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Monday, July 20, 2009

Obama feels the heat, changes the play

President Barack Obama greets Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong in the Oval AP – President Barack Obama greets Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong in the Oval Office of the White House …

Ben Smith

Finally, we’re starting to see him sweat.

President Barack Obama made his personal icy cool the trademark of his campaign, the tenor of his White House and the hallmark of an early run of successes at home and abroad. But as the glamour wears off and a long, frustrating summer wears on, he is being forced to improvise — stooping to respond to political foes and adjusting his tactics and demeanor for the trench warfare of a legislative agenda.

The root of the change is one that faces every president: Economic and international realities that resist political charm. Iran and North Korea have shown no interest in the president’s outstretched hand. The economy has delivered a double-whammy, with rising unemployment stirring voters’ concerns while sluggish growth deprives the government of tax revenues Obama would like to spend on new programs.
Health care reform, which once appeared flush with momentum from earlier congressional victories, is now on a slog through no less than five committees, which include Democrats who either aren’t sold on Obama’s expansive vision or can’t figure out how to convince voters to pay for it.

“This is when it gets harder,” the president told supporters June 30.

And so it has.

In turn, Obama has adjusted, deviating from the playbook on every front.

The cool president has turned hot on the stump, stripping to shirtsleeves to lambaste doubters in New Jersey Thursday. He departed from his prepared remarks last week to accept a Republican challenge to take personal ownership of the economy: “That’s fine. Give it to me,” he said.

Even Obama's scripted speeches are deliberately more forceful, aggressive and direct in taking on critics, aides say. Friday remarks at the White House had a trash-talk edge – count me out and you’ll be sorry.

Obama’s political operation has dispensed with its post-inauguration cocktails for Republicans – or more often, ignoring them outright — in favor of the old politics of engage, attack and cajole. Obama’s even engaging in a little Democrat-on-Democrat politics, as his ex-campaign arm is beaming TV ads into the home states of moderate fence-sitters on health care.

The tightly programmed White House also is champing at the bit, kicking off what officials say will be a relentless three-week push on health care, starting with the hastily scheduled Friday address. But its first event might have backfired a bit. Its main consequence was proving that the magnetism of Obama’s personal appearances has worn off, as it drew little media attention and a dismissive tweet from the key Senate Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa: “Waste of time.”

The sum has been a new sense of uncertainty and strain, and a growing murmur among Democrats in Washington nervous about the White House’s tactics, and a rising tide of concern in the states as local Democratic parties eye midterm elections that are traditionally a challenge for a new president.
“That honeymoon period is over, “ said Chris Redfern, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. “Now they’re having to push back, and push back hard.”

White House officials and allies brush off any notion that this new sense of unease is meaningful. The only true test, they say, will be results. Obama still might win major health care reform legislation this year that could be the most important new government program in decades. He has a fighting chance to pass regulations on greenhouse gases, in the form of a “cap and trade” mechanism, through the Senate. And Obama continues to press hard, if with no clear progress, for a breakthrough in the Middle East.

“It’s the third quarter, he’s down by a point, and he’s got his best player on the bench – what really is going to be important is the fall,” said James Carville, the veteran Democratic observer.

“If he gets what’s perceived to be some kind of a major health care thing, gets the climate bill through, if the economy recovers, then we’ll all say he had a hell of a summer. Conversely, if the thing falls apart, we’ll say that by July the 19th we could tell the thing was going bad.”

White House Deputy Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer dismissed the suggestion that Obama should be expected to succeed effortlessly – or that he’s on a path toward failure on any of these varied fronts.

“Obama and his team have been down this road dozens of times and been declared dead many times and always succeeded,” he said. “No one gets rich betting against Barack Obama.”

The most visible aspect of the White House’s new feistiness is an increasing willingness to engage Republican legislators whose criticisms Obama earlier had been happier to overlook. Relentless criticism of the stimulus package from a House Republican leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia, drew a furious barrage from the Democratic National Committee and a visit from no smaller figure than the Vice President of the United States. Rank and file Republicans who criticize the stimulus have also suddenly found themselves under a concerted DNC assault that asks if they’d prefer the federal funding left their districts out. And criticism from Sen Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) drew letters from no fewer than four Cabinet secretaries to his state’s governor, asking if she would prefer they withheld stimulus money.

That pushback has been urged, and welcomed, by state leaders like Redfern and Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer.

“The DNC has been and we were quickly able to rebut and demonstrate all the money that is being spent in their respective districts,” said Brewer of two GOP congressmen attacking the stimulus. “They’ve backed off.”

Still, many Democrats say the Republican attacks on spending are taking their toll.

"The rhetoric is so empty, but it is fairly consistent and I think it’s had an impact on those in middle," said Ohio's Redfern.

But when the White House pushback focused not on Republicans but Democrats on health-care – in the form of Organizing for America ads running in the home states of moderate senators -- some in the party called foul, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

The vote last month in the House on the American Clean Energy Security Act showed a willingness to get White House hands dirty in a different way.

Wrangling votes for the “cap and trade” legislation in the House, Obama backed off a campaign promise to auction off all “allowances” – permits to release a set amount of greenhouse gases. Instead of selling them to raise money for other environmental initiatives, the White House allowed congressional Democratic leaders to trade them for votes, assigning allowances to the refinery-heavy district of, for instance, Texas Rep. Gene Green in exchange for his support.

The battle over health care, the centerpiece of the President’s summer, has also hardened into a fairly conventional Washington fight, a new president’s sweeping agenda colliding with congressional caution. Obscure Washington figures like Congressional Budget Office chief Doug Elmendorf and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) have shown the ability to pose a real threat to the White House juggernaut. And some of the White House’s close allies have grown jittery about what they say is a strategy to spend the three weeks leading up to the Senate’s August recess – the insecure deadline for health care votes in both houses – with a series of events aimed at building public pressure on Congress.

“They’re great at campaigns, but legislative battles are different,” said a senior Democrat close to the White House. “It’s not about persuading 51 percent of the American people – it’s about seven senators.”

In another mark of Obama's constant adjustments, his latest remarks didn't mention the August deadline.

White House allies acknowledge the new strains, but say the hard work will pay off.

“A lot of the hard stuff he’s doing now will pay dividends,” said John Del Cecato, a former Obama campaign aide.

Meanwhile, admiration of Obama’s personal qualities has been tempered, even among sympathetic observers, with anxiety for where his agenda will stand at summer’s end.

Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart noted recently that Obama told a Pakistani interviewer that he is an accomplished chef of Pakistani cuisines and reads the great Urdu poets.

“Mr. President,” Stewart said, “while I am impressed with your Renaissance Man-level of knowledge in a plethora of subjects, may I humbly say: That’s great. Just fix the economy!”

Original here


Hope Fading For Political Reform In Illinois

by David Schaper

Rod Blagojevich. Credit: Seth Perlman/AP
Seth Perlman

Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. AP

All Things Considered, July 18, 2009 · This was supposed to be the year for political reform in Illinois. But six months after Pat Quinn took over for ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich, some political reform advocates aren't satisfied with the results.

"We're gonna start to fumigate state government from top to bottom to make sure it has no corruption," Quinn said in January. He made the statement on his first full day after replacing fellow Democrat Blagojevich, who was impeached following his arrest on corruption charges. State lawmakers in both parties joined Quinn in vowing to clean up Illinois' notoriously dirty politics.

Patrick Collins knows a thing or two about corruption in Illinois. He was the lead federal prosecutor of George Ryan, the former Republican governor now serving a six-year prison term. He has prosecuted corrupt Chicago aldermen, city, state and county workers, as well as government contractors.

Collins says every case has one thing in common. "Each major public corruption investigation I was involved in had, at its core, a campaign finance problem."

So when Collins, now in private practice, was appointed by Quinn to lead a commission to suggest reforms for Illinois' wayward politics, he and other commissioners zeroed in on the state's almost regulation-free system of campaign finance. They proposed contribution limits to mirror federal regulations and several other restrictions.

"Suffice it to say, what came out of the legislative process did not reflect our core proposals," Collins says.

And that's putting it mildly.

Strong Words, Weak Actions

The Illinois General Assembly did approve contribution limits in its campaign finance bill, but set them thousands of dollars higher than Collins' commission recommended. Plus, Collins and other reform advocates say, the limits are riddled with gaping loopholes.

For example, candidates can set up several campaign committees for themselves, which some fear could become slush funds. Also, in-kind contributions are unlimited. The list goes on and on — and none of the new regulations would take effect until 2011, after next year's elections.

Even though Quinn initially called the bill a landmark for imposing the first-ever contribution limits in Illinois, he has not yet signed it.

His spokesman says the longtime political outsider, considered a reformer himself, is aware of the criticism surrounding the bill.

"The way that it's set up is going to invite challenge," says David Morrison with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "It's going to be tied up in court. Since it doesn't take effect for so long, it's going to take that much longer to get through the courts. In that sense, it's a huge step backward."

Many other Illinois reform proposals were put off, including stronger corruption investigative and enforcement provisions, term limits for powerful legislative leaders and the creation of a less political redistricting system.

An Opportunity Lost?

In a state that continues to be the butt of the nation's jokes, Collins says, this was a rare chance for real reform in Illinois. "You know, the world was watching, and to have answered the bell in a relatively meek way is a huge missed opportunity."

Collins says the Illinois legislature did pass a few good reforms, such as a stronger Freedom of Information Act and improved procurement laws to reduce the chances of contracting abuses.

Lawmakers cleaned up the state pension and hospital construction boards that Blagojevich appointees were convicted of using in extortion and kickback schemes.

Some observers say that's a good start for Illinois.

"A loophole is better than nothing," says Paul Green, a political scientist at Roosevelt University in Chicago. "It's a step. And the next time, you take another step and another step."

Green says bringing law and order to the wild west of Illinois politics has to be done gradually.

"Illinois government now, with Blagojevich gone, is cleaner than it's been in decades," he says.

Some reform advocates hope Quinn makes changes to the campaign finance bill and sends it back to the legislature. Some hope he vetoes it outright. Otherwise, they fear there won't be another chance for significant reform — until the next big scandal.

Original here

Republicans embrace Ron Paul on domestic policy

By DANIEL LIBIT

Ron Paul is finding himself embraced by mainstream Republicans on domestic policy issues.
'He hasn't bombed Iran yet,' says Ron Paul, when asked to assess the best and worst characteristics of President Barack Obama. Photo: AP

“He hasn’t bombed Iran yet,” says Ron Paul, when asked to assess the best and worst characteristics of President Barack Obama’s six months in office.

“The worst thing is he is probably still thinking about it.”

No sooner does the representative from Texas’ 14th Congressional District, nicknamed “Dr. No” by his detractors, find himself embraced by mainstream Republicans (and even some Democrats) on domestic policy issues, then he pivots his focus to foreign affairs.

Obama, Paul told POLITICO during a sit-down in his office this week, “has talked a little better than his action, but he has already expanded [the number of troops] in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He became the peace candidate: ‘Yeah, we’re going to end that war in Iraq.’ But it’s not sincere. I don't think they had any intention, never did.”

It’s a unique time for Paul. With the economy in the tank, the same cable news shows that spurned him during the election now keep asking him on to talk monetary policy. Republican House members are finally voting with him on spending measures.

But following his exhilarant, if quixotic, quest for the presidency, Paul finds himself simultaneously gratified and frustrated by his return to the friendlier-than-before confines of the House of Representatives. He thinks he’s well situated in Congress to push for his libertarian causes, but then claims he doesn't "pay a whole lot of attention" to the activity on the House floor these days, adding, "I don't think it's relevant to the big picture.”

“A lot of this is just tinkering, bailing out, more money, more spending, no shift of direction and it's a little bit frustrating," he says.

Asked if he feels more embraced by the Republican Party establishment, Paul shrugs and says, "half and half.”

"I think there's respect. But they don't call me in and say, ‘What we need to find out from you is how you reach the young people.’"

As for another presidential run in 2012, “I don’t think that’s likely,” Paul says.

But in the next breath, he admits that he would have made the same prediction three years before his last run for the party’s banner. And he questions whether the names being bandied about as possible Republican nominees will connect to his supporters.

“The one thing that is characteristic about anybody who joins us is that they are energized and everybody recognizes that," Paul says. "We also know that it is the energy in a small group of people that really leads nations.”

"Let's say I have 15 percent of Republicans and [Mitt] Romney has 30 percent. If his people aren't energized, our guys might stand for three of his."

As for soon-to-be departing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Paul dismisses her supporters as "more establishment, conventional Country-Club type of Republicans.”

"I wonder whether she's energizing the 15-20 year olds," Paul muses. "That would be a question I would have. Because she doesn't talk about the Federal Reserve and some of these issues. She doesn't talk too much about personal liberties, civil liberties, getting rid of drug laws, attacking the war on drugs, punishing people who torture."

Jimmy Carter leaves Southern Baptist church in protest to treatment of women

by Mata H



Editor's note: Jimmy Carter officially departed the Southern Baptist church in 2000, but still stayed on at Maranatha Baptist in Plains, Georgia, teaching Sunday School. He held on to a Baptist affiliation through many conflicts, including the denomination's anti-gay positions. This week, he issued a position paper severing all ties to the church.

"Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God." -- Jimmy Carter, Former US president, Nobel Prize Winner

This week, Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist Church, where he has been a member for over 60 years. He and Roselyn distanced themselves from full participation a few years ago, but he remained a deacon and still taught Sunday School. He held on to his denominational affiliation through many conflicts - including the denomination's anti-gay positions. This document says nothing about LGBT issues, and that is a tragic shortcoming. But it does say something about women, and in that it only came part way, that part is very strong indeed. It isn't enough, but it is something.

Carter has been active for some time with the New Baptist Covenant which seeks to join various branches of the Baptist church with a social agenda. The primary action there has been to bring races together.

Here are excerpts from Carter's position paper.

At their most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.
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The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met...
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The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

Not a lot of room for interpretation there. This straightforward document had me in tears. How many women have yearned for how many years to hear these words spoken by men of influence with the religions of the world. Carter isn't the first, to be sure. But he is among the most visible and respected men to do so. And he even left a group that was dear to him. It was a move he described as "painful".

Women speaking about change can only take us so far. Men's voices joined to ours -- i.e. voices from the hierarchy -- strengthen the position by making it harder for other men to dismiss, and by waking up women who think all men hold the same position in their church.

Hannah, in her blog about faith and abuse, says:

If we can open this door, and speak of the injustice that is done in the realm of women? What is to stop the conversation from continuing on to Sexual abuse among other things. You won't have to worry about people accusing you of 'slandering a man of God' when you dare speak a word. WOW maybe common sense can be used, and uglies can be faced instead of hidden...
Carter Speaks out about Treatment of women of faith, and how it encourages domestic violence! What a man of GOD!

Wisewebwoman who is over 60, and has followed Carter for along time says:

I've always admired the man. Sure, he had his faults. But his work for Habitat for Humanity, his humility and his downright civility have endeared him to many.
And today, in his 85th year, he completely blows me over with this:

This shouldn't blow us away. It should be routinely heard. In hearing Carter's words, and experiencing my emotional reaction, I am aware how much I needed to hear a churchman say this. To say it straight out with no excuses. His comment highlights the lack of other comments.

Carter is part of a group called "The Elders" -- retired statesmen who can be activists without worrying about re-election. (Now there is a commentary in itself, eh?) Here he is speaking about The Elder's position. It is stunning in its directness.


Sarah is also moved by the statement.

I know, right?! My heart swelled as I read Carter’s recent statement condemning “discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition.”...Women’s rights are human rights. It’s amazing to read this in a mainstream publication, along with a denouncement of “tradition” as justification for oppression.

Diana wonders if he could not have made more changes by staying within the SB framework, but says:

The R.E.M. hit song which made the expression of “Losing My Religion” an internationally recognized phrase, was written about unrequited love – and the expression itself comes from the American South meaning that a person has run out of patience. I think President Carter is suffering a broken heart after so many decades of having faith that the teachings he worshiped as a Southern Baptist could help make the world a better place, especially for women. As Carter notes in his essay, every religion suffers corruption at the hands of selfish people, and he has decided that the change needed in the religious tradition he called home cannot be realized form the inside. I appreciate that in the process Carter is demonstrating a way to examine sexism in our faith communities.

We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land - Former President Jimmy Carter

Charlotte talks about her long-standing admiration for Carter and adds:

Thank you, Jimmy Carter, for standing by your principles and your faith (as opposed to the religion you left) that sees us all equally as children of God. And thank you for being someone still worthy of the admiration that began when I was a little girl.

Blog after blog by women just reprints the whole essay by Carter. as if to say, "It speaks for itself."

I am so glad he wrote it, but sad that it feels so surprising. And sad that there are not more echoes. And sad that it took so long. And sad that we feel we have to say thank you, because so few religious male leaders have taken this position. And sad that all of our GLBT brothers and sisters can't enjoy the same mention.

But even as I wait for the other voices that should come, I can also feel pleased that Jimmy, at age 85, came this far through. At least and at last.

Mata H, CE for Religion & Spirituality, blogs about darned near everything at Time's Fool

Original here

WhatТs That Got to Do With Mr. Murtha?

One of the most favored insiders in Representative John Murtha’s rich churn of defense earmarks has pleaded guilty to criminal charges, shedding light on a twisting, pay-to-play money trail. The contractor, Richard Ianieri, admitted taking $200,000 in bribes from another big defense contractor in the Murtha orbit, and is cooperating with investigators.

“What’s that got to do with me?” commented Mr. Murtha, who previously lavished praise and tens of millions of dollars in contracts on the two companies caught up in the criminal investigation.

He asks an ever more urgent question. Investigators have not identified him as a target. But the inquiry is backtracking a trail of hundreds of millions awarded to Pentagon contractors who gratefully requited with tens of millions in political donations to Democrats on the appropriations subcommittee headed by Mr. Murtha.

In just one tangent of the complex inquiry, Mr. Ianieri’s company hired the lobbying firm of Mr. Murtha’s brother Kit. The company soon was blessed with money from an $8.2 million defense earmark. The Capitol newspaper Roll Call reported last month that Representative Murtha, using a 2005 tsunami relief bill, took the $8.2 million from another contractor that had severed ties with his brother’s lobbying firm. The Department of Justice alleges that Mr. Ianieri’s company then illicitly distributed $1.8 million of the money to other companies, some of them represented by Kit Murtha’s firm.

The Murtha money trail is far from fully explored but already features a second tangent of Congressional appropriations staff members’ exiting through the golden door to defense lobbying and scoring big contracts from their old bosses. Taxpayers should press the question of what all this has to do with Mr. Murtha (who has also used his gavel to create a luxury supermart of defense contractors in his Pennsylvania district).

Beyond the criminal investigation, a full-scale ethics inquiry should be pressed by House Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. If not, the Murtha money trail could lead them back to the minority.

Original here

Obama - The Fact Checker In Chief

FACT-CHECKER IN CHIEF.... President Obama had a few interesting things to say about health care reform in his weekly multi-media address today, his fifth in the last seven weeks to emphasize the importance of reforming the system.

The president noted, for example, the importance of "seizing this opportunity," and ignoring "the same special interests and their agents in Congress" who make "the same old arguments, and use the same scare tactics that have stopped reform before because they profit from this relentless escalation in health care costs." Obama did not, however, reference the pre-recess August deadline, which now appears practically impossible.

But it was more important to see the president play the role of fact-checker. He noted that Americans are bound to hear a lot of talk and see a lot of ads attacking reform, and realized that some "might begin to wonder whether there's a grain of truth to what they're saying." So, Obama highlighted some of the more common talking points, only to knock them down.

"First, the same folks who controlled the White House and Congress for the past eight years as we ran up record deficits will argue -- believe it or not -- that health reform will lead to record deficits," he said. "That's simply not true. Our proposals cut hundreds of billions of dollars in unnecessary spending and unwarranted giveaways to insurance companies in Medicare and Medicaid. They change incentives so providers will give patients the best care, not just the most expensive care, which will mean big savings over time. And we have urged Congress to include a proposal for a standing commission of doctors and medical experts to oversee cost-saving measures. [...]

"Those who oppose reform will also tell you that under our plan, you won't get to choose your doctor -- that some bureaucrat will choose for you. That's also not true. Michelle and I don't want anyone telling us who our family's doctor should be -- and no one should decide that for you either. Under our proposals, if you like your doctor, you keep your doctor. If you like your current insurance, you keep that insurance. Period, end of story.

"Finally, opponents of health reform warn that this is all some big plot for socialized medicine or government-run health care with long lines and rationed care. That's not true either. I don't believe that government can or should run health care. But I also don't think insurance companies should have free reign to do as they please. That's why any plan I sign must include an insurance exchange: a one-stop shopping marketplace where you can compare the benefits, cost and track records of a variety of plans - including a public option to increase competition and keep insurance companies honest - and choose what's best for your family."

Now, that last point is of particular interest, because it might be new. The president said reform has to include an insurance exchange, which shouldn't face too much resistance on the Hill. But he also said the exchange should feature a public option.

Is this a new line in the sand, saying that reform must feature a public option in order to get his signature? I'm honestly not sure. An insurance exchange could, in theory, include nothing but private plans. Maybe the two points -- an exchange and a public plan -- were meant to be connected in a new way, maybe not.

I'm working on getting clarification on the issue. Either way, the weekly address sounded just about all of the right notes.

Original here

Could Dick Cheney Go to Prison?

By Ray McGovern, Consortium News.

So far, the summer has been mild in the Washington area. But for former Vice President Dick Cheney, the temperature is well over 100 degrees. He is sweating profusely, and it is becoming increasingly clear why.

Cheney has broken openly with former President George W. Bush on one issue of transcendent importance -- to Cheney. For whatever reason, Bush decided not to hand out blanket pardons before they both rode off into the sunset.

Cheney has complained bitterly that his former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby should have been pardoned, rather than simply having his jail sentence commuted.

Cheney told the media that Bush left Libby "sort of hanging in the wind" by refusing to issue a pardon before leaving office. Libby had been convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to federal agents investigating the leak of a former CIA operations officer's identity.

"I believe firmly that Scooter was unjustly accused and prosecuted and deserved a pardon, and the president disagreed with that," Cheney said. He would disclose no details of his efforts to lobby Bush on Libby's behalf, saying they would be "best left to history."

It is getting close to history time. You do not need to be a crackerjack analyst to understand that Cheney is feeling betrayed -- that he is thinking not of Libby, but of himself, and fearing that, if our system of justice works, he could be in for some serious, uncommuted jail time.

His situation has grown pathetic. Aside from the man himself, it has fallen almost solely to faithful daughter, Liz, to defend her dad and to start a political backfire to keep him out of prison. She is to be admired for her faithfulness. In the process, though, she has unwittingly given much away.

Liz Cheney on the Offensive

On Washington Times' "America's Morning News" radio program Monday, Liz Cheney acted again as designated hitter, responding to the recent New York Times report that her father had given "direct orders" to the CIA to withhold "information about a secret counterterrorism program for eight years."

Not for the first time, Liz Cheney disclosed what has her father so worried and agitated. She said he is "very angry" over recent press reports that Attorney General Eric Holder may be about to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate "the Bush administration's brutal interrogation practices."

She branded this "shameful" -- worse still, "un-American." Not the interrogation practices, mind you, but the notion that her father should be held to account for them.

Typically, she did well in sticking closely to her talking points, arguing that the issue is "somebody taking office and then starting to prosecute people who carried out policies that they disagreed with, you know, in the previous administration."

As if unprecedented decisions to torture, in violation of international law and the War Crimes Act of 1996, can be accurately described as "policies" over which there can be honest disagreement. This is about crimes, not "policies."

Pulling out all the stops, Liz Cheney worried aloud about what this does to "morale at the CIA," where the practitioners of what Bush called "an alternative set of procedures" for interrogation believed they were acting with the blessing of the Justice Department. (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity addressed that bromide frontally on April 29, 2009, in a memorandum to our new president.)

Liz Cheney went on to argue that this could, in the future, inhibit CIA functionaries from various actions out of fear of criminal liability. (To me, that sounds like a distinct plus.)

The Decider

What has pretty much escaped notice in the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) is that the former vice president has also reminded us all that President Bush was the "decider."

That unusual word sounded quite macho as Bush strutted about reminding us often that he was also commander in chief. But now, it could be the kiss of death -- for Bush, as well as for Dick Cheney.

Here's what Cheney allowed himself to tell Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer on May 10 about "enhanced interrogation techniques":

Schieffer: How much did President Bush know specifically about the methods that were being used? We know that you -- and you have said -- that you approved this …

Cheney: Right.

Schieffer: … somewhere down the line. Did President Bush know everything you knew?

Cheney: I certainly, yes, have every reason to believe he knew -- he knew a great deal about the program. He basically authorized it. I mean, this was a presidential-level decision. And the decision went to the president. He signed off on it.

Small wonder that Republicans are wincing, although the winces have been largely suppressed. The Washington Post reported recently that many Republicans now consider Cheney a major problem, but cannot say so. The Post quoted one Republican strategist on the Cheney dilemma:

"He continues to be a force among many members of our base, and while he is entirely unhelpful, no one has the standing to show him the door."

During a four-day visit to Dallas last week, I learned that Bush continues to be a lofty hero among many folks there -- with the notable exception of the hardy activists of the Dallas Peace Center and Code Pink.

Hefty donations keep pouring in for his library and institute, and any "mistakes" that may have been made during the Bush/Cheney administration are laid at the door of the former vice president.

Leading Republicans are passionate about this. And the phenomenon is not limited to Dallas. Cheney is smart enough to know that he too may soon be "sort of hanging in the wind," along with his former subordinate, Libby.

It's Also About "Fixing" Intelligence

Approval of torture, assassination, warrantless eavesdropping -- hey, there is quite enough to go on, and increasing signs that Cheney will be called on the carpet.

What we have been focusing on, however, glosses over Cheney's key role in purveying lies to get our representatives in Congress to approve a war that qualifies for what the post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal called the "supreme international crime" -- a war of aggression.

We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity were on to Cheney very early. Six years ago today, we took the unusual step of sending a formal recommendation to President Bush that he "ask for Cheney's immediate resignation."

Our unprecedented appeal even caught the eye of the FCM, since our "Memorandum for the President" reviewed some of the deceit engineered by the vice president in conjuring up a rationale for war on Iraq and directing the cheerleading for it.

We noted that Cheney, skilled at pre-emption, had stolen a march on his vacationing colleagues by launching, in a major speech on Aug. 26, 2002, a meretricious campaign to persuade Congress and the American people that Iraq was about to acquire nuclear weapons.

That campaign mushroomed, literally, in early October, with Bush and senior advisers raising the specter of a "mushroom cloud" threatening our cities. On the inside of the synthetic clouds one could almost read the label -- "manufactured out of thin air in the Office of the Vice President."

In his memoir, the pitiable former CIA Director George Tenet complains that Cheney's assertion that Iraq would acquire nuclear weapons "fairly soon" did not square with the intelligence community's assessment.

Tenet adds, "I was surprised when I read about Cheney's assertion that, ‘Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.' "

Tenet whines that the vice president did not send him a copy of the speech for clearance. But the malleable CIA director quickly got over it, and told CIA analysts to compose the kind of National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that would provide ex post facto support for Cheney's bogus assertions. Just what Cheney (and Bush) ordered.

Tenet explains lamely, "I should have told the vice president privately that, in my view, his speech had gone too far ... and not let [my] silence imply agreement."

Yes, George; and you should have resisted White House pressure for a dishonest NIE to grease the skids to unnecessary war.

In fact Cheney, as well as Tenet, knew very well that Cheney's assertions were lies.

How? Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, whom Saddam had put in charge of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, as well as missile development, told the United States when he defected in mid-1995 that all (that's right, all) such weapons had been destroyed at his order by the summer of 1991.

In mid-2002, the Iraqi foreign minister, whom CIA operatives had recruited and persuaded to remain in place, was telling us the same thing.

Unwelcome Intelligence

When they briefed the president and his senior advisers on this, CIA operations officers were astonished to learn firsthand that this intelligence was unwelcome.

These officers, who had used every trick in the book to "turn" the foreign minister and get him working for us, were told that further reporting from this source was not needed: "This isn't about intel anymore. This is about regime change," they were told.

Tenet was hardly astonished at reports of the nonexistence of WMD. From documentary evidence in the "Downing Street Minutes" we know that Tenet, on July 20, 2002, told the chief of British intelligence that the intelligence was being "fixed" around the policy.

And former U.N. inspectors, like Scott Ritter, could verify that 90 percent of the WMD Iraq earlier possessed had been destroyed -- some during the Gulf War in 1991, but most as a result of the inspections conducted by the United Nations.

The reporting from Kamel and the Iraqi foreign minister, sources with excellent access, was suppressed in favor of "evidence" -- from forgeries, for example, like the infamous Iraq-Niger yellowcake report.

When finally U.S. officials were forced to concede that the Iraq-Niger information was based on a forgery, lawmakers such as Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., protested loudly -- but too late.

Three days before Bush let slip the dogs of war, NBC's Tim Russert braced Cheney with the assertion by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency that Saddam did not have a nuclear program.

Cheney strongly disagreed and cited support for his view from the CIA and other parts of the intelligence community. He even ratcheted up his bogus assessment of Iraq's nuclear capability: "We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."

We? Maybe his wife, Lynne, and Liz were on board for that judgment; few others believed it.

Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, retired CENTCOM commander but still enjoying access to the most sensitive information on Iraq, was sitting in the audience on Aug. 26, 2002, and later described himself as astonished at the Iraqi threat as described by Cheney.

The most knowledgeable analysts -- those who knew Iraq and nuclear weapons -- scoffed at Cheney's faith-based intelligence.

In our July 14, 2003, appeal to Bush to ask for Cheney's resignation, we warned of the likelihood that intelligence analysts would conclude that the best way to climb the ladder of success is to acquiesce in the cooking or "fixing" of their judgments, since neither senior nor junior officials would ever be held accountable.

This remains as acute a concern as the tolerance for torture and the like.

We shall have to demand that Attorney General Eric Holder do his duty and move quickly to start the process to hold accountable those responsible for dragging our country down into a moral abyss.

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Sarah Palin should just go home

The Alaska governor embodies America's obsession with made-up facts, self-pity and celebrity

By Gene Lyons

News

AP Photo/Lynne Sladkyt

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in Miami in November.

"The rise of Idiot America ... is essentially a war on expertise ... In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a scientist, or a preacher, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert."

-- Charles P. Pierce, from "Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free"

Pity the poor "real Americans," because they sure feel sorry for themselves. Self-pity appears to be the latest national craze. Not that we haven't got real troubles, but everywhere you look and listen these days, some big crybaby's blubbering about how people like him or her get no respect from (take your pick) "Ivy League elitists," the "scientific establishment," "so-called sophisticates," the "mainstream media" and so on.

But hey, Americans don't come any realer than me. I learned that recently from MSNBC news-chat personality Mika Brzezinski. Discussing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's supporters on "Morning Joe," Brzezinski allowed as how us country folks (I live in a rural county with a lot more cows than people) constitute the nation's moral backbone. "God, I hate to say it," Brzezinski allowed, "but in the cities where there are a little bit more liberal elite populations, you are not going to find what is representative of America."

Sigh. We already tried that. It brought us George W. Bush, a synthetic cowboy who dropped the "rancher" pose the minute he left the White House. Back in 2001, metropolitan pundits -- seemingly unfamiliar with the oeuvre of Hank Williams and Garth Brooks -- kept telling us about the superior moral instincts of us "red state" voters.

Brzezinski's the daughter of former Carter administration national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, and attended several fancy private schools. So I'm guessing she doesn't know a lot of drinkin' and cheatin' songs either.

The occasion of the MSNBC pundit's comments was Palin's poor-pitiful-me resignation speech, the one that sounded like an audition for the Lucille Ball part in an "I Love Lucy" revival.

"Life is too short to compromise time and resources," Palin said. "It may be tempting and more comfortable to just keep your head down, plod along and appease those who demand: 'Sit down and shut up,' but that's the worthless, easy path; that's a quitter's way out. And a problem in our country today is apathy. It would be apathetic to just hunker down and 'go with the flow.' Nah, only dead fish 'go with the flow.'"

No dead-fish quitter she, Palin quit.

Having spent much of her tenure as Alaska's governor scheming to fire her ex-brother-in-law from the state police and having her press secretary issue statements contradicting her daughter's 18-year-old former boyfriend, Palin evidently mistook national politics for one long Miss Congeniality contest.

That is, until she started picking fights with TV comics and whining that nobody before her had been so victimized by "the politics of personal destruction" -- a phrase Bill Clinton coined after Republican operatives accused him and his wife of murder.

Chances are Palin doesn't know that, as she appears to know precious little else. Even many conservatives who supported Bush almost to the end fear that the Republicans have finally touched bottom.

"In television interviews," Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "she was out of her depth in a shallow pool. She was limited in her ability to explain and defend her positions, and sometimes in knowing them. She couldn't say what she read because she didn't read anything. She was utterly unconcerned by all this and seemed in fact rather proud of it: It was evidence of her authenticity."

Palin's authentic, all right: An authentic product of what author Charles P. Pierce calls the "Three Great Premises" of America's decayed TV celebrity culture. First, "Any theory is valid if it moves units," i..e. sells advertising. Second, "Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough." Third, "Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is measured by how fervently they believe it."

The cultural left is sometimes as prone to dimwit populism as the right. Witness the Rev. Al Sharpton moving an audience to tears by assuring Michael Jackson's children that he wasn't "strange," but his critics were. Sleepovers with other people's children? Compulsive plastic surgery? Gobbling pills? Mainlining IV drugs? Sorry, Reverend, "strange" doesn't begin to describe that poor soul.

But then nobody ever proposed running Michael Jackson for national office.

President? Get real. Sarah Palin couldn't manage a Wal-Mart. She has neither the management skills nor the capacity for detail.

Anybody who imagines otherwise probably believes she resigned to spend more time with her (very entertaining) family. If she had any sense, she'd drop politics and market them as a reality-TV program.

Alas, there's no sign of that.

© 2009 Gene Lyons. Distributed by Newspaper Enterprise Association

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