Tuesday, January 31, 2006

From In These Times:

A senior counter-terrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Los Angeles Times, "The NSA was well aware of how hot the number was ... and how it was a logistical hub for Al Qaeda and it was also calling the number in America half a dozen times after the [U.S.S.] Cole [was attacked] and before September 11." Another official told the paper, "It's total hubris ... It's arrogance by the people doing this. This is a 24-hour thing, and you can get these kind of warrants immediately. I think they are just being lazy."

Eleanor Hill, a former Pentagon inspector general and the staff director of the joint congressional inquiry into 9/11, said that members of Congress had repeatedly asked the administration to recommend reforms of FISA. "The question was always asked of these witnesses: 'What do you need?' ... There was plenty of time to raise this issue. You don't just take it upon yourself to circumvent FISA. That attitude ignores the absolutely critical need for oversight."

Monday, January 30, 2006

Getting Rich off Iraq and Global Warming

Exxon Mobil Sees Record Profit for U.S. Co. 53 minutes ago

IRVING, Texas - Exxon Mobil Corp. posted record profits for any U.S. company on Monday — $10.71 billion for the fourth quarter and $36.13 billion for the year — as the world's biggest publicly traded oil company benefited from high oil and gas prices and demand for refined products. The results exceeded Wall Street expectations and Exxon shares rose nearly 3 percent on premarket trading.

The company's earnings amounted to $1.71 per share for the October-December quarter, up from $8.42 billion, or $1.30 per share, in the year ago quarter. The result topped the then-record quarterly profit of $9.92 billion Exxon posted in the third quarter of 2005.

Exxon's profit for the year was also the largest annual reported net income in U.S. history, according to Howard Silverblatt, a stock market analyst for Standard & Poor's. He said the previous high was Exxon's $25.3 billion profit in 2004.

And the big story, waiting to break...

The Mail on Sunday, a UK paper of less than stellar repute, reports on something big.

A leak that makes 'Downing Street' look like child's play.

The secret is revealed in a new book by QC Philippe Sands, Professor of Law at the University of London.

From the article:

"""Both governments will be horrified that the stream of leaks revealing the grim truth about the war is turning into a flood. The most damaging new revelation concerns the meeting between Mr Blair and Mr Bush at the White House on January 31, 2003, during which Mr Blair urged the President to seek a second UN resolution giving specific backing for the war.

The Mail on Sunday has established that the meeting was attended only by Mr Blair, his Downing Street foreign policy adviser Sir David Manning, Mr Bush and the President's then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, plus an official note-taker.

The top-secret record of the meeting was circulated to a tiny handful of senior figures in the two administrations.

Immediately afterwards, the two leaders gave a Press conference in which a nervous-looking Mr Blair claimed the meeting had been a success. Mr Bush gave qualified support for going down the UN route. But observers noted the awkward body language between the two men. Sands' book explains why. Far from giving a genuine endorsement to Mr Blair's attempt to gain full UN approval, Mr Bush was only going through the motions. And Mr Blair not only knew it, but went along with it.

The description of the January 31 meeting echoes the recent memoirs of Britain's former ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer.

Meyer, who was excluded from the private session between Blair and Bush, claimed the summit marked the culmination of the Prime Minister's failure to use his influence to hold back Mr Bush.

Equally significantly, Meyer was puzzled by Blair's behaviour when the two leaders emerged to join other aides. Meyer writes: "We were all milling around in the State dining room as Bush and Blair put the final touches to what they were going to say to the media.

"Bush had a notepad on which he had written a form of words on the second resolution...He read it out...There was silence. I waited for Blair to say he needed something as supportive as possible. He said nothing. I waited for somebody on the No 10 team to say something. Nothing was said. I cursed myself afterwards for not piping up.

"At the Press conference, Bush gave only a perfunctory and lukewarm support for a second resolution. It was neither his nor Blair's finest performance."

In view of Sands' disclosures, Blair had every reason to look awkward: he knew that despite his public talk of getting UN support, privately he had just committed himself to going to war no matter what the UN did.

When, in due course, the UN refused to back the war, Mr Blair seized on the fact that French President Jacques Chirac said he would not support any pro-war resolution, claiming that the French veto was so 'unreasonable' that a UN vote was pointless. In reality, Bush and Blair had decided to go to war before Chirac uttered a word.

The disclosures will be seized on by anti-war critics in Britain, including Left-wing MPs who say Mr Blair should be impeached for his handling of the war.

However, Ministers will argue that after three major British inquiries into the war, and with thousands of British troops due to be sent home from Iraq this year, it is time to move on.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said last night: "These matters have been thoroughly investigated and we stand by our position."

Repubs falling all over each other to distance from Bush

Criticism of Rove's politicization of terrorism and admission that wiretaps are violation of 1978 law.



REPUBLICANS are trying to get Bush to release all the Abramoff records. This is the showdown brewing - finally - between the interests of Congress - even a Republican led Congress, and Bush. Congress has two problems - a) they have to keep their job, unlike Bush and Cheney, and realize that they have to look like they are cleaning up Washington if they are to keep any of the K STreet bonanza that has kept them healthy, and b) they are realizing that the powers that Bush has been stealing from the executive branch could become permanent, even under future Democratic presidents, and they don't like that idea! I hope that some of them rise above all of this to realize that the Constitution set up a republic, not an empire!

THUNE, the man who took down Daschle, is also backing this Republican call for openness on Abramoff.


Of course, they realize that the more that Bush acts cagy, the more the taint rubs off on them. Also, the few who don't have 'taint' may be trying to position themselves to move in when the 'tainted' lose their jobs.

It's called infighting. One of the few political talents at which the Democrats actually supersede the Republicans!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Good On Ya, Brown

Broadcaster says serious news at risk

By JAN SJOSTROM , Daily News Arts Editor

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Former CNN 'NewsNight' anchor Aaron Brown said important issues, such as the war in Iraq, are being clouded over by 'mud-wrestling' that skirts substance. Brown spoke Tuesday at The Society of the Four Arts.

The anchorman whose boss once characterized him as ice compared with his successor's fire was anything but chilly in the impassioned speech he delivered Tuesday at The Society of the Four Arts.

"Truth no longer matters in the context of politics and, sadly, in the context of cable news," said Aaron Brown, whose four-year period as anchor of CNN's NewsNight ended in November, when network executives gave his job to Anderson Cooper in a bid to push the show's ratings closer to front-runner Fox News.

Brown said he tried to give viewers a balanced diet of light and serious news with NewsNight. "But I always knew when I got to the Brussels sprouts, I was on thin ice," he said.

When NewsNight spent four hours covering the arrest of actor Robert Blake for the murder of his wife, Brown received thousands of e-mails criticizing the amount of time the show spent on the story. Nevertheless, that show, which aired in April 2002, received the highest ratings of any program since NewsNight's coverage of the November 2001 crash of American Airlines flight 587.

"Television is the most perfect democracy," Brown said. "You sit there with your remote control and vote." The remotes click to another channel when serious news airs, but when the media covers the scandals surrounding Laci Peterson, the Runaway Bride or Michael Jackson, "there are no clicks then," the journalist said.

With the departure from the screen of the "titans" — Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather — who "resisted the temptations of their bosses to go for the ratings grab, it will be years before an anchorman or anchorwoman will have the clout to fight these battles," he said.

Brown has spent most of his 30-year career in television news. He's covered everything from the Columbine High School murders to the aftermath of the space shuttle Columbia disaster. But viewers may remember best his on-the-spot coverage of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

He's shocked "by how unkind our world has become," he said. E-mail and talk radio appear to have given people the license to say anything, regardless of how cruel or false it may be, he said.

He cited the example of an e-mail faulting what the sender considered to be NewsNight's inadequate coverage of an anti-war protest in Washington, D.C. The note ended with, "I hope the violence visited on the people of Iraq will someday be visited on your children."

Those on the opposite side of the political spectrum are no more tolerant, Brown said. "Any criticism of the administration is regarded as hatred of the president and hatred of the country itself," he said.

Important issues, such as the prosecution of the war in Iraq at home and abroad, are being clouded over by "mud-wrestling" that skirts substance, he said. Consider what he called "the swift-boating of John Murtha," the Democratic congressman whose war record was smeared when he called for an exit strategy in Iraq. "Cable didn't search for the truth, but engaged in mock debates pitting those making the charges against Murtha's defenders," he said.

Many Americans on the left and the right aren't interested in the truth, but simply want news that confirms their viewpoints, he said. "You'd think that it's no more complex than good vs. evil," he said.

Journalists have fallen short in presenting important news in ways that allow viewers to see how it matters in their lives. But viewers must take up the battle as well, he said. "It's not enough to say you want serious news. You have to watch it. It isn't enough to say you want serious debate. You have to engage in it."

IBS: Impeach Bush Soon

Published on Thursday, January 26, 2006 by Knight Ridder
More Americans Favor Impeaching Bush, Poll Says
Today's topic: Domestic spying

by Jim Puzzanghera

WASHINGTON - The word "impeachment" is popping up increasingly these days and not just off the lips of liberal activists spouting predictable bumper-sticker slogans.

After the unfounded claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and recent news of domestic spying without warrants, mainstream politicians and ordinary voters are talking openly about the possibility that President Bush could be impeached. So is at least one powerful senator, Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

So far, it's just talk. With Republicans controlling Congress, and memories still fresh of the bitter fight and national distraction inflamed by former President Clinton's 1998 impeachment, even the launching of an official inquiry is a very long shot.

But a poll released last week by Zogby International showed 52 percent of American adults thought Congress should consider impeaching Bush if he wiretapped U.S. citizens without court approval, including 59 percent of independents and 23 percent of Republicans. (The survey had a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.)

Given those numbers, impeachment could become an issue in this fall's congressional elections, and dramatically raise the stakes. If Democrats win control of the House of Representatives, a leading proponent of starting an official impeachment inquiry, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., would become chairman of the House committee that could pursue it.

Conyers introduced legislation last month to create a special panel to investigate the Bush administration's alleged manipulation of pre-Iraq war intelligence and "make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment."

He's not the only one dropping the "I word." A day later, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., wrote to four presidential scholars asking whether domestic spying by the National Security Agency was an impeachable offense.

Former Vice President Al Gore said last week that the NSA wiretapping could be an impeachable offense.

Bush contends that he holds authority as commander in chief to order the eavesdropping on international calls of terrorism suspects without court approval. He also claims that Congress' resolution authorizing him to use force against terrorists implicitly authorized his NSA spying.

But a 1978 law requires court-issued warrants for wiretapping people in the United States. And many in Congress, along with the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, said Bush is on shaky legal ground in ordering NSA spying without warrants as required by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Tucker Bounds, a Republican National Committee official, said impeachment talk is "nonsense."

But asked Jan. 15 what recourse there would be if Bush broke or ignored the law in authorizing wiretaps, Senate Judiciary Committee chair Specter mentioned impeachment.

"I'm not suggesting remotely that there's any basis, but you're asking, really, theory, what's the remedy?" he said on ABC's This Week. "Impeachment is the remedy."

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., said of a Bush impeachment, "I'm not saying it would happen, but I think it should be explored." She was one of a handful of House members to co-sponsor Conyers' bill, which is unlikely to get a hearing or vote as long as Republicans rule the House of Representatives.

Stanford University historian Jack Rakove, a constitutional expert, said breaking the law on domestic spying would qualify as an impeachable offense, but that Congress should be hesitant to pursue it. The Clinton impeachment was a major distraction for the nation, he said. Some have suggested it hurt the U.S. effort against al-Qaida before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Despite such concerns, some liberal activists say it's time to impeach Bush. Bob Fertik, president of Democrats.com, has formed ImpeachPAC to fund campaigns of congressional candidates who support impeachment. It has raised more than $52,000 in 10 weeks.

"If the truth comes out," Fertik said, "there will be an open-and-shut case for a high crime of breaking the law."

Copyright 2006 Knight Ridder Newspapers

Monday, January 23, 2006

Damn Straight

Molly Ivins
Not. Backing. Hillary.
Equivocation in Democratic party has gone on far too long -- time for real leadership

AUSTIN, Texas — I'd like to make it clear to the people who run the Democratic Party that I will not support Hillary Clinton for president.
Enough. Enough triangulation, calculation and equivocation. Enough clever straddling, enough not offending anyone. This is not a Dick Morris election. Sen. Clinton is apparently incapable of taking a clear stand on the war in Iraq, and that alone is enough to disqualify her. Her failure to speak out on Terri Schiavo, not to mention that gross pandering on flag-burning, are just contemptible little dodges.

The recent death of Gene McCarthy reminded me of a lesson I spent a long, long time unlearning, so now I have to re-learn it. It's about political courage and heroes, and when a country is desperate for leadership. There are times when regular politics will not do, and this is one of those times. There are times a country is so tired of bull that only the truth can provide relief.

If no one in conventional-wisdom politics has the courage to speak up and say what needs to be said, then you go out and find some obscure junior senator from Minnesota with the guts to do it. In 1968, Gene McCarthy was the little boy who said out loud, "Look, the emperor isn't wearing any clothes." Bobby Kennedy — rough, tough Bobby Kennedy — didn't do it. Just this quiet man trained by Benedictines who liked to quote poetry.

What kind of courage does it take, for mercy's sake? The majority of the American people (55 percent) think the war in Iraq is a mistake and that we should get out. The majority (65 percent) of the American people want single-payer health care and are willing to pay more taxes to get it. The majority (86 percent) of the American people favor raising the minimum wage. The majority of the American people (60 percent) favor repealing Bush's tax cuts, or at least those that go only to the rich. The majority (66 percent) wants to reduce the deficit not by cutting domestic spending, but by reducing Pentagon spending or raising taxes.

The majority (77 percent) thinks we should do "whatever it takes" to protect the environment. The majority (87 percent) thinks big oil companies are gouging consumers and would support a windfall profits tax. That is the center, you fools. WHO ARE YOU AFRAID OF?

I listen to people like Rahm Emanuel superciliously explaining elementary politics to us clueless naifs outside the Beltway ("First, you have to win elections.") Can't you even read the damn polls?

Here's a prize example by someone named Barry Casselman, who writes, "There is an invisible civil war in the Democratic Party, and it is between those who are attempting to satisfy the defeatist and pacifist left base of the party and those who are attempting to prepare the party for successful elections in 2006 and 2008."

This supposedly pits Howard Dean, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, emboldened by "a string of bad news from the Middle East ... into calling for premature retreat from Iraq," versus those pragmatic folk like Steny Hoyer, Rahm Emmanuel, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman.

Oh come on, people — get a grip on the concept of leadership. Look at this war — from the lies that led us into it, to the lies they continue to dump on us daily.

You sit there in Washington so frightened of the big, bad Republican machine you have no idea what people are thinking. I'm telling you right now, Tom DeLay is going to lose in his district. If Democrats in Washington haven't got enough sense to OWN the issue of political reform, I give up on them entirely.

Do it all, go long, go for public campaign financing for Congress. I'm serious as a stroke about this — that is the only reform that will work, and you know it, as well as everyone else who's ever studied this. Do all the goo-goo stuff everybody has made fun of all these years: embrace redistricting reform, electoral reform, House rules changes, the whole package. Put up, or shut up. Own this issue, or let Jack Abramoff politics continue to run your town.

Bush, Cheney and Co. will continue to play the patriotic bully card just as long as you let them. I've said it before: War brings out the patriotic bullies. In World War I, they went around kicking dachshunds on the grounds that dachshunds were "German dogs." They did not, however, go around kicking German shepherds. The MINUTE someone impugns your patriotism for opposing this war, turn on them like a snarling dog and explain what loving your country really means. That, or you could just piss on them elegantly, as Rep. John Murtha did. Or eviscerate them with wit (look up Mark Twain on the war in the Philippines). Or point out the latest in the endless "string of bad news."

Do not sit there cowering and pretending the only way to win is as Republican-lite. If the Washington-based party can't get up and fight, we'll find someone who can.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Sirota on lobby corruption

What They Won't Tell You Corruption Is Really All About

If you read the headlines these days, you are led to believe that the most serious consequences of our corrupt political system are the nefarious schemes of individuals like Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay. And while the scandals surrounding these guys are all outrageous, the narrow focus on them masks the much more severe consequences of corruption that no one in the media/political Establishment really wants to talk about - the consequences that are at the heart of my upcoming book Hostile Takeover due out in the Spring. Beyond the brazen vote-buying/bribery that our money-drenched political process periodically is afflicted with is the far more systematic way America's entire political debate is artificially limited to ensure an outcome favorable to Big Money interests.

No matter where you look in politics you can see this phenomenon, right up in your face. We can see it in the two parties' competing lobbying/ethics "reform" packages - both of which do not attack the real problem of elections being financed by corporate cash. That's by design - because to attack the real problem with public financing of elections would be to actually give the public - and not Corporate America - control over the political process.

We see the same thing on many major economic issues like bankruptcy, "free" trade, energy policy, health care and more. These are the bread-and-butter economic issues where the public consistently tells pollsters it wants radically different policies than comes from their government. Yet, politicians and the media dishonestly portray only a narrow set of policies in these areas as "mainstream," "centrist," or "politically possible" making sure the overall debate and realm of possible outcomes is narrowed to the point where votes don't really have to be bought, because whatever final result is already guaranteed to further enrich the powers that be.

This debate narrowing is really what lobbyists are masters of. They provide the talking points, justifications, background research and propaganda to both sides of a debate to make sure that politically taboo subjects (aka. the concerns of ordinary Americans) aren't really ever seriously considered in a debate over an issue. Lawmakers are happy to regurgitate the nonsense because they know that when they do, they will be rewarded like little puppies with a treat - namely, a campaign contribution.

But where does the lobbyists' information ammunition actually come from? Where do they actually get that propaganda to give to the lawmaker to make sure the debate is narrowed? A story in Businessweek today provides a glimpse of the answer. Many "pundits who present themselves as independent voices sometimes turn out to be quietly financed by powerful interests," the magazine reports. "Money flows from an industry or a lobbyist rather than a branch of government. The tradecraft for fixing media opinions varies and sometimes involves public relations firms, Washington front groups, or other intermediaries."

In other words, the opinion makers - the pundits/commentators who play one of the key role in creating the boundaries of the political debate - are often bought off. Many of these people, not surprisingly, come out of the bigger world of corporate-funded think tanks that dominate Washington, D.C. These are the propaganda machines who the media and politicians loyally rely on for background research and overall debate framing, rarely - if ever - thinking about or reporting on who actually is funding the institutions in the first place.

So, for instance, if you read the newspapers or listen to a congressional hearing, you might think that organizations like the Heritage Foundation or the Cato Institute are just naturally occuring organizations sprouting up from the a supposed overall extreme conservative economic slant of the American public. These institutions - which D.C. is teeming with - are cited as official-esque sources, described only in ideological terms as "conservative." They are almost never labeled according to which industries fund them, just as the politicians who spew corporate PR are almost never identified in the media as having taken huge sums of cash from the industry being shilled for. It is as if naming the funders would be to offer the public too much truth about who owns their political debate - a major Establishment taboo.

But even worse than not identifying the backers of these corporate-funded entitites is how those politicians/reporters/pundits who cite them - and thus allow them to distort the political debate - don't themselves even consider/care that the organizations are corporate appendages, artificially narrowing the debate not out of some ideological motive, but from a very obvious desire to make sure that economic debates always end with Big Money interests making off like bandits.

My book Hostile Takeover, due out in Spring, looks at the major overarching economic issues that ordinary citizens face on a daily basis and shows how this corruption narrows the overall debate; transforms sheer lies into assumed facts; and creates the rationale for public policies designed to do one thing and one thing only: rip off ordinary citizens. That is the truth of our corrupt political system right there under our noses - a truth that I have spent the last year documenting in the pages of my upcoming book, but which is hard to see because almost every message the public receives from the political/media Establishment is designed to distract us from this. The book is designed to be a citizens' guide to seeing through this because the more we become aware of the fraud being perpetrated on us, the closer we come to being able to take back our government once and for all.

From the Guardian: more Orwellian tactics from the GOP

US university spying scandal prompts resignations

Friday January 20, 2006

A former US Republican congressman has resigned from the advisory board of a university alumni group after it emerged the latter was offering students money to police "liberal" professors at the University of California, Los Angeles.
James Rogan, who served two terms in office, sent an email on Wednesday to Andrew Jones, the head of the Bruin Alumni Association, saying he did not want his name connected to the group. Mr Rogan's resignation follows those of the Harvard historian Stephan Thernstrom and the UCLA professor emeritus Jascha Kessler, who both resigned from the board once they learned of the group's activities.

The group has been offering students up to US$100 (£57) to supply tape recordings and notes from classes to expose professors suspected of pushing liberal political views on their students. The targeted professors have likened the effort to a witchhunt.

"Any sober, concerned citizen would look at this and see right through it as a reactionary form of McCarthyism," said Peter McLaren, an education professor whom the association named as No 1 on its list of The Dirty Thirty: Ranking the Worst of the Worst.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

NY Times: Nonpartisan Research concludes Bush broke law

Report Questions Legality of Briefings on Surveillance
WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 - A legal analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service concludes that the Bush administration's limited briefings for Congress on the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping without warrants are "inconsistent with the law."

The analysis was requested by Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who said in a Jan. 4 letter to President Bush that she believed the briefings should be open to all the members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

Instead, the briefings have been limited to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate and of the Intelligence Committees, the so-called Gang of Eight.

NY Times: Bush knew yellowcake fake in early 2002

2002 Memo Doubted Uranium Sale Claim
by Eric Lichtblau

WASHINGTON - A high-level intelligence assessment by the Bush administration concluded in early 2002 that the sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq was "unlikely" because of a host of economic, diplomatic and logistical obstacles, according to a secret memo that was recently declassified by the State Department.

Among other problems that made such a sale improbable, the assessment by the State Department's intelligence analysts concluded, was that it would have required Niger to send "25 hard-to-conceal 10-ton tractor-trailers" filled with uranium across 1,000 miles and at least one international border.

The analysts' doubts were registered nearly a year before President Bush, in what became known as the infamous "16 words" in his 2003 State of the Union address, said that Saddam Hussein had sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

From the Guardian: Blair knew about rendition flights

Torture flights: what No 10 knew and tried to cover up

Leaked memo reveals strategy to deny knowledge of detention centres

Richard Norton-Taylor
Thursday January 19, 2006
The Guardian

The government is secretly trying to stifle attempts by MPs to find out what it knows about CIA "torture flights" and privately admits that people captured by British forces could have been sent illegally to interrogation centres, the Guardian can reveal. A hidden strategy aimed at suppressing a debate about rendition - the US practice of transporting detainees to secret centres where they are at risk of being tortured - is revealed in a briefing paper sent by the Foreign Office to No 10.

The document shows that the government has been aware of secret interrogation centres, despite ministers' denials. It admits that the government has no idea whether individuals seized by British troops in Iraq or Afghanistan have been sent to the secret centres.
Dated December 7 last year, the document is a note from Irfan Siddiq, of the foreign secretary's private office, to Grace Cassy in Tony Blair's office. It was obtained by the New Statesman magazine, whose latest issue is published today.

It was drawn up in response to a Downing Street request for advice "on substance and handling" of the controversy over CIA rendition flights and allegations of Britain's connivance in the practice.

"We should try to avoid getting drawn on detail", Mr Siddiq writes, "and to try to move the debate on, in as front foot a way we can, underlining all the time the strong anti-terrorist rationale for close cooperation with the US, within our legal obligations."

The document advises the government to rely on a statement by Condoleezza Rice last month when the US secretary of state said America did not transport anyone to a country where it believed they would be tortured and that, "where appropriate", Washington would seek assurances.

The document notes: "We would not want to cast doubt on the principle of such government-to-government assurances, not least given our own attempts to secure these from countries to which we wish to deport their nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism: Algeria etc."

The document says that in the most common use of the term - namely, involving real risk of torture - rendition could never be legal. It also says that the US emphasised torture but not "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment", which binds Britain under the European convention on human rights. British courts have adopted a lower threshold of what constitutes torture than the US has.

The note includes questions and answers on a number of issues. "Would cooperating with a US rendition operation be illegal?", it asks, and gives the response: "Where we have no knowledge of illegality, but allegations are brought to our attention, we ought to make reasonable enquiries". It asks: "How do we know whether those our armed forces have helped to capture in Iraq or Afghanistan have subsequently been sent to interrogation centres?" The reply given is: "Cabinet Office is researching this with MoD [Ministry of Defence]. But we understand the basic answer is that we have no mechanism for establishing this, though we would not ourselves question such detainees while they were in such facilities".

Ministers have persistently taken the line, in answers to MPs' questions, that they were unaware of CIA rendition flights passing through Britain or of secret interrogation centres.

On December 7 - the date of the leaked document - Charles Kennedy, then Liberal Democrat leader, asked Mr Blair when he was first made aware of the American rendition flights, and when he approved them. Mr Blair replied: "In respect of airports, I do not know what the right hon gentleman is referring to."

On December 22, asked at his monthly press conference about the US practice of rendition, the prime minister told journalists: "It is not something that I have ever actually come across until this whole thing has blown up, and I don't know anything about it." He said he had never heard of secret interrogation camps in Europe. But Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, recently disclosed that Whitehall inquiries had shown Britain had received rendition requests from the Clinton administration.

In 1998, Mr Straw, then home secretary, agreed to one request, but turned down another because the individual concerned was to be transported to Egypt. He agreed that Mohammed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali, suspected of involvement in the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, could be transported to the US for trial via Stansted, according to the briefing paper. Owhali was subsequently given a life sentence.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, which has demanded an inquiry into allegations of British collusion in rendition flights, said she was "deeply disappointed" by the memo. "The government seems more concerned about spinning than investigating our concerns," she said. She has written to Mr Straw saying the government must now give its full support to the inquiry conducted, at Liberty's behest, by the chief constable of Greater Manchester, Michael Todd.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman, said Mr Blair had fully endorsed Ms Rice's statement, yet the prime minister had clear advice that it might have been deliberately worded to allow for cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. "I am submitting an urgent question to the speaker and expect the foreign secretary to come to parliament to explain the government's position," he said. "Evasion can no longer be sustained: there is now overwhelming evidence to support a full public inquiry into rendition."

Andrew Tyrie, Conservative MP for Chichester and chairman of the parliamentary group on rendition, said last night: "All the experts who have looked at Rice's assurances have concluded that they are so carefully worded as to be virtually worthless. Relying on them, as the government appears to be doing, speaks volumes". He said his committee would pursue the issue.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Good Riddance


(from Slate)

Hollywood's New Zombie
The last days of Blockbuster.
By Edward Jay Epstein
Posted Monday, Jan. 9, 2006, at 1:03 PM ET

An endangered species

In 1998, at the dawn of the age of the DVD, Blockbuster made a decision that would change the future of Hollywood. Warren Lieberfarb, who then headed the home-video division of Warner Bros., offered Blockbuster CEO John Antioco a deal that would have made the DVD the same kind of rental business as that of the VHS tape, which, at the time, provided the studios with $10 billion in revenue. Lieberfarb proposed that Warner Bros. (which, along with Sony, was launching the DVD) create a rental window for DVDs during which sell-through DVDs would not be available for new movies.

With this window, Blockbuster, which then accounted for nearly half of the studios' rental income from new movies, would have had the opportunity to rent out DVD releases before they went on sale to the general public. In return, the studios would receive 40 percent of the rental revenues that Blockbuster earned from DVDs, which was exactly the same percentage they received for VHS rentals. In fact, it was Sumner Redstone, whose Viacom conglomerate then owned Blockbuster, who personally pioneered the revenue-sharing arrangement for video. Only a few years earlier, Redstone had told Lieberfarb, "The studios can't live without a video rental business—we [Blockbuster] are your profit." Yet, even though Lieberfarb was only asking that the same deal be extended to DVD, Blockbuster, perhaps not realizing the speed with which the digital revolution would spread, turned him down.

Nevertheless, Lieberfarb, determined to make the DVD a success, went to Plan B: pricing the DVD low enough so that it could be sold to the public in direct competition with video rentals. Wal-Mart, seizing the opportunity for an enormous traffic-builder for its stores, began selling DVDs like hot cakes. By 2003, the studios were taking in three times as much money from DVDs as they were from VHS videos (click here for the actual numbers). In this reversal of fortune, Wal-Mart replaced Blockbuster as the studios' single largest source of revenue. Other mass retailers followed suit, often pricing newly released movies on DVD below their own wholesale price to draw in customers who might buy products with higher profit margins, such as plasma TVs. Blockbuster, with no other products to sell, became a casualty of this cutthroat competition for traffic. Not able to match these low prices, its rental business was decimated.

The other shoe dropped with the emergence of Netflix as a major online competitor for what remained of the rental market. (Blockbuster turned down the opportunity to buy Netflix for a mere $50 million, instead entering a disastrous home-delivery deal with Enron.) Netflix signed up over 3 million subscribers by 2005 by offering DVDs that could be kept as long as renters liked for a monthly fee. To compete, Blockbuster had to do away with its single biggest profit-earner: charging late fees to customers who kept videos past the due date. It also had to invest millions of dollars in a copycat online plan.

Meanwhile, even after many Blockbuster store closings, the company was paying the rent on over 4,000 brick-and-mortar locations in the United States. Initially, opening new stores every week had provided Blockbuster with outlets for the excess inventory of used videos from old stores. The resulting proliferation of stores also provided a competitive advantage when most people rented videos and needed a nearby location to return them. But as people switched to buying DVDs or getting them by mail from Netflix, this plethora of stores proved a liability, leaving Blockbuster hemorrhaging red ink: $1.62 billion in 2002, $978.7 million in 2003, and $1.24 billion in 2004. Still losing money in 2005, Blockbuster had to renegotiate its loan covenants to avoid being forced into bankruptcy. By 2006, the company Redstone had bought in 1994 for $8.4 billion had a market value of under $700 million.

Blockbuster can "reinvent" its store business, adding new products, such as popcorn, candy, and video games, and clone a Netflix-like subscription business, but it still has the albatross of the huge monthly rent payments from its stores weighing it down. Even if it could manage to slip out of these leases, it would still have to contend with Hollywood's move to deliver its movies into homes and iPods via video-on-demand. Offering movies that could be downloaded directly by couch potatoes, as I previously pointed out, is the Holy Grail for Hollywood, since it both cuts out middlemen like Blockbuster and leaves studios in control over their own products.

As far the studios are concerned, other than collecting the money that Blockbuster owes them for past movies, the video chain has little relevance to their future. Viacom perspicuously divorced itself from Blockbuster by spinning it off to its shareholders, and, as one Viacom executive told me, "Blockbuster will certainly not survive and it will not be missed." It is another zombie in Hollywood.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Corruption continued

On the Verge of Political Reform
Getting Caught vs. Coming Clean

by David Sirota

Can you hear that sound coming from Washington? It is the Democrats licking their chops as Republicans seem to collapse under the weight of corruption scandals. With the indictment of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, on money-laundering charges, the salivating began. Then there was the guilty plea by Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Del Mar (San Diego County), on bribery charges. Now, with indicted Republican Jack Abramoff signing a plea agreement that could bring down other lawmakers, we detect a hungry growl from the minority party.
The Democrats' excitement is understandable: Republicans as a whole have clearly embarrassed themselves, with California Republicans leading the charge in making their party a national joke. First there was Cunningham. Then came Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands (San Bernardino County), who was exposed for using his powerful positions on the House Appropriations Committee to lavish taxpayer-funded contracts on lobbying clients of his close friend, lobbyist and former California Rep. Bill Lowery. Now, two more California congressmen, Rep. John Doolittle, R-Rocklin (Placer County), and Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, are implicated in the Abramoff scandal, having taken large campaign contributions from Abramoff's clients.

In short, the GOP has humiliated itself in a way that only reinforces an image of the party that the public already holds: too beholden to big-money interests.

But underneath all the Democratic Party excitement about the GOP's corrupt missteps, a question still lingers: Is it enough for national Democratic Party leaders to simply point out their opponents' flaws?

The answer is likely no, especially if the flaws are related to corruption. The fact is the public has long believed politicians of both parties are bought and paid for by special interests. And, by and large, the public is right.

Industries now regularly spend millions of dollars underwriting political campaigns. Californians got a bitter taste of this most recently with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's special-election campaign, funded with huge amounts of corporate cash. These contributions were called donations, but the public knows that's just a euphemism for what it really is: legalized bribery.

Then there is lobbying -- that synonym for selling insider access and connections to big-money interests, and then converting that access into congressional votes. Once a small specialty field, lobbying has become a billion-dollar bipartisan industry, with the revolving door between business and government spinning faster than an industrial strength fan.

This not-so-hidden system of money for votes means that congressional Democrats have to do more than just complain about Republicans so-called "culture of corruption." They must actually get up the courage to start advocating for fundamental reforms -- reforms that are already being pushed in states across the country.

Governors in Montana and New Hampshire, for instance, have pushed a slate of serious reforms that would, among other things, prevent lawmakers from immediately cashing in and becoming lobbyists, and would stop gifts from lobbyists to government officials. In Colorado, lawmakers last year pushed legislation to force companies seeking contracts with the government to publicly disclose their efforts to lobby state officials.

Perhaps most important are the successful efforts in Connecticut and Arizona to once and for all eliminate the system of legalized bribery and replace it with publicly financed elections, whereby qualifying candidates receive a certain amount of public money to compete in campaigns. Instead of a political process that favors candidates who can best shake down big-money donors, these states now have a publicly financed system that allows candidates to run on their ideas, their convictions and their integrity.

These states' efforts are clearly motivating others. As just one example, Assembly member Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, is leading a group of Democratic legislators pushing a bill in the upcoming session that would create a public-financing system for legislative and gubernatorial campaigns.

America is clearly sick of pay-to-play politics. But the public knows that corruption is a disease that afflicts the entire political process. It is why a Wall Street Journal poll showed that the public views both parties negatively at the same time -- the first such double-negative ratings in the poll's 15-year history.

Unless national Democratic Party leaders follow the lead of states pushing reform and fully embrace plans to seriously clean up our country's corrupt political system, Americans will likely fault the scandal-plagued Republicans only for getting caught, not for committing a sin worthy of being tossed out of office.

David Sirota is the author of the upcoming "Hostile Takeover" (Crown Publishers), due in April, which analyzes how corporate interests have bought America's political system. He is co-chair of the Progressive Legislative Action Network and served as an aide to Montana's Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer's successful campaign in 2004.

© 2006 San Francisco Chronicle

Corruption at every level

Abramoff , The GOP Corruption Machine & What Dems Need to Do
by Katrina Vanden Heuvel

It didn't take Republican super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff's guilty plea to three felony counts of conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion to understand that the scale of corruption in the GOP-dominated Congress had risen to obscene heights. But it sure helps expose the cesspool of corruption in that GOP-dominated Congress.

"When this is all over, this will be bigger than [any government scandal] in the last 50 years, both in the amount of people involved and the breadth to it," Stan Brand , a former U.S. House counsel who specializes in representing public officials accused of wrongdoing, told Bloomberg News. "It will include high-ranking members of Congress and executive branch officials."

But what is to be done? Take a lesson from the good Senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold who, last July, launched a crackdown on government corruption.

In July, the tough-minded reformer, who with John McCain led the fight for passage of campaign finance reform, introduced the Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act in the Senate (Representative Martin Meehan (D, MA) has similar legislation pending in the House).

The bill's key provisions are designed to reduce the power of special interests by forcing lobbyists to file disclosure reports quarterly instead of twice a year, prohibiting lobbyists from taking trips with members of Congress and their staffs, and requiring former members of Congress and some senior executive branch officials to wait two years after leaving government service before working as a lobbyist. And, as Feingold told The Hill, the bill would prohibit "lobbyists from giving gifts to members" or staff and require "members and campaigns to reimburse the owners of corporate jets at the charter rate when they use those planes for their official or political travel."

Such a law--and even hardcore DC cynics may want to give it a better chance of passage after the Abramoff scandal winds its way through DC---would arrive just barely in the nick of time. The Center for Public Integrity published a must-read study last April showing that lobbyists have spent almost $13 billion since 1998 seeking to influence federal legislation and federal regulations. "Our report reveals that each year since 1998 the amount spent to influence federal lawmakers is double the amount of money spent to elect them," the Center's executive director, Roberta Baskin, pointed out.

Other findings are equally heart-stopping. More than 2,000 lobbyists in Washington had previously held senior government jobs, and in the past six years, "49 out of the 50 top lobbying firms failed to file one or more required forms." According to other reports that the Center recently put out, some 650 foreign companies are lobbying the federal government on issues important to them, and spent more than an estimated $3 billion to influence decision-making at the federal level in 2004.

But we need to look beyond the numbers, and understand what happened in 1995 when the GOP launched its infamous K Street Project, to really understand why the corruption has metastasized with such velocity. That was the beginning of the push to put "conservative activist Republicans on K Street," as Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist told journalist Elizabeth Drew--a concerted effort to install ideological comrades-in-arms who could steer money to the GOP, promote conservative causes in Washington and keep Republicans in power for years to come.

By 2003, the Republicans had achieved the goal of seizing control of K Street. That year, the Washington Post reported that the GOP had seized "a significant number of the most influential positions at trade associations and government affairs offices and reap[ed] big financial rewards." The Post added that "several top officials at trade associations and corporate offices said privately that Republicans have created a culture in Washington in which companies fear hiring Democrats for top jobs, even if they are the most qualified."

In recent months, Abramoff and now- indicted House Leader Tom DeLay have grabbed the headlines--Abramoff, in part, because he paid for Tom DeLay's trip to London and Scotland in 2000 and stole millions of dollars in fees from his clients; and DeLay, in part, because he repeatedly violated House ethics rules. (In fact, from April 1 to June 30, DeLay accepted almost $800,000 in contributions from corporate lobbies like the telecommunications and real estate industries--a sure sign that the corruption continues unchecked, as the progressive group The Campaign for America's Future has argued.)

And, in one more link in the growing Abramoff-DeLay money trail, a recent Washington Post story documented how Abramoff funneled some of the money he had skimmed from Indian casino operators through the Orwellian-named U.S. Family Network--a shell organization with a multi-million dollar budget which was termed by some of DeLay's staffers--Delay's "safe house." (If one needs another reason as to why DeLay must immediately step down as House Majority leader, the Post story also reveals that this organization, organized by DeLay associates, has been largely financed by Russian energy interests.)

But it's equally important to remember that the corruption comes not only from DeLay, Abramoff and cronies but also at virtually every level of the Republican-dominated Congress. The Hill, for example, reported last year that congressional staff have become so brazen that they "actively solicit lunches, drinks and other favors from K Street"--acting as if lobbyists are providing them with "their personal expense account." When one Senate aide ran into a lobbyist at the Capital Grille restaurant, he asked the lobbyist to foot the bill.

"The arrogance that brought Republicans into power is arrogance that will take them out of power, and that's what you see more of on the Hill," a Republican corporate lobbyist told The Hill.

Democrats are likely to pick up seats just by continuing to hammer at GOP failures and corruption, and exposing the DeLay-Abramoff-K Street triangle for the corrupting force it truly is. But to engineer a landmark, "change election" that dislodges incumbents and marks a real shift, they will have to make themselves the party of change, championing a genuine crack down on corruption.

As our Washington correspondent John Nichols wrote yesterday in The Online Beat, "Only by being genuine in their commitment to clean up Congress will Democrats turn the Abramoff scandal fully to their advantage." Feingold's legislation is an essential step in reclaiming our democracy from these pay- to-play, immoral scam artists.

Katrina vanden Heuvel is Editor of The Nation.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Kos's 2006 election predictions

Kos-Eye View
The creator of the left’s favorite political blog, The Daily Kos, handicaps the 2006 elections and shares his advice for the Democratic Party.

By Susanna Schrobsdorff
Updated: 3:05 p.m. ET Dec. 29, 2005

Dec. 28, 2005 - With the 2006 election season nearly upon us, Democrats are hoping to win back majority control of at least one house of Congress. Meanwhile Republicans are revving up their legendary campaign machine in an effort to hold on to Capitol Hill.

With the stakes so high, both parties will be using every medium available—including the Internet—to raise funds and convey their message. In the thick of this fight is Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, creator of The Daily Kos, one of the most popular blogs on the Web, with about 2 million readers a week. His forthcoming book, “Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots and the Rise of People-Powered Politics” (Chelsea Green) is a manifesto for rebuilding the Democratic Party. Moulitsas recently spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Susanna Schrobsdorff about the political outlook for next year. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: What will be hottest political contest of 2006?
Markos Moulitsas Zúniga: The Pennsylvania Senate race between incumbent Rick Santorum and Bob Casey Jr. Santorum is an extremely conservative senator in a state that’s not as conservative as he is. And the Democrats have what may be the most popular politician in the entire state, who is the son of a man who was possibly the state’s most popular politician ever. Casey is trouncing Santorum in the polls. Santorum is raising a lot of money because the grass-roots religious right groups love him, but the Republican Party is more likely to write him off. He’s in serious peril.

Tom DeLay, the Republican congressman from Texas, is running for re-election while fighting off an indictment for money laundering. How is that race looking?
DeLay is a power-hungry individual. Even now, when he’s no longer [House] majority leader, he’s still essentially pulling the strings. I don’t think DeLay is going anywhere, but he is under a lot of pressure from multiple sources. Obviously, he’s got the [Travis County District Attorney] Ronnie Earle indictment against him to worry about, but he’s also got the [indicted lobbyist Jack] Abramoff investigation nipping at his heels. I think the Abramoff stuff is going to be more damaging to him legally.

How will the Abramoff lobbying scandal affect the 2006 races?
That’s one of the big questions. If Democrats can nationalize this election, and really work the culture of corruption in as a big theme for the election, I think it could be devastating to the Republican Party. That is what happened to the Democrats in 1994. We were the corrupt party then. It was not pretty being a Democrat. But it took Democrats 30 years to become a totally corrupted party and it took the GOP only 10 years.

Which other races should we watch?
The Rhode Island race. Lincoln Chafee is a moderate senator facing a right-wing Republican challenger—Stephen Laffey—in the primary. If Laffey wins it’s very hard to see him winning the general election.

In the Ohio Senate race either Democratic challenger Paul Hackett or Sherrod Brown are beating Republican incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine in the polls. Anytime an incumbent is behind in the polls it’s a bad sign because they have all the advantages of incumbency.

Missouri is the next big race. Democrat Claire McCaskill is up against Republican Sen. Jim Talent. Missouri is like Ohio in that the Republican governor is highly unpopular. McCaskill already has a network and name recognition after losing narrowly in a run for governor.

Another Democratic pickup opportunity [for either Democratic challenger John Morrison or Jon Tester] is Montana where Conrad Burns is now the most unpopular senator in the country. The local media, which is very aggressive, has already shown examples where Burns has changed his vote on issues after he received big checks.

Which races should the Dems be worried about?
We have two races at this point that look iffy. One is Minnesota. The incumbent Democrat [Mark Dayton] is very unpopular, and he’s retired so it’s an open seat. And the other interesting Senate race is Florida. The Democratic incumbent is running against the infamous Katherine Harris [Florida’s secretary of state during the disputed 2000 presidential election]. The Republican establishment keep spreading rumors that she’s about to quit, and nobody’s going to fund a candidate that’s about to quit. They’re hoping to push her out and get someone else in there because Harris has been polling terribly against Democrat Bill Nelson.

Do you think the Democrats can win back the majority in either the House or the Senate?
I think Democrats will make gains, but it’s 2008 we need to think about. I’m hoping that as we build our machine and repair the Democratic brand, people will start voting for Democrats because they want to vote for Democrats and not just because they want to vote against Republicans.

Is the Iraq war the key campaign issue, or something else?
I think as long as Iraq is on the plate it is the issue. You don’t see a lot of talk about the war in the national media. Six people get killed in an IED [improvised explosive device] attack and it’s put on page 37. But every one of those casualties becomes a big media event for local press, and that’s why people are turning against the war. You go to places like Montana and when a local son gets killed, it is an all-week news event—front page on the day he is killed. They talk to his parents, his high-school coach. They cover the funeral. For a long time it was just us bloggers opposing the war, but that’s changing.

How will the Democrats use the war issue?
This is a little frustrating for me. Here’s a perfect opportunity for Democrats to have led on an issue, and they haven’t. The problem is that part of the Democratic caucus thinks it’s manly and tough to be for the war. They are afraid to basically state what the reality on the ground is.

Did Congressman John Murtha’s criticism of the war embolden the Dems?
The Democratic caucus should have rallied behind Murtha. That was all the cover they needed to come out on this issue. But they were sill weak. The reason I loved Paul Hackett in the Ohio (2005 House) race is because he didn’t equivocate about war. Hackett is an Iraq war veteran who ran as a Democrat in Ohio’s Second Congressional District outside Cincinnati—one of the most Republican districts in all of Ohio. He was viciously critical of George Bush and how he’s handled the war. Hackett lost, but only by 2 or 3 percent of the vote, which is an incredible margin in that district. [Hackett is now running for the U.S. Senate from Ohio.]

What role will political bloggers play in the 2006 elections?
We, along with Democracy for America, raised [several hundred thousand dollars] for Paul Hackett in Ohio, but that was just one race. The bloggers are not a good fund-raising mechanism. We’re better as a message machine. What I’m going to be doing is following the local bloggers, and when stuff gets interesting I’ll link to that. So we’re going to have the ability to nationalize these races, and if a race gets buzz, it’s easier to fund-raise. That wasn’t really possible before the blogosphere.

Looking forward to 2008, what do you think of Hillary Clinton’s presidential chances?
The person to watch on the Democratic side for president is not Hillary Clinton, but [former Virginia governor] Mark Warner. He showed that not only could he win in Virginia, a Red State, but he had the coattails to help his successor win. He is one of the most popular governors in Virginia history—he has a 70 or 80 percent approval rating. He’ll be the anti-Hillary. Hillary is at the top now because of name recognition. She’s where Joe Lieberman was last time [in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary]. Her advisers span the entire spectrum of the party, and that seems like a good thing for coalition-building, but as soon as the campaign hits some rocky shores it’s all going to bust out in infighting. Ask me what Hillary Clinton’s position on the war is, and I still can’t tell you. She has every position. John Kerry had the same problem. Voters look at that and say she’s taking every position, so in other words, she stands for nothing—that’s why “Netroots” don’t like Hillary.

Can you define Netroots for us?
Netroots are the crazy political junkies that hang out in blogs. They’re people who use technology to participate in politics. They do a lot offline, but they do their organizing online. The issue of whether you’re liberal or conservative is not relevant to us. The issue is: Are you proud to be a Democrat? Are you partisan? Will you take the fight to the enemy? Will you roll over when the Republicans say boo?

It looks like GOP Sen. John McCain is planning another run for the presidency.
McCain is definitely running, but I don’t think he’ll get out of the Republican primaries. He’s hated by the GOP. They consider him a traitor on any number of issues. He fought the White House on the torture issue. He’s like the Joe Lieberman of their party. We [Democrats] hate Lieberman. Lieberman is going to get a primary challenger for his Senate seat next year if me and a lot of grass-roots groups have our way.

© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.