper. "They don't even know about that," she said, gesturing to her aides, who were now looking on at the conversation with obvious befuddlement. "The Times did the right thing by not publishing that story," she continued. I wanted to understand her position. What intelligence capabilities would be lost by informing the public about something the terrorists already knew -- namely, that the government was listening to them? I asked her. Harman wouldn’t bite. "This is a valuable program, and it would be compromised,' she said. I tried to get into some of the details of the program and get a better understanding of why the administration asserted that it couldn't be operated within the confines of the courts. Harman wouldn't go there either. "This is a valuable program," she repeated.
In light of this sordid history of active complicity, is it really any wonder that these leading Democrats are desperate to quash any investigations or judicial adjudications of Bush administration actions that they knew about and did nothing to stop, in some cases even actively supporting?

Yesterday, I was on Warren Olney's To the Point discussing the FISA controversy. The guest interviewed immediately before me was Jane Harman (and before her was Lichtblau). Harman was vigorously spouting every false talking point to defend her vote in favor of telecom immunity and the new FISA law, including the painfully absurd claim that the new FISA law actually "makes the law stronger than the original law. It's a better law." She kept saying things like this to justify her support for terminating the lawsuits arising out of the illegal NSA program:

OLNEY: But back to the question, though, of the phone companies. Why was it that one company, Qwest, seemed to think that there were serious questions to be raised about this and the others didn't? Can you tell us that?

HARMAN: Well, I respect what Qwest did. Qwest said that the strict letter of FISA isn't being followed, as I understand it. That was some very careful lawyering.

The other telecoms that complied with requests believed -- so they say -- that they were complying with valid requests from the Government. And remember that when this happened, it was shortly after 9/11 and so forth --

OLNEY: Yeah, but if they didn't, and privacy was violated, shouldn't they be held to account?

HARMAN: I think that a process should be followed. I think the people who should be held to account are the people who made the decision not to follow FISA, and those were not the telecom executives.

Actually, "the people who made the decision not to follow FISA" most certainly did include the telecom executives -- as well as people like Jane Harman herself who, in her capacity as ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, was told about the illegal spying program and supported it as "legal and necessary," and even tried to bully journalists into refraining from exposing it.

Exactly the same thing happened with Jay Rockefeller and Bush's torture program. It is absolutely the case that, as Mayer pointed out yesterday and as I wrote about at the time, Bush officials faced serious danger of criminal liability in the wake of the 2006 Hamdan ruling that the Geneva Conventions applied to Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees. But the Military Commissions Act, passed several months after the Hamdan ruling, took care of that problem by immunizing the lawbreakers. Jay Rockefeller was right there supporting that retroactive immunity, too -- thereby helping to block investigations and prosecutions for illegal torture programs about which Rockefeller knew and in which he was complicit.

This is exactly the dynamic which Law Professor, Fourth Amendment expert, and Simple-Minded, Confused Leftist Hysteric Jonathan Turley was describing on MSNBC on June 19:

I mean, the Democrats never really were engaged in this. In fact, they repeatedly tried to cave in to the White House, only to be stopped by civil libertarians and bloggers. And each time they would put it on the shelf, wait a few months, they did this before, reintroduced it with Jay Rockefeller's support, and then there was another great, you know, dustup and they pulled it back. . . .

I think they're simply waiting to see if the public's interest will wane and we'll see that tomorrow, because this bill has, quite literally, no public value for citizens or civil liberties. It is reverse engineering, though the type of thing that the Bush administration is famous for, and now the Democrats are doing -- that is to change the law to conform to past conduct.

It's what any criminal would love to do. You rob a bank, go to the legislature, and change the law to say that robbing banks is lawful. . . .

This is a very frightening bill. What people have to understand is that FISA itself is controversial. This court issued tens of thousands of warrants granted applications for surveillance without turning down any. Only recently did they turn down two. . . . What you're seeing in this bill is an evisceration of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. It is something that allows the president and the government to go in to law-abiding homes on their word alone, their suspicion alone, and to engage in warrantless surveillance. That's what the framers that drafted the Fourth Amendment wanted to prevent. . . .

Well, there's no question in my mind that there is an obvious level of collusion here. We now know that Democratic leadership knew about the illegal surveillance program almost from its inception. Even when they were campaigning about fighting for civil liberties, they were aware of an unlawful surveillance program as well as a torture program. And ever since that came out, the Democrats have been silently trying to kill any effort to hold anyone accountable because that list could very well include some of their own members.

And, I'm afraid this is Washington politics at the worst. And, so, I think that what you're seeing with this bill is not just caving in to a very powerful lobby, but also caving in to sort of the worst motivations on Capitol Hill since 9/11. You know, the administration was very adept at bringing in Democrats at a time when they knew they couldn't refuse, to make them buy in to this program, and now that investment is bearing fruit.

So, of course key Congressional Democrats who were made aware of these illegal torture and surveillance programs are going to protect the Bush administration and other lawbreakers. If you were Jay Rockfeller or Nancy Pelosi, would you want there to be investigations and prosecutions for torture programs that, to one degree or another, you knew about? If you were Jane Harman, wouldn't you be extremely eager to put a stop to judicial proceedings that were likely to result in a finding that surveillance programs that you knew about, approved of, and helped to conceal were illegal and unconstitutional?

When President Bush and Vice President Cheney celebrated the signing of the new FISA bill at the White House along with Jay Rockefeller, Steny Hoyer and Jane Harman (see the wonderful photos here), they weren't just celebrating with the political officials who helped protect them from consequences for illegal acts. They were celebrating with those who were participants in those acts, and who were therefore just as eager for immunity and an end to judicial proceedings as Bush officials themselves.

UPDATE: Jane Mayer appeared for a Washington Post chat today and the following exchange occurred:

New York, N.Y.: In your interview with Harper's yesterday, you said this about why war crimes prosecutions are unlikely: "An additional complicating factor is that key members of Congress sanctioned this program, so many of those who might ordinarily be counted on to lead the charge are themselves compromised."

What did you mean by that? Who specifically is compromised "who might ordinarily be counted on to lead the charge" -- Nancy Pelosi, Jane Harman, Jay Rockefeller? -- and how are they "compromised"?

Jane Mayer: The ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees were briefed dozens of times about the CIA's interrogation and detention program over the past seven years -- so any member who has held one of those posts has arguably been complicit. Some say they tried to object, internally. But either because of the threat of violating national security, or, because of the fear of the political price of dissent, these figures in both parties would find it very hard at this point to point the finger at the White House, without also implicating themselves.

That's rather definitive. Nancy Pelosi, Jane Harman and Jay Rockefeller were all previous ranking members of the Intelligence Committee, all received these briefings, and were thus "compromised" and "complicit" in exactly the way that Mayer just described, because -- as Mayer put it -- they "would find it very hard at this point to point the finger at the White House, without also implicating themselves." That is one very significant reason why so many Congressional Democrats -- including the leadership -- are so supportive of immunity for Bush lawbreakers and the blocking of any investigations into the lawbreaking.

UPDATE II: Here are the fruits of all of this. Watch samplings of the interrogation videos of the 15-year-old Guantanamo detainee here.

-- Glenn Greenwald

Original here

Karl Rove denies political ties taint Fox News role

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Former White House aide Karl Rove denied on Monday that his close ties with Republican politics and John McCain's presidential campaign undermine his credibility as an election analyst for the Fox News Channel.

Appearing at a gathering of television critics in Beverly Hills, Rove and network executive John Moody brushed aside suggestions that Rove's continued involvement in the presidential race, informal or not, might pose a conflict in his capacity as a Fox News contributor.

Rove, the chief strategist for U.S. President George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 election victories and former deputy chief of staff in his administration, left the White House last August and joined the Fox News team in February 2008.

"I do talk to people in politics all across the country, some of whom are very active in the campaign (but) I play no official role, or ongoing role," he said in answer to a question about whether he works for the McCain operation in any way.

"I do get phone calls," he added. "I'm having dinner later this week with a great friend of mine who just happens to be the Republican state chairman of a battleground state. He's going to be in Washington, and it's not just the quality of steak I'm going to fix him that's caused him to stop by the house and pick my brain. So that's just a reality."

Asked whether Rove was on "the honor system" regarding his contacts with top McCain campaign operatives such as Steve Schmidt, Moody replied: "He's always on the honor system. All of our employees are."

"We get most of our information about the McCain campaign from our correspondents," Moody added. "I don't think Karl would cross an ethical line like that."

Rove also dismissed the notion that his refusal to answer congressional subpoenas to testify in a probe of the Bush administration's firing of federal prosecutors amounted to too much political baggage for a network news analyst to carry.

"It is not between me and Congress," he said. "This is between the White House and Congress. This is long-standing battle over the principle of executive privilege and the ability of the president to receive advice from senior advisors and for senior advisors not to be at the beck and call of Congress to testify."

He also said that like fellow Fox News analyst Howard Wolfson, a former top strategist and communications director for Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, his job was to help viewers "better understand" the political process based on his experience.

Fox News host Chris Wallace also came to Rove's defense, asking rhetorically, "Why it is that if Congress and the White House are having a fight about executive power, that that should in any way constrain an independent news organization's decision as to who is it going to have on its payroll?"

(Editing by Dean Goodman)

Original here

Mayer: Cheney ‘Repeatedly’ Held ‘Highly Unusual’ Meetings With CIA IG Before Torture Probe Stopped»

cheneyangry.jpgIn the spring of 2004, then-CIA Inspector General John Helgerson issued a classified report warning “that interrogation procedures approved by the C.I.A. after the Sept. 11 attacks might violate some provisions of the international Convention Against Torture.” Helgerson’s report “also raised concern about whether the use of the techniques could expose agency officers to legal liability.”

In an interview today, Harper’s Scott Horton asks investigative journalist Jane Mayer about the revelation in her new book that “Helgerson was summoned repeatedly to meet privately with Vice President Cheney” before his investigation was “stopped in its tracks.” Mayer said that Cheney’s interaction with Helgerson was “highly unusual“:

MAYER:Asked for comment, Helgerson through the CIA spokesman denied he felt pressured in any way by Cheney. But others I interviewed have described the IG’s office to me as extremely politicized. They have also suggested it was very unusual that the Vice President interjected himself into the work of the IG. Fred Hitz, who had the same post in previous administrations, told me that no vice president had ever met with him. He thought it highly unusual.

According to Mayer, Helgerson’s report is said to be “very disturbing, the size of two Manhattan phone books, and full of terrible descriptions of mistreatment.” Mayer added that Cheney’s interest in Helgerson proves that as early as 2004 “the Vice President’s office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in The Program.”

In October 2007, CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden “ordered an unusual internal inquiry” into Helgerson’s office, focusing on complaints that Helgerson was on “a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs.”

Original here

Conyers may hold hearings, but plans no action on impeachment

All Rep. Dennis Kucinich wants is a chance to present his case. The Ohio Democrat has made a crusade of his efforts to impeach George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, only to be ignored and ridiculed by many of his fellow lawmakers.

While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi still sees the prospect of actually booting the president from office as "off the table," discussing the idea now at least seems OK.

Sometime before its August recess, the House Judiciary Committee likely will hold a hearing to consider Kucinich's impeachment appeal, CQ Politics reports:

Chairman John Conyers Jr. , D-Mich., said Judiciary will take a broad look at the behavior of the Bush administration, and Kucinich can lay out his arguments as part of that as-yet unscheduled hearing.

Kucinich, D-Ohio, intends to formally offer a resolution on Tuesday that accuses Bush of lying to Congress in order to get approval to invade Iraq.

Conyers said he wants a public discussion of the issues being raised by Kucinich, but does not plan to take any action on the resolution. “We’re not doing impeachment, but he can talk about it,” the chairman said.

He said such a hearing would continue oversight of the executive branch that has included hearings on the exposure of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame and the firing of U.S. attorneys.

Conyers appears to be of mixed opinions about impeachment. Prior to the Democrats' takeover of the House in 2006, he penned a Washington Post editorial in which he all but promised he wouldn't. But by August of this year, he seemed to have warmed.

"Nancy Pelosi has impeachment 'off the table,' but that's off her table, it is not off John Conyers' table," the Michigan Democrat said during a town hall meeting in his district Aug. 28. "Nancy Pelosi, who I actually supported, cannot prevent me from introducing an impeachment resolution against, well I've got a long list of people who are eligible."

A Conyers spokesman did not immediately respond to RAW STORY's request for clarification of the congressman's comments at the time.

"I want you to know that I have no reticence, no reluctance, no hesitation to use the tool of impeachment ... whenever I feel that it is appropriate," Conyers said. "I only wish that I could be moved by a lot of people coming to my office."

At a press conference last week when he unveiled the single article, Kucinich said a chance to talk was all he wanted.

Kucinich said he was "grateful" for Pelosi's earlier suggestion that the Judiciary Committee may soon hold hearings on his measure.

"Like everything else in Washington, never say never," Kucinich said.

Democrat says Congress must reassert power

Speaking about his impeachment article last week, Kucinich said: "Congress must, in the name of the American people, use the one remedy which the Founders provided for an Executive who gravely abused his power: Impeachment.

"Congress must reassert itself as a co-equal branch of government; bring this President to an accounting, and in doing so reestablish the people's trust in Congress and in our United States system of government. We must not let this President's conduct go unchallenged and thereby create a precedent which undermines the Constitution.

He continued, "In the final analysis this is about our Constitution and whether a President can be held accountable for his actions and his deceptions, especially when the effects of those actions have been so calamitous for America, Iraq and the world.

"Unless Congress reasserts itself as the power branch of government which the Founders intended, our experiment with a republican form of Government may be nearing an end," Kucinich said in closing. "But when Congress acts to hold this President accountable it will be redeeming the faith that the Founders had in the power of a system of checks and balances which preserves our republic."

Original here

Nadler: In a ‘just system,’ Bush ‘would be impeached.’»

Today, on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who has held several hearings on the Bush administration’s torture program, said that President Bush has committed “impeachable offenses”:

NADLER: If we had a just system and it weren’t overly political, the president would be impeached. I think he has committed impeachable offenses.

Watch it:

Yesterday, House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) said that he may allow Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to present his impeachment articles against Bush before the August recess. “We’re not doing impeachment, but he can talk about it,” he said.

Original here

Bush Administration has Never Taken the Taliban as a Serious Threat (Title changed)

As Barack Obama begins the effort of turning America’s attention toward the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan--and as American soldiers die at the hands of Taliban militants in numbers never before seen--it’s worth drawing everyone’s attention to a piece in The Nation that VetVoice’s Chris LeJeune dug up this afternoon. It was originally published May 15, 2001--less four months before 9/11.

Enslave your girls and women, harbor anti-US terrorists, destroy every vestige of civilization in your homeland, and the Bush Administration will embrace you. All that matters is that you line up as an ally in the drug war, the only international cause that this nation still takes seriously.

That's the message sent with the recent gift of $43 million to the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, the most virulent anti-American violators of human rights in the world today. The gift, announced last Thursday by Secretary of State Colin Powell, in addition to other recent aid, makes the United States the main sponsor of the Taliban and rewards that "rogue regime" for declaring that opium growing is against the will of God. So, too, by the Taliban's estimation, are most human activities, but it's the ban on drugs that catches this administration's attention.

Never mind that Osama bin Laden still operates the leading anti-American terror operation from his base in Afghanistan, from which, among other crimes, he launched two bloody attacks on American embassies in Africa in 1998.

Sadly, the Bush Administration is cozying up to the Taliban regime at a time when the United Nations, at US insistence, imposes sanctions on Afghanistan because the Kabul government will not turn over Bin Laden.

Bush made the U.S. "the main sponsor of the Taliban." Looking back, it’s sad to see that the writer, Robert Scheer, knew just how far $43 million and more would go in a place like that.

The first American died in Afghanistan six months later. Since then, 556 American troops have died there, with 64--nearly 12 8 percent--having been killed in the last six weeks. The Taliban have proven resilient, formidable, and more than capable of waiting out their enemy in a war of attrition.

But given the history of the region, this should have been anticipated by the U.S. government. Thus, the troubling aspect of this is the mind-blowing pattern of carelessness and neglect on the part of the Bush administration with regard to the region. With their $43 million corporate sponsorship of the Taliban in 2001, the administration failed to take the Taliban seriously enough then--as we learned four months later--and they do not take the Taliban seriously enough now--as we’ve seen with the spiraling violence this summer.

What’s worse is that John McCain is of the same school of thought. From his vote to invade Iraq, to his obsession with the "surge" in 2007, to his fetish for war with Iran, John McCain has displayed a stunning lack of awareness and knowledge when it comes to the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Unfortunately, the damage may have already been done. As the moderately saner heads of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and top military man, Admiral Michael Mullen, push for more troops in Afghanistan, it’s painfully apparent that there are none left to spare. They are all in Iraq.

So, as American troops in Iraq see the news of their buddies fighting--under-resourced and under-manned--in Afghanistan, they will sit behind concrete barrier walls in Baghdad. They will remain helplessly there on 15-month-long tours, helping to prop up a corrupt, Iranian-backed government, while continuing to pay Sunni insurgents to not take up arms against them.

Meanwhile, their comrades in Afghanistan will continue fending off increasingly sophisticated attacks brought on by a Taliban funded with the $43 million given to them by the U.S. government. Osama bin Laden will remain a free man, as will many others responsible for attacking us on 9/11. The Bush administration will react too slowly, if at all. John McCain will remain fixated on Iraq and Iran.

And with or without help from the Commander-in-Chief, American troops in Afghanistan will continue fighting. They will do what they can to hold the line until leadership that actually understands the gravity of the situation arrives next January.

UPDATE: I should have included this piece from the CATO Institute somewhere in my post. It's from 2002 and fleshes the topic out a little more.

Original here

McCain spokesperson lies: Katrina and Rita ‘didn’t spill a drop’ of oil.»

This afternoon, Nancy Pfotenhauer, senior energy adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and a lobbyist for Koch Industries, lied to MSNBC’s David Schuster, claiming, “We withstood Hurricanes Rita and Katrina and didn’t spill a drop.” She said:

When Senator McCain opposed lifting the ban in the past, it was because there were concerns about environmental capability. Like, could we do this and still maintain a pristine environmental um uh climate and and area around the drilling? And basically, what we’ve seen is the technology has progressed to the point where we could do that. We withstood Hurricanes Rita and Katrina and didn’t spill a drop.

Watch it:

Pfotenhauer — who spent her career in Washington defending the right-wing polluter Koch Industries before joining the McCain campaign — is repeating a popular right-wing lie. The hurricanes, unsurprisingly, caused 124 offshore spills and hundreds more onshore. Like Sen. McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-CA), Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Mike Huckabee, George Will, and Bill O’Reilly, Nancy Pfotenhauer is lying.

Original here

Government as the Big Lender

The desperate worry over the health of huge financial institutions with country cousin names — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — reflects a reality that has reshaped major spheres of American life: the government has in recent months taken on an increasingly dominant role in assuring that Americans can buy a home or attend college.

Much of the private money that once surged into the mortgage industry has fled in a panicked horde, leaving most of the responsibility for financing American homes to the government-sponsored Fannie and Freddie.

Two years ago, when commercial banks were still jostling for fatter slices of the housing market, the share of outstanding mortgages Fannie and Freddie owned and guaranteed dipped below 40 percent, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by Moody’s By the first three months of this year, Fannie and Freddie were buying more than two-thirds of all new residential mortgages.

A similar trend is playing out in the realm of student loans. As commercial banks concluded that the business of lending to college students was no longer quite so profitable, the Bush administration promised in May to buy their federally guaranteed student loans, giving the banks capital to continue lending.

In short, in a nation that holds itself up as a citadel of free enterprise, the government has transformed from a reliable guarantor into effectively the only lender for millions of Americans engaged in the largest transactions of their lives.

Before, its more modest mission was to make more loans available at lower rates. Now it is to make sure loans are made at all. The government is setting the terms and the standards of Americans’ biggest loans.

On Sunday, that federal oversight and protection was made more explicit, as the Bush administration sought to mount a rescue of Fannie and Freddie, asking Congress to devote public money to buying the two companies’ flagging stocks.

The new reality is scorned by libertarians and conservatives, who fear state intrusions on the market, and by populists and progressives, who dislike the idea of education and housing increasingly resting upon the government’s willingness to finance it.

“If you’re a socialist, you should be happy,” said Michael Lind, a fellow at the New America Foundation, a research institute in Washington. “But you should really wonder whether you want people’s ability to pay for housing and college dependent on the motives of people in Washington.”

The government is trying to support plummeting housing prices and spare strapped homeowners from the wrath of the market: last week, the Senate adopted a bill authorizing the Federal Housing Administration to insure up to $300 billion in refinanced mortgages, enabling borrowers saddled with unaffordable loans to get better terms.

How the government came to dominate these two crucial areas of American lending is — depending on one’s ideological bent — a narrative of regulatory and market failure, or a cautionary tale about bureaucratic meddling in commerce. Perhaps it is both.

To those prone to blame lax regulation, the mortgage fiasco was the inevitable result of a quarter-century in which American policy makers prayed at the altar of market fundamentalism, letting entrepreneurs succeed or fail on their own.

This was the spirit in which Alan Greenspan, the longtime chairman of the Federal Reserve, allowed banks to engineer unfathomably complicated webs of mortgage-based investments that, through the first half of this decade, sent real estate prices soaring and expanded homeownership.

The banks relied on these investments to raise money for the next wave of loans. The system worked so long as lenders could keep selling their mortgages, and so long as someone would guarantee most of the debts. Fannie and Freddie took care of both tasks. Together, they now guarantee or own roughly half of the nation’s $12 trillion mortgage market.

Belief in Fannie and Freddie gave banks a sense of certainty as they plowed more of their capital into residential mortgages. That easy financing, in turn, brought more and more people into the market for homes, generating a belief that American real estate prices could keep rising forever.

And that contributed to the banks’ ultimately making extraordinarily risky loans, which defaulted first when home prices started falling. As lending became conservative, the whole speculative bubble burst.

As some called for intervention by the Fed to cool a speculative binge, Mr. Greenspan resisted. He believed the risks of real estate were effectively limited because debt was widely dispersed. The market would sort it all out.

“Alan Greenspan had this view that the light hand of regulation was best,” said Vincent R. Reinhart, a former Federal Reserve economist and now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

When housing prices commenced plummeting, the ugly truth emerged that many banks did not understand the details of the mortgage-backed investments they owned. Ignorance proved expensive.

As one bank after another announced losses that now exceed $400 billion and that some estimate will ultimately cross the trillion-dollar mark, money ran screaming from the field, leaving Fannie and Freddie pretty much the only players.

A general fear of debt took hold. Banks that had offered loans to students under a federally guaranteed program suddenly could not sell investments linked to those outstanding debts, meaning they could not raise cash for the next crop of loans. Dozens of banks pulled out of the program.

“What’s happened kind of speaks for itself,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. “You had this effort to weaken the government’s role. There was this conscious effort to turn things over to the private sector, and it failed.”

But there is a parallel narrative, the story that critics and competitors of Fannie and Freddie have told for years: how the two companies exploited their pedigree as entities backed by the government to secure an unfair advantage over the private sector.

They swelled into highly leveraged behemoths, it was said, on the implicit guarantee that the government would step in and rescue them if they ever got into trouble. This allowed them to borrow money more cheaply than their competitors could, enabling them to make loans more cheaply.

That secured more business and rewarded their shareholders, along with their handsomely compensated executives. It emboldened them to trade in highly risky investments.

“They were using their privileged position as favored children of the government to dominate the market, and taxpayers were on the hook for substantial risk,” said Martin N. Baily, a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Clinton administration. “You couldn’t possibly say this was a pure unfettered market.”

The government was getting something for its protective largess. It was using Fannie and Freddie to pursue the social goal of broader homeownership, particularly among racial minorities.

“When you’re looking at the upside, here’s the government helping people get mortgages and student loans,” said David R. Henderson, a self-described libertarian economist at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “The downside is there might be a bailout and then you pay in taxes. These things don’t come cost-free when government gets involved.”

As the Bush administration readies funds to buy student loans from cash-short banks, and officials plot a potential bailout of Fannie and Freddie that could run into tens of billions of dollars, the government’s outsize role in these two huge areas will not shrink anytime soon.

It seems a strange coda to an era in which markets were sacred, and regulation heresy.

For a generation, American policy makers have lectured the world on the need to unleash the animal instincts of the market. China’s rickety banks should stop lending to protect state factory jobs, Americans said, and focus on the bottom line. Now the Bush administration is reluctantly concluding that Fannie and Freddie might need to be propped up to protect the American homeowner.

During much of Japan’s lost decade of the 1990s, Americans called for an end to its coddling of weak banks. Better to let them keel over, along with the paper tiger companies they sustained. No company was “too big to fail,” Washington said.

Yet here, in the aftermath of a financial crisis brought on by what were once called American virtues — financial engineering and risk management — Washington may bail out Fannie and Freddie for the simple reason that they are too big to fail. If they go down, so do whole neighborhoods. So, perhaps, does the global financial system.

“The thing we have to do now is to make sure that Fannie and Freddie remain solvent and continue to make loans,” Mr. Baily said. “We just don’t have any choice.”

Original here