Monday, April 30, 2007

Politicizing The Entire Department Of Justice

From Murray Waas at the National Journal (via Political Wire):

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "signed a highly confidential order in March 2006 delegating to two of his top aides -- who have since resigned because of their central roles in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys -- extraordinary authority over the hiring and firing of most non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department. A copy of the order and other Justice Department records related to the conception and implementation of the order were provided to National Journal."

"The existence of the order suggests that a broad effort was under way by the White House to place politically and ideologically loyal appointees throughout the Justice Department, not just at the U.S.-attorney level. Department records show that the personnel authority was delegated to the two aides at about the same time they were working with the White House in planning the firings of a dozen U.S. attorneys, eight of whom were, in fact, later dismissed."

A coordinated effort to use the Department of Justice as another wing of the Republican National Committee.

Gee, I wonder who in the administration could be behind such a coordinated effort?

Tommy Newsom Has Died

For readers of a certain age, this will be a bittersweet post:

Tommy Newsom, 78, a jazz saxophonist and arranger who gained national visibility as a key member of Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" band for three decades, and whom Carson drolly nicknamed "Mr. Excitement" for his stone-faced looks and somber outfits, died April 28 at his home in Portsmouth, Va. He had bladder and liver cancer.

As a personality, Mr. Newsom pretended to have none. Carson gently taunted him for his deadpan expression and bland tastes -- his suits ran the gamut from brown to navy blue.

"As a child, one time Tommy got lost and his parents couldn't describe him to the police," Carson once said. On another occasion, Carson said Mr. Newsom "wants to come back as a plant, so somebody will talk to him."

Periodically, Mr. Newsom topped Carson's one-liners.

When Carson asked why Mr. Newsom kept his jacket buttoned, the saxophonist replied that his rear end would otherwise fall off. This prompted executive producer Fred De Cordova to remind Mr. Newsom that the host was supposed to get the bigger laughs.

Despite the gags, Mr. Newsom was a graceful musician and veteran of bands led by guitarist Charlie Byrd, clarinetist Benny Goodman and society bandleader Vincent Lopez. Mr. Newsom became an NBC studio musician, worked for Merv Griffin and soon after was assigned to the "Tonight" program in early 1962, several months before Carson took over.

Mr. Newsom spent the next 30 years on the show, most of the time directly under the bandleader and trumpeter Doc Severinsen, who was known for his loud outfits. Mr. Newsom became assistant music director in the late 1960s and took over the baton in Severinsen's absence.

"I think the first night I took over for Doc, Carson recoiled," Mr. Newsom told the Los Angeles Times. "He was so used to having foils on either side, Ed [McMahon] over here and Doc over there, and he needed somebody to bounce something off of, so the gags began.

"I guess my cardboard cutout style makes a good contrast to Doc's flamboyant image," he said. "Carson has really laid some heavy ones on me. One night he said I was the only person who was going to reach puberty and senility at the same time."

First Johnny, now Tommy.

Very sad, and yet reading about Tommy's time with Carson, Severinson and the rest of the Tonight Show Band brought a smile to my face.

Rest in peace, Tommy.

Maliki Purging Iraqi Officers Who Pursue Shiite Militias

Part of the justification for the Bush administration's "surge policy" in Iraq was to give the Maliki government time to try and forge political reconciliation between warring Sunnis and Shiites.

Astute observers of Iraq like Mike at Crest thought Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki was going to use the "breathing space" created by the additional U.S. surge troops to consolidate power for his Shiite allies and hurt Sunni groups as much as possible before the inevitable American troop draw down begins. This way, when the U.S. left, Maliki and his Shiite allies would be in a strengthened position to handle the conflict with Sunnis.

The Washington Post has a front page article today that suggests that's exactly the policy the Maliki government seems to be pursuing:

BAGHDAD, April 29 -- A department of the Iraqi prime minister's office is playing a leading role in the arrest and removal of senior Iraqi army and national police officers, some of whom had apparently worked too aggressively to combat violent Shiite militias, according to U.S. military officials in Baghdad.

Since March 1, at least 16 army and national police commanders have been fired, detained or pressured to resign; at least nine of them are Sunnis, according to U.S. military documents shown to The Washington Post.

Although some of the officers appear to have been fired for legitimate reasons, such as poor performance or corruption, several were considered to be among the better Iraqi officers in the field. The dismissals have angered U.S. and Iraqi leaders who say the Shiite-led government is sabotaging the military to achieve sectarian goals.

"Their only crimes or offenses were they were successful" against the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shiite militia, said Brig. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, commanding general of the Iraq Assistance Group, which works with Iraqi security forces. "I'm tired of seeing good Iraqi officers having to look over their shoulders when they're trying to do the right thing."

So if all the U.S. surge offensive is doing is helping Maliki and his Shiite allies strengthen themselves for the coming all-out Sunni/Shiite civil war, what the hell are we bothering for?

That said, do you notice any similarities between the purge of the Iraqi officers who fail to follow Maliki's sectarian policies with the purge of U.S. attorneys who failed to follow out the Bush administration's partisan goals to make the Grand Old Party into a permanent majority?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Emblematic Of The Entire Iraq Occupation

The NY Times reports today that a federal oversight agency that looked at eight reconstruction projects in Iraq that the Bush administration declared "successes" found seven are "no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle."

The Times article goes on to say that:

The United States has previously admitted, sometimes under pressure from federal inspectors, that some of its reconstruction projects have been abandoned, delayed or poorly constructed. But this is the first time inspectors have found that projects officially declared a success — in some cases, as little as six months before the latest inspections — were no longer working properly.

Sums up the whole damn thing.

UPDATE: Seems it's only Democrats and independent voters who think the occupation in Iraq is going badly. According to Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center, Republican voters "continue to see a conflict that is going reasonably well, with a decent chance of military success."

I guess 80+ dead Americans and thousands of dead Iraqis every month and $500 billion dollars and counting in costs and a conflict that has gone on longer than WWII after Rummy told us we'd only be there a matter of weeks hasn't deterred Republicans from seeing all the "successes" we've brought to Iraq.

All snark aside, can you imagine the level of psychosis and/or cluelessness it takes to think the Iraq occupation is going reasonably well and has a decent chance of military success?

Hookers, Hookers, Hookers...

As I've noted in posts on both Friday and Saturday, this has been a very, very busy couple of days on the corruption front.

If Brian Ross of ABC News reveals what he knows about the DC Madam's client list, it gets even busier:

ABC News’ Brian Ross revealed tonight that the list of customers of an alleged Washington-based prostitution service includes White House and Pentagon officials as well as prominent attorneys.

“There are thousands of names, tens of thousands of phone numbers,” Ross said. “And there are people there at the Pentagon, lobbyists, others at the White House, prominent lawyers — a long, long list.” Ross added that the women who worked for the service, potentially as prostitutes, “include university professors, legal secretaries, scientists, military officers.”

On Friday, Ross broke the news that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias had frequented the escort service. Ross added new details to that story tonight, recounting how he asked Tobias in a telephone interview “if he knew any of the young women, their names. He said he didn’t remember them at all. He said it was like ordering pizza.”

As long as it doesn't involve gross hypocrisy of public figures and the agenda they advocate, Atrios thinks that names on the Madam's list should remain confidential.

In the case of former Deputy Secretary of State and US Aid Chief Randall Tobias, the first public figure to brought down by the DC Madam scandal when he resigned on Friday after ABC News approached him with questions about his use of the escort service, that was most definitely NOT the case.

As AIDS Czar, Tobias was a strong advocate of pushing abstinence-only education and monogamy over condoms as a way to combat AIDS/HIV. Think Progress reveals he also decreed that any charity groups receiving federal money take an "anti-prostitution loyalty oath":

Former U.S. AID director Randall Tobias, who resigned yesterday upon admitting that he frequented a Washington escort service, oversaw a controversial policy advocated by the religious right that required any US-based group receiving anti-AIDS funds to take an anti-prostitution “loyalty oath.”

Aid groups bitterly opposed the policy, charging that it “was so broad — and applied even to their private funds — that it would obstruct their outreach to sex workers who are at high risk of transmitting the AIDS virus.” But President Bush wouldn’t budge. He signed a 2003 National Security Presidential Directive saying prostitution “and related activities” were “inherently harmful and dehumanizing.”

Several groups and countries had their funding cut due to the policy. Brazil lost $40 million for “one of its most successful anti-AIDS strategies, persuading sex workers to use condoms or other measures to stop spreading the disease.”

During an “Ask the White House” online chat in 2004, Tobias defended the policy, saying the U.S. was “partnering with communities” to begin “fighting sex trafficking and prostitution, while still serving victims of these activities.” Tobias added that he was overseeing several “highly successful” relationship programs “aimed at men and boys to help them develop healthy relationships with women.”

So Randall Tobias would be EXACTLY the kind of person who should have his name and identity publicly revealed when it turned up on the DC Madam's list.

It's one thing to push abstinence-only education and monogamy as the best way to combat the spread of AIDS/HIV world-wide and cut off charity groups or countries that try to get sex workers to use condoms, it's something else entirely when that same person turns out to be schtupping hookers himself.

I wonder if he used a condom and if so, did he cut himself off from federal funds?

In any case, if other Bushies, Repubs, Dems, press people, or public figures who publicly rail against sex, immorality, prostitution, sex education or the depravity of the culture turn up on the list, I hope ABC News reveals their names.

Otherwise, I'm with Atrios on this. It's nobody's business.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

WH Admits Surge Isn't Bringing Progress

The NY Times reported this morning that the Bush administration has pushed back their analysis of how well the "surge policy" is producing signs political progress or greater security until September. Even then, many of Bush's advisers believe the signs of progress will be minimal.

Now that's an interesting admission from Bush's advisers, even if it came only off the record, because just seven days ago the preznut said this in response to Harry Reid's charge that Bush, Cheney, Rice et al. know the war is lost:

The direction of the fight is beginning to shift...So far, the operation is meeting expectations...Day by day, block by block, Iraqi and American forces are making incremental gains in Baghdad...

So which is it? Is the direction of the fight beginning to shift as Bushie said last week or is the surge policy producing little to no real progress on the security and political fronts and that's why they pushing back the accountability moment for the policy as far as possible?

Given the news recently, you'd have to say the latter:

KERBALA, Iraq (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber killed 60 people and wounded 170 near one of Iraq's most revered Shi'ite Muslim shrines on Saturday, in an attack likely to inflame sectarian tensions.

The U.S. military said nine soldiers had been killed in Iraq in the past two days. The latest deaths raised to nearly 100 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in April, making it one of the deadliest months for U.S. forces since the 2003 invasion.

The blast in the holy city of Kerbala occurred at a checkpoint on an approach to the golden-domed al-Abbas shrine, situated among shops and restaurants. The area was crowded at the time.

Television footage showed a man running down a smoke-filled street holding a lifeless baby above his head. Smoke was rising off the baby. Ambulances rushed to the blast scene in Kerbala, 70 miles southwest of Baghdad.

No matter how hard the preznut and his war apologists try and fool the American people with this "surge policy," it is becoming quite clear that the surge is NOT working, conditions are not getting better in Iraq and all the Bush administration is doing is hanging around in country just long enough for another president to have to pull the troops out.

For some reason, as the news media covers the standoff between the preznut and the Congress on the Iraq war funding, the plain and simple fact that the surge policy is NOT working never seems to make it into the coverage.

Every time they report how "steadfast" Bush is about not accepting benchmarks in the Iraq war funding bill, they ought to be reporting that Bush doesn't want benchmarks cuz' he knows the Iraqis can't or won't meet them and all he's trying to do is delay the inevitable "retreat and defeat" for the next president.

Is it so hard to report the ACTUAL conditions and not the b.s. spin they're getting from the administration and its apologists?

Saturday Morning Corruption Update

Gee, the Grand Old Corruption party members are working overtime these days. Some of these stories are repeats from yesterday, but I'd like to put them all into one post so you can see the wealth of wrong-doing:

First, former Deputy Secretary of Defense and current World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz is close to losing his job for "an ethics breach":

NEW YORK, April 27 -- A World Bank committee investigating president Paul D. Wolfowitz has nearly completed a report that it plans to give the institution's governing board, concluding that he breached ethics rules when he engineered a pay raise for his girlfriend, three senior bank officials said Friday.

Friday evening, the committee was debating whether to explicitly recommend that Wolfowitz resign, according to the sources, who spoke on condition they not be named, citing an ongoing probe into leaks.

Wolfowitz is scheduled to appear before the committee with his attorney on Monday morning and mount his defense, and the bank's 24-member board of directors will convene that afternoon to discuss the report. The sources suggested that a vote by the board could come that day.

Next, Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias, a Bush administration official in charge of US Aid who pushed heavily for Abstinence Only education to help with the world-wide AIDS crisis, resigned from his post yesterday for getting "massages" from hookers:

Randall L. Tobias, the deputy secretary of state responsible for U.S. foreign aid, abruptly resigned yesterday after he was asked about an upscale escort service allegedly involved in prostitution, U.S. government sources said.

Tobias resigned after ABC News contacted him with questions about the escort service, the sources said. ABC News released a statement last night saying Tobias acknowledged Thursday that he had used the service to provide massages, not sex.

Tobias has been Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's point man in an ambitious effort to overhaul how the U.S. government manages foreign aid, a key part of her "transformational diplomacy" agenda. Just two days ago, President Bush lauded Tobias for his work in the administration leading "America's monumental effort to confront and deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic on the continent of Africa."

Next on the corruption list is Department of Justice official Robert E. Coughlin who resigned April 6th from his job at DOJ after his ties to Jack Abramoff were revealed:

A federal task force investigating the activities of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff has in recent weeks been looking into whether one of Abramoff's colleagues improperly traded favors with a Justice Department lawyer, sources familiar with the Abramoff investigation said yesterday.

The lawyer, Robert E. Coughlin II, resigned on April 6 as deputy chief of staff in the Criminal Division, citing personal reasons, a department spokesman said.

"Bob gave a personal reason for his resignation," said spokesman Bryan Sierra. He stressed that Coughlin "had no involvement" in the department's investigation of Abramoff.

Coughlin had worked in the criminal division since 2005 but was recused from the Abramoff inquiry because of a longtime personal friendship with Kevin A. Ring, one of Abramoff's lobbying colleagues whose actions are under investigation, a law enforcement source said. Investigators are looking into dealings between the two in 2001 and 2002, when Coughlin worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, the sources said.


Coughlin is the second Justice Department official whose name has surfaced in the wide-ranging Abramoff investigation. Earlier this year, Sue Ellen Wooldridge, deputy assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources, abruptly resigned when her boyfriend -- now her husband -- was notified that he was a criminal target. J. Steven Griles, former deputy secretary of the Interior Department, has since pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Abramoff.

There was another Friday night Prosecutor Purge document dump from the Department of Justice. Here's an interesting tidbit from the documents:

The White House told a Republican member of Congress last summer about its plans to fire a U.S. attorney in Arkansas and replace him with a former aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove, but it did not tell Democratic lawmakers, according to a new Justice Department e-mail released yesterday.

The White House called Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.) "and pretty much told him what they are doing with this appointment and how they are going about it," according to a July 6 e-mail from Bud Cummins, then the U.S. attorney in Little Rock.

"There has been some subsequent talk among other members of the delegation about it and some of them may be chapped about how it was handled," Cummins wrote in the message to a senior Justice official.

The e-mail is part of another set of documents turned over to Congress yesterday concerning the firing of Cummins and seven other U.S. attorneys. The dismissals have sparked an uproar in Congress, in part because of the Justice Department's shifting explanations about the reasons behind them.

The message indicates that Bush administration officials told Boozman about their plans to fire Cummins at the same time that Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and other Democrats say they were being stonewalled.

Pryor has accused Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and other Justice officials of lying to him about the firing of Cummins, who was replaced by Tim Griffin, a former Rove aide and an opposition researcher at the Republican National Committee.

Finally, Congressman Rick Renzi, under two separate criminal investigations, tried to quash rumors yesterday that his resignation from Congress is imminent:

In an attempt to counter reports and squelch rumors that he would resign his House seat, Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) said Friday he has no plans to leave Congress.

“For several weeks, I have been the subject of leaked stories, conjecture, and false attacks about a land exchange,” Renzi said. “None of them bear any resemblance to the truth, including the rumor that I am planning on resigning.”

Citing unnamed sources, the Phoenix Business Journal reported Thursday that Renzi was planning to resign “Friday or soon after,” nearly two weeks after the FBI raided a personal business owned by his wife.

Despite the lawmaker’s assurances, the names of several Arizonans are bandied about as possible candidates in case Renzi does resign or does not seek another term.

Busy day for the Grand Old Corruption Party.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Deputy Secretary of State Resigns After His Name Turns Up On DC Madam's List

The resignation of Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias was announced this afternoon:

Ambassador Randall Tobias informed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today that he must step down as Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and US Agency for International Development Administrator (USAID) effective immediately. He is returning to private life for personal reasons.

ABC News reveals the real reason for his resignation:

Deputy Secretary of State Randall L. Tobias submitted his resignation Friday, one day after confirming to ABC News that he had been a customer of a Washington, D.C. escort service whose owner has been charged by federal prosecutors with running a prostitution operation. Tobias, 65, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), had previously served as the Ambassador for the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief.

A State Department press release late Friday afternoon said only he was leaving for "personal reasons." On Thursday, Tobias told ABC News he had several times called the "Pamela Martin and Associates" escort service "to have gals come over to the condo to give me a massage." Tobias, who is married, said there had been "no sex," and that recently he had been using another service "with Central Americans" to provide massages.

Tobias' private cell number was among thousands of numbers listed in the telephone records provided to ABC News by Jeane Palfrey, the woman dubbed the "D.C. Madam," who is facing the federal charges. In an interview to be broadcast on "20/20" next Friday, Palfrey says she intends to call Tobias and a number of her other prominent DC clients to testify at her trial.

"I'm sure as heck not going to be going to federal prison for one day, let alone, four to eight years, because I'm shy about bringing in the deputy secretary of whatever," Palfrey told ABC News.

Palfrey maintains she ran a sexual fantasy business that was legal and that if any of the women who were working for her had sex, they did so in violation of her rules and without her knowledge. She says there are a number of other prominent Washington, D.C. men who will be on her witness list. "I'll bring every last one of them in if necessary," Palfrey said.

As the Bush administration's so-called "AIDS czar," Tobias was criticized for emphasizing faithfulness and abstinence over condom use to prevent the spread of AIDS.

Perhaps Tobias was simply visiting some of the Madam's ladies for intellectual discourse?


DOJ Official Overseeing Abramoff Investigation Resigns

Smoke, smoke, smoke:

WASHINGTON - A senior Justice Department official has resigned after coming under scrutiny in the Department’s expanding investigation of convicted super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to a Justice Department official with knowledge of the case.

Making the situation more awkward for the embattled Department, the official, Robert E. Coughlin II, was deputy chief of staff for the criminal division, which is overseeing the Department’s probe of Abramoff.

He stepped down effective April 6 as investigators in Coughlin’s own division ratcheted up their investigation of lobbyist Kevin Ring, Coughlin’s long-time friend and a key associate of Abramoff.

When contacted at his home in Washington, Coughlin said he resigned voluntarily because he was relocating to Texas. “I was not asked to resign,” he said in an interview with McClatchy Newspapers. “It’s important to me that it's made clear that I left voluntarily.”

He said he couldn’t comment on the Abramoff investigation, nor on whether he has a job lined up in Texas. He referred all other questions to friend Michael Horowitz.

Horowitz, a criminal defense attorney and former Justice Department official and public corruption prosecutor, did not respond to questions, including about whether he is representing Coughlin. Coughlin also would not say whether he had hired a lawyer.


Coughlin appears to be the first Justice Department official to come under scrutiny in the wide-ranging probe that has implicated a veteran congressman, a deputy Cabinet secretary, a White House aide and eight others. Abramoff has pleaded guilty to three counts in the corruption probe and could face up to 11 years in prison.

It was unclear whether Coughlin is a target in the investigation, which would mean he is under intense scrutiny, or whether he is a subject in the investigation, which would mean investigators have not yet determined whether he committed any wrongdoing.

Smoke, smoke, smoke...

12 Attorneys on Original Prosecutor Purge List

From McClatchy:

WASHINGTON - Congressional sources who have seen unedited internal documents say the Bush administration considered firing at least a dozen U.S. attorneys before paring down its list to eight late last year.

The four who escaped dismissal came from states considered political battlegrounds in the last presidential election: Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Two of the four said they resigned voluntarily before the mass firings of U.S. attorneys on Dec. 7. Two continue to serve as federal prosecutors.

The latest revelation could provide new evidence to critics who contend that politics, not performance, played the determining role in the firings. The White House and the Justice Department have repeatedly denied that politics played any role.

Congressional sources, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the information publicly, Friday confirmed two additional names to McClatchy Newspapers: U.S. Attorney Todd Graves of Kansas City, Mo., and U.S. Attorney Thomas Marino of Scranton, Pa. Graves resigned in March to return to private legal practice. Marino kept his job as the chief federal prosecutor in central and eastern Pennsylvania.

McClatchy had previously identified two other prosecutors who dropped off the final “hit” list - former U.S. Attorney Thomas Heffelfinger of Minneapolis, Minn. and U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic of Milwaukee, Wisc. Heffelfinger resigned in February to go into private legal practice. Biskupic remains at his federal post in Wisconsin.

What'd the two attorneys who remained do to keep their jobs and what were the two who quit told before they resigned from their jobs?

Corruption Friday: Grand Old Party Edition

More criminal activity from the members of the Grand Old Corruption Party. First, Arizona Congressman Rick Renzi:

U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., could soon step down in the wake of a federal investigation into his involvement in a federal land swap deal and FBI raids of an insurance agency owned by his wife. His resignation could come as early as Friday or soon after, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Next, Florida Congressman Tom Feeney:

Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), who's been in the spotlight this week for his role in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, is going forward with his "Feeney Spring Break Bash" fundraiser tonight at the American Legion Hall in Washington, D.C.

Feeney spokeswoman Pepper Pennington tells The Sleuth, "It's going to be the fourth annual year of the event. ... We're all looking forward to having a great time."

The party goes on, despite an admission by Feeney's office this week that federal prosecutors have asked the congressman for more information about that infamous 2003 golf trip to the historic St. Andrews golf course in Scotland, a trip that came courtesy of Abramoff.

At the time, Feeney reported on his congressional expense report that the trip cost $5,000. But court documents released Tuesday cited Abramoff's trip as costing about $20,000 per person. Also on Tuesday, former congressional aide Mark Zachares pleaded guilty to conspiracy, revealing new information about the luxury golf expedition.

Adding fuel to the fire, Feeney's longtime former chief of staff, Jason Roe, inexplicably resigned this week from Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. (Complicating Roe's life further, his wife Patty is chief of staff to Rep. Rick Renzi, who's also in the federal corruption spotlight.)

Wow, talk about coincidences! Feeney's longtime former chief of staff resigns from a presidential campaign just as his former boss is going under the Abramoff investigation spotlight and his wife's boss is about to resign his Congressional seat in disgrace.

You just can't make this stuff up!

Finally, add another U.S. attorney to the Prosecutor Purge:

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration considered firing the former U.S. attorney in Minnesota, but he left his job voluntarily before the list of attorneys to be ousted was completed, two congressional aides said Thursday.

Congressional investigators probing the firings of eight U.S. attorneys saw Thomas Heffelfinger's name on a version of the list that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, began assembling in early 2005. Heffelfinger left in February 2006, more than nine months before the Justice Department agreed on a final list of prosecutors to remove.


Heffelfinger's case interests congressional investigators because he worked in one of the states that White House political adviser Karl Rove identified as an election battleground, and because he was replaced by a 34-year-old Bush administration loyalist who'd been a member of Gonzales' inner circle.

In April, four top deputies in the U.S Attorney's Office in Minnesota resigned their leadership posts, apparently to protest the leadership of Heffelfinger's replacement, Rachel Paulose.

I took Congressman Doolittle in the "Next GOP shoe to fall" in a corruption scandal, but it looks like I will lose if Rick Renzi goes first.

Oh, well, I don't mind losing that kind of bet.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Steady Progress"

The news from Iraq today:

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Bombers struck an Iraqi army post northeast of Baghdad and civilian targets in the city as violence across Iraq killed at least 72 people Thursday, including the bullet-riddled bodies of 27 men dumped in the capital -- apparent victims of sectarian death squads.

Still, the top American military spokesman insisted the U.S. command felt ''very comfortable'' that it is making ''steady progress'' in restoring order in Baghdad.

''We are seeing those initial signs of progress being made,'' Maj. Gen. William C. Caldwell told Associated Press Radio.


The deadliest attack occurred about 9 a.m. when a suicide car bomber killed 10 Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint in Khalis, a longtime flashpoint city about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad. Ten other soldiers and five civilians were wounded, police said.

The city is in Diyala province, which has seen some of Iraq's worst violence recently. Mostly Sunni Arab insurgents are thought to have fled to the area to escape the security crackdown in Baghdad that U.S. and Iraqi troops launched Feb. 14.

In the capital, a car bomb exploded near Baghdad University, killing eight civilians and wounding 19, including some students, police said.

Associated Press Television News footage showed an elderly woman screaming, ''Oh, my son,'' as she sobbed beside twisted debris.

Ahmed Jassim, who works in a nearby hotel, said he rushed outside after hearing the explosion and helped carry the wounded to ambulances.

''The insurgents were surely targeting civilians because there was no military presence in the area,'' he said. ''I saw small pieces of flesh and a small blood pool.''

Four other civilians were killed and nine wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near a market in central Baghdad, police said. The blast missed its intended target -- a passing police patrol.

72 dead today - steady progress.

The Iraq War Funding Bill

Repubs call it a "defeatist bill.

Here's what Andrew Sullivan, former war and Bush supporter, says about it:

Read the actual bill for funding the troops in Iraq that Bush will veto. I'd happily vote for it. It's not micro-managing the troops. It's a very modest attempt to require minimalist accountability from the president on the progress in the Iraq war.

Accountability from the preznut on the progress in the war...

Imagine that...

UPDATE: Speaking of defeatists, John at AMERICAblog has John McCain on the Senate floor calling for withdrawal of American troops...

McClatchy: Bush Administration Ignoring Car Bomb Deaths To Make Casualty Stats In Iraq Seem Better

Why am I not surprised about this:

WASHINGTON - U.S. officials who say there has been a dramatic drop in sectarian violence in Iraq since President Bush began sending more American troops into Baghdad aren't counting one of the main killers of Iraqi civilians.

Car bombs and other explosive devices have killed thousands of Iraqis in the past three years, but the administration doesn't include them in the casualty counts it has been citing as evidence that the surge of additional U.S. forces is beginning to defuse tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

President Bush explained why in a television interview on Tuesday. "If the standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory," he told TV interviewer Charlie Rose.

Others, however, say that not counting bombing victims skews the evidence of how well the Baghdad security plan is protecting the civilian population - one of the surge's main goals.

"Since the administration keeps saying that failure is not an option, they are redefining success in a way that suits them," said James Denselow, an Iraq specialist at London-based Chatham House, a foreign policy think tank.

The gist is this:

Bush says sectarian murders in Baghdad are down 50% since the surge started. He says that shows the surge policy is making progress.

McClatchy reports that violent deaths have dropped significantly in Baghdad, but the drop started BEFORE the surge started - when Sadr told his Mahdi Army to stand down.

This suggests that once the surge is over and the Mahdi Army stand back up, sectarian murders will increase again, particularly since so many Shiites have been slaughtered by Sunni terrorists since February in car bomb attacks.

But Bush and his minions fudge the statistics and call it progress.

I guess it is progress for the Bushies. They're just trying to delay the inevitable defeat and retreat to the next administration.

Therefore - Mission Accomplished!

They Politicized Everything

Apparently every government agency has been used by the Bushies as an extension of the political arm of the Republican National Committee:

White House officials conducted 20 private briefings on Republican electoral prospects in the last midterm election for senior officials in at least 15 government agencies covered by federal restrictions on partisan political activity, a White House spokesman and other administration officials said yesterday.

The previously undisclosed briefings were part of what now appears to be a regular effort in which the White House sent senior political officials to brief top appointees in government agencies on which seats Republican candidates might win or lose, and how the election outcomes could affect the success of administration policies, the officials said.

Here is a list of the departments where political briefings were held:

General Services Administration
Commerce Department
Treasury Department
Transportation Department
Veteran's Affairs
Environmental Protection Agency
Health and Human Services
Interior Department
Housing and Urban Development
Education Department
Agriculture Department
Energy Department
Office of Science and Technology
Office of National Drug Control Policy
Small Business Administration
U.S. Agency for International Development

And guess who was the guy who made most of these political presentations to exhort the federal employees to help elect and re-elect Republican candidates and defeat Democrats all across the country?

You got it - Karl Rove.

BTW, political manipulation of federal workers is illegal - it's a violation of the Hatch Act. If Rove or any other members of the administration were using federal facilities or federal resources to discuss how to help elect/re-elect GOPers and defeat Dems, they were breaking the law.

If this administration governed as much as it played politics, the country would be in fine shape.

Instead, 66% of the country think the nation is heading in the wrong direction (and have thought so for a long, long time.)

No wonder - nothing gets done by these guys except for politics.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Incompetent, Pitiful, Embarrassing

From David Ignatius' column today:

If you want to hear despair in Washington these days, talk to Republicans. The Democrats are exulting in their newfound political power and are eager to profit from Bush's difficulties. But Republicans voice the bitterness and frustration of people chained to the hull of a sinking ship.

I spoke with a half-dozen prominent GOP operatives this past week, most of them high-level officials in the Reagan and Bush I and Bush II administrations, and I heard the same devastating critique: This White House is isolated and ineffective; the country has stopped listening to President Bush, just as it once tuned out the hapless Jimmy Carter; the president's misplaced sense of personal loyalty is hurting his party and the nation.

"This is the most incompetent White House I've seen since I came to Washington," said one GOP senator. "The White House legislative liaison team is incompetent, pitiful, embarrassing. My colleagues can't even tell you who the White House Senate liaison is. There is rank incompetence throughout the government. It's the weakest Cabinet I've seen." And remember, this is a Republican talking.

A prominent conservative complains: "With this White House, there is loyalty not to an idea, but to a person. When Republicans talked about someone in the Reagan administration being 'loyal,' they didn't mean to Ronald Reagan but to the conservative movement." Bush's stubborn defense of Gonzales offends these Republicans, who see the president defiantly clinging to an official who has lost public confidence, just as he did for too long with former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Gee, I feel so sorry for these Reagan and Bush 1 Repubs and conservatives.

Nonetheless, I wonder how many of these same unnamed whiny Repubs and conservatives voted for Bushie back in 2000 and 2004?

Americans Back Dems On Iraq Vote

The press keeps covering this like it's a 50-50 thing, but it's not - the majority of Americans side with Dems on the Iraq issue (and lots of other issues, for that matter):

WASHINGTON - As the Democrat-controlled Congress and the White House clash over an Iraq spending bill, with President Bush vowing to veto it because it contains withdrawal deadlines, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that a solid majority of Americans side with the Democrats.

In addition, a nearly equal number believe that victory in Iraq isn't possible, and about only one in eight think the war has improved in the three months since Bush called for a troop increase there.


the poll shows that 56 percent say they agree more with the Democrats in Congress who want to set a deadline for troop withdrawal, versus the 37 percent who say they agree with Bush that there shouldn't be a deadline.

What's more, 55 percent believe that victory in Iraq isn't possible. And 49 percent say the situation in Iraq has gotten worse in the last three months since Bush announced his so-called troop surge. Thirty-seven percent say the situation has stayed about the same, and just 12 percent think it has improved.


The pessimism about the war has also likely contributed to the country's overall sour mood. According to the poll, only 22 percent believe the country is on the right track. That's the lowest number on this question since October 1992, when Bush father's was running for a second term -- and lost.

Those are some real bad numbers for the preznut.

Yet he governs like he's still got his "mandate".

Keys To The Kingdom

Yesterday on Hardball, David Iglesias, one of the U.S. attorneys fired in the administration's Prosecutor Purge, said this:

I think Monica Goodling holds the keys to the kingdom. I think if they get her to testify under oath, with a transcript, and have her describe the process between the information flow between the White House counsel, the White House and the Justice Department, I believe the picture becomes a lot clearer.

Well, guess what?

The House Judiciary Committee today overwhelmingly approved granting limited immunity from prosecution to a former top Justice Department aide in order to obtain her testimony in the investigation of the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

By a 32-6 vote, the panel approved the immunity grant to Monica M. Goodling, former counsel to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who had promised to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination last month if Congress demanded that she answer questions about her role in the dismissals.

Good move.

Taliban Say Bin Laden Behind Cheney Attack

The Associated Press has the story:

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- A top Taliban commander said al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was behind the February attack outside the U.S. military base in Bagram, Afghanistan, during the visit there by Vice President Dick Cheney, according to an interview shown Wednesday by Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera.

Bin Laden planned and supervised the attack that killed 23 people outside the base during Cheney's visit, said Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban's main military commander in southern Afghanistan who has had close associations with al-Qaida.

Could be true, could be crap, but let me note that had the administration completed the mission in Afghanistan and completely destroyed Al Qaeda, there would never be a question about any of it.

Rick Renzi Tied To Prosecutor Purge

Josh Marshall has the details:

Purged US Attorney Paul Charlton was talking to House investigators this afternoon when he made an important revelation. Weeks before election day 2006, word leaked to the press in Arizona that Charlton's office was investigating Renzi. Renzi's top aide Brian Murray then called Charlton's office and asked Charlton's spokesman, Wyn Hornbuckle.

Unlike what happened with David Iglesias, Charlton's chief investigator did report the contact to the Department of Justice, as DOJ regs dictate.

Now, here's the key: after all Congress's document and information requests to DOJ, the Justice Department had not revealed the Renzi-Charlton contact. For some reason, they've held that back.

The AP sources that to a House Judiciary Committee official and I've also confirmed with House Judiciary investigators that the DOJ failed to give this information to congressional investigators.

According to Marshall, Renzi's top aide admitted that he called the press secretary to Paul Charlton before the election to get info about the alleged "pending indictment."

Marshall continues:

So basically what we have here is a classic scandal harmonic convergence -- new nuggets about the Renzi scandal and the revelation that another of the US Attorney firings may be tied to an investigation of a Republican lawmaker. At a minimum, the DOJ has concealed critical information about the story.

And one other detail to add to the mix. Remember that two weeks after his dismissal, Charlton emailed his superiors at the Department of Justice asking how to handle questions over whether his firing was tied to his investigation of Rep. Renzi (R-AZ).

Ahh, yes - the classic scandal harmonic convergence.

Also remember that Rick Renzi has now resigned from ALL of his committee assignments after the FBI raided one of his family's businesses last week.

Also, the Politico reports that Renzi has dropped out of the GOP's top program to protect vulnerable incumbents. The article says that:

Renzi's decision, however voluntary, is a clear sign that members have heeded Boehner's call for Republicans to step aside if they are in the crosshairs of a federal investigation following two years of non-stop scandal in the 109th Congress that contributed to the GOP's demise.

Renzi, now serving his third term in the House, has been targeted in each election because he represents only a slightly Republican district. He won with a comfortable margin last fall, but Democrats planned to go after him this year.

Renzi's got problems.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Abramoff Investigations Are Accelerating

From McClatchy:

WASHINGTON - In a burst of activity over the last eight days, FBI agents and federal prosecutors have won a guilty plea from a former congressional aide, implicated two more House of Representatives members and put the scandal surrounding onetime super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff's influence-peddling back into the headlines.

The pace of the inquiry, which now has bagged a veteran congressman, a deputy Cabinet secretary, a White House aide and eight others, appears to be accelerating.

And it portends to be a major new headache for the Bush administration and congressional Republicans still reeling from a furor over the Justice Department's firing of eight U.S. attorneys and from last fall's election, which put Democrats back in command on Capitol Hill.

The newest figure to face serious FBI scrutiny is Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., who said bureau agents have asked for details of a 2003 golf trip to Scotland that he took with Abramoff - a trip that the House ethics committee recently found violated House rules.

Last week, FBI agents raided the home of Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif.

And on Tuesday, former congressional aide Mark Zachares pleaded guilty to helping Abramoff obtain government business and inside information in exchange for cash, gifts and job favors. Zachares was an aide to Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, when Young chaired the House transportation committee.

Abramoff may have provided the impetus for the flurry of public activity by cooperating extensively with investigators in return for promises of leniency as he tries to wriggle out of a prison sentence that theoretically could jail him for up to 30 years.

"He's talking so much he doesn't have time to eat," one lawyer involved in the matter quipped, insisting upon anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. "Everybody who had business dealings with the guy should be nervous."

In addition, let me note that Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Az) has stepped down from all his committee assignments after it became public that the FBI raided his wife's business last week.

I wonder who will be the first congressman to follow Bob Ney into a plea deal.

I'm betting Doolittle.

Howard Fineman: Administration Probably Launched Special Counsel Investigation Of Itself To Stymie Dem Investigations

NEWSWEEK's Howard Fineman thinks the investigation the Office of Special Counsel launched into Karl Rove's political activities is going to be used to throw a wrench into any Congressional investigations into the administration.

I'm paraphrasing, but he said on MSNBC's Countdown that in addition to executive privilege, the administration will say "We can't make Rove, Miers, Goodling et al. available for testimony because the Office of Special Counsel is already investigating the matter."

Then they will use the investigation as a whitewash and say "See, we told you nothing wrong was going on."

I don't know what to think myself. David Iglesias, the fired US attorney from New Mexico, told Tweety on hardball that he believes the Office of Special Counsel can get to the bottom of the Prosecutor Purge which is why he filed a complaint against Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, Paul McNulty and Monica Goodling with the office.

I know the administration's track record tells us that a whitewash is probably in the works.

Part of me hopes David Iglesias is right that the investigation will be honest and real.

But I'm probably being naive.

More than likely, Fineman's right and this will be another excuse to gum up the works of Congressional oversight.

UPDATE: Apparently the guy in the Office of Special Counsel who launched the investigation of Rove and Company is himself the subject of an anti-discrimination investigation and has been accused in the past of running an overly partisan office.

OK, I get it now - this is a White House whitewash.


Two stories on the student loan front.

First, the Wall Street Journal reports another Education Department official owned stock in student loan lending company:

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. Education Department official reported holding more than $50,000 in stock in student-loan company Sallie Mae after being hired by the federal agency that regulates the company, according to documents released yesterday.

At a time when state and federal officials are investigating what they say are widespread conflicts of interest in the student-loan industry, the disclosure is likely to renew questions from lawmakers about whether the close ties between Education Department officials and the industry they regulate may have compromised the agency's oversight.

The Education Department student-aid official, Michael Sutphin, reported shortly after he joined the agency in November 2002 that he held between $51,002 and $115,000 of stock in SLM Corp., or Sallie Mae, the nation's biggest student-loan lender. According to disclosure forms, he held the shares until spring 2004, when he said he sold them because of the oversight responsibilities of his post as state-agency liaison officer.


Mr. Sutphin worked in the same office as financial-aid official Matteo Fontana, who was placed on leave after it was disclosed that in 2003 he held $100,000 of stock in the parent company of Student Loan Xpress Inc. That firm, a unit of financial-services company CIT Group Inc., has been at the center of an investigation by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

Before joining the department, Mr. Sutphin and Mr. Fontana both worked at Sallie Mae, where they specialized in information technology. Mr. Sutphin couldn't be reached for comment yesterday. Tom Joyce, a Sallie Mae spokesman, said Mr. Sutphin worked at Sallie Mae from January 1983 until 1999, and then again from 2000 until November 2002.

Next, the NY Times reports that attorneys general in the states are taking the lead in oversight of student loan lenders because the Bush administration has abdicated it's role and allowed an "anything goes" environment:

State attorneys general around the country are stepping up their scrutiny of college lending practices in the absence of federal enforcement action, following a pattern that experts say has prevailed in some other major consumer investigations in recent years.

Yesterday the attorneys general of Illinois and Missouri announced that as a result of investigations into lending practices at three major universities in those states, the universities had agreed to adopt a code of conduct to guide their relations with student lenders.

The code will be modeled on one developed by Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, who has been looking into student loan practices for months and who said in an interview that similar investigative efforts were snowballing around the country.

“I think we’ve reached a tipping point,” Mr. Cuomo said.

The state-by-state regulatory action, so far limited largely to efforts by Democrats, comes at a time of little progress in the development of federal rules on lenders’ dealings with colleges. A bid by the Education Department to negotiate such rules collapsed on Friday in disagreement among representatives of colleges, banks and other groups.


In addition to the attorneys general in New York, Missouri and Illinois, those in California, Connecticut, Minnesota and Ohio have announced in recent days that they are investigating student lending practices. Last week 40 attorneys general, or their aides, participated in a conference call with Mr. Cuomo, arranged by the National Association of Attorneys General to discuss the student lending issue, said Angelita Plemmer, a spokeswoman for the association.

Gee, do you think there's any connection between stockholders of student loan companies/Dept. of Education employees overseeing student loan lending regulations and a lack of oversight and enforcement on student loan lenders by the Department of Education?

LA Times: Office of Special Counsel To Probe Rove

Messr Rove has bigger problems than Sheryl Crow and Laurie David:

The Office of Special Counsel is preparing to jump into one of the most sensitive and potentially explosive issues in Washington, launching a broad investigation into key elements of the White House political operations that for more than six years have been headed by chief strategist Karl Rove.

The new investigation, which will examine the firing of at least one U.S. attorney, missing White House e-mails, and White House efforts to keep presidential appointees attuned to Republican political priorities, could create a substantial new problem for the Bush White House.

First, the inquiry comes from inside the administration, not from Democrats in Congress. Second, unlike the splintered inquiries being pressed on Capitol Hill, it is expected to be a unified investigation covering many facets of the political operation in which Rove played a leading part.

"We will take the evidence where it leads us," Scott J. Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel and a presidential appointee, said in an interview Monday. "We will not leave any stone unturned."

Bloch declined to comment on who his investigators would interview, but he said the probe would be independent and uncoordinated with any other agency or government entity.

The decision by Bloch's office is the latest evidence that Rove's once-vaunted operations inside the government, which helped the GOP hold the White House and Congress for six years, now threaten to mire the administration in investigations.

The crux of the investigation will be improper political influence over government decision-making.

Any closer watcher of the administration knows that EVERYTHING they do is designed to help the Republican Party become the majority party.

And guess who was behind all this?

A former Interior Department official, Wayne R. Smith, who sat through briefings from Rove and his then-deputy Ken Mehlman, said that during President Bush's first term, he and other appointees were frequently briefed on political priorities.

"We were constantly being reminded about how our decisions could affect electoral results," Smith said.

"This is a big deal," Paul C. Light, a New York University expert on the executive branch, said of Bloch's plan. "It is a significant moment for the administration and Karl Rove. It speaks to the growing sense that there is a nexus at the White House that explains what's going on in these disparate investigations."
Finally, here's why the Office of Special Counsel is launching the investigation:

The 106-person Office of Special Counsel has never conducted such a broad and high-profile inquiry in its history. One of its primary missions has been to enforce the Hatch Act, a law enacted in 1939 to preserve the integrity of the civil service.

Bloch said the new investigation grew from two narrower inquiries his staff had begun in recent weeks.

One involved the fired U.S. attorney from New Mexico, David C. Iglesias.

The other centered on a PowerPoint presentation that a Rove aide, J. Scott Jennings, made at the General Services Administration this year.

That presentation listed recent polls and the outlook for battleground House and Senate races in 2008. After the presentation, GSA Administrator Lorita Doan encouraged agency managers to "support our candidates," according to half a dozen witnesses. Doan said she could not recall making such comments.

The Los Angeles Times has learned that similar presentations were made by other White House staff members, including Rove, to other Cabinet agencies. During such presentations, employees said they got a not-so-subtle message about helping endangered Republicans.


Whether legal or not, the multiple presentations revealed how widely and systematically the White House sought to deliver its list of electoral priorities.

In the course of investigating the U.S. attorney matter and the PowerPoint presentations, Democratic congressional investigators discovered e-mails written by White House personnel using accounts maintained by the Republican National Committee.

For example, they discovered that Jennings, a special assistant to the president and deputy director of political affairs in the White House, was using an e-mail with the domain name of "" that the RNC maintained.

That domain name showed up in e-mail communications from Jennings about how to replace U.S. Atty. H.E. "Bud" Cummins III of Arkansas to make room for Timothy Griffin, a Rove protege, in such a way as to "alleviate pressure/implication that Tim forced Bud out."

Another Jennings e-mail using the RNC account requested that department officials meet with a former New Mexico campaign advisor who wanted to "discuss the U.S. Atty situation there."

The growing controversy inspired him to act, Bloch said.

"We are acting with dispatch and trying to deal with this because people are concerned about it … and it is not a subject that should be left to endless speculation," he said.

This is a pretty big deal.

The noose is tightening on Rove.

He may still squirm out of it, and indeed history tells us he probably will, but his escape just got a little harder.

UPDATE: Mike at Crest thinks this is nothing. From watching the coverage of the story on the cable networks, I see that Mike isn't the only one. But David Shuster said on Hardball tonight that the problem for the WH on this story is that while it looks like "small potatoes" now, you never know what the investigation will turn up and it has the potential to create a "drip, drip" of negative stories that builds to something.

Regardless, this is one more problem for a White House already under siege from oversight investigations and subpoenas. So even if that's all this investigation is, it's not good for Rove and Company.

SECOND UPDATE: Fired U.S. attorney from New Mexico David Iglesias doesn't think there's nothing to the Office of Special Counsel investigation into Karl Rove and the WH.

He just phoned into Hardball and told Chris Matthews that it is most likely his complaint that got the ball rolling on the investigation into Rove.

Igleisas said he believes Rove was behind his firing because he would not pull the trigger on investigations against Democrats at politically expedient times for the GOP.

He was very forthright - he said he voted for Bush in both '00 and '00 and said he is a good Republican, but also believes that the position of prosecutor should be politics-free (as he said former A.G. John Ashcroft told him it should be when he was sworn into his position.)

Iglesias said he wants to get to the bottom of why he and the six other prosecutors fired in the Purge were let go and he believes the Office of Special Counsel will be able to do it.

He believes Monica Goodling is the link between the DOJ and whoever in the WH was pulling strings in the Purge. He wants to see her questioned under oath about what she knows in the matter.

Goodling, of course, has not testified because she preferred to take the fifth rather than incriminate herself before the Congress.

Maybe there's something to this investigation after all?

Monday, April 23, 2007

9 U.S. Soldiers Killed, 20 injured In Suicide Bomb Attack

Even more progress in Iraq today:

BAGHDAD - Nine U.S. soldiers were killed after a suicide bomber exploded a vehicle in Diyala province, the U.S. military reported Monday. Twenty soldiers and one Iraqi civilian were wounded in the blast.


Suicide bombers attacked five other locations in Iraq on Monday, killing 46 people and wounding more than 100, officials said as the U.S. ambassador stopped short of saying construction on a controversial wall in Baghdad would be halted.

85 U.S. military personnel, 11 Brits and 1 Pole have been killed in Iraq so far this month.

For five consecutive months now, 80+ U.S. military personnel have been killed in iraq.

That's a record.


So Much For The Gated Communities

I dunno, but it sounds like the Bush administration doesn't want to admit that part of their Baghdad security plan was to subdivide Baghdad into gated communities of Sunnis and Shiites. Oh, well, either way, they say they're backing away from the plan anyway. Here's the analysis from the Times:

BAGHDAD, April 23 — American and Iraqi officials appeared today to be moving away from a plan to build a wall around a mostly Sunni neighborhood here.


On Sunday, the spokesman for the American military in Iraq sought to allay criticism of the project and explain its intent by saying that it was meant to be only a temporary barrier to improve security.

The military does not have a new strategy of building walls or creating “gated communities,” the spokesman, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, said in a written statement. He described it as a tactic being used in only a handful of neighborhoods and not an effort to divide the city, much less the country.

However, American military officials said last week in a statement that the Adhamiya wall was “one of the centerpieces of a new strategy.” They also said that the wall was aimed at separating Sunni Arabs in Adhamiya from Shiites to the east.

It's this sort of backtracking and hemming and hawing from the people in charge that gives us all so much confidence in the future of the occupation.

Hell, either admit to what you were doing and continue on with it or admit to it and say "Oh, now that we see the Iraqi people are not in favor of it, we'll cease and desist."

But not these guys. Instead they say "Walls? What walls? They're not the 'centerpiece' of our plan at all!"

Uh, huh.

More Progress In Iraq

The preznut and General Petraeus say they see the surge policy making progress in Iraq and helping to bring security to the country. Here's the news from Iraq today:

On Monday, three suicide bombers in different parts of Iraq killed at least 22 people and wounded more than 50, police and politicians said.

Separately, a parked car bomb also exploded outside the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, killing one civilian, and a drive-by shooting wounded two guards at Tunisia's Embassy in the capital, police said.

One of the attacks occurred near the northern city of Mosul when a suicide attacker detonated his car in front of an office of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani, leader of the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, an official with the group said.

At least 10 people were killed and 20 wounded in the attack in Tal Uskuf, nine miles north of Mosul, said Abdul-Ghani Ali, a KDP official.

A suicide car bomber also struck a police station in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing at least 10 people and wounding 23, police said.

In central Baghdad, a bomber wearing an explosives belt blew himself up in an Iraqi restaurant in the neighborhood of Karradah Mariam, killing at least seven people and wounding 16, police said.

The attack occurred at about 11 a.m. less than 100 yards outside the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. and British embassies and the Iraqi government's headquarters. At the time, Ambassador Crocker was giving a news conference in the Green Zone.

In an update to the above story, the AP reports the toll was actually at least 27 people killed, at least 60 wounded.

No matter, we're making progress. Last week, 171 people died in four car bombings in one day.

Today it was only 27.

So far, at any rate.


POSTSCRIPT: 76 U.S. military personnel, 10 British military personnel and one international soldier has been killed so far this month in Iraq.

The rate of military fatalities per day in the period immediately preceding the start of the surge was 2.39 a day. Since the surge began on February 1, the rate of military fatalities per day is 3.12.


Democrats Taking The Tax Issue Back From Republicans

What a great idea:

House Democrats, aiming to seize taxes from Republicans as a political issue, have come up with a plan to shift the burden of the hated alternative minimum tax onto the shoulders of the nation's richest households.

The proposal, still in its preliminary stages, would attempt to restore the original purpose of the parallel tax structure, which was created in 1969 to nab 155 super-rich tax filers who were using loopholes and deductions to wipe out their tax bills.

Because it was not indexed for inflation, the AMT delivered a significant tax increase to an estimated 3 percent of households this year. Unless the law is changed, it is projected to strike nearly 20 percent of taxpayers when they file returns next spring, many earning as little as $50,000 a year.

House Democrats are trying to craft legislation that would spare those households while providing relief to many current AMT payers. Under a proposal presented last week to Democrats on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, families making less than $250,000 a year -- about 98 percent of taxpayers -- would be exempt from the tax. Those earning between $250,000 and about $500,000 would see lower AMT bills, according to Democratic sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan is not final.

To make up the lost revenue, families earning more than $500,000 a year would take a much harder hit from the AMT, as well as other adjustments to the tax code, the sources said. Democrats haven't finalized that part of the proposal. But an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, suggests that the nation's wealthiest families -- less than 1 percent of all taxpayers -- would have to pay 5 to 13 percent more to offset the revenue lost by exempting the middle class from the AMT, with families who make more than $1 million paying an extra $52,000, on average, each year.

Whattya know, tax relief for 98% of the country while 2% (the richest 2%) get a tax hike and return to paying the kinds of taxes they used to pay.

Sounds good to me.

I'm sure many Republicans and the usual FAUX News channel suspects will call these proposals "class warfare" and Senate Republicans will try and kill them with parliamentary maneuvers.

Oh, wait, they already did call the proposals "class warfare":

Republicans, who also advocate repealing or substantially rewriting the AMT, dismiss Democratic ideas as "class warfare." Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan, senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, said raising taxes for the wealthiest Americans would punish small-business owners. He dubbed the idea a "job killer."

Republicans also question the potency of the tax as a political issue, given that most of the people Democrats hope to rescue have yet to feel its bite.

Louisiana Rep. Jim McCrery, the senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said the Democratic proposal would avoid a tax increase for some, but those people "won't see any more money in their pockets." Meanwhile, "the people who get the tax increase certainly would feel that," McCrery said. "So their proposal could be characterized as a tax increase, and a big one."

So let's see if I have this straight: Democrats plan to give tax relief to 98% of the country and tax increases for the wealthiest 2% and Republicans plan on framing the issue as "class warfare" and "the biggest tax increase in history." It's also a "job killer."

Sure, it's class warfare- it's fighting for the middle and working classes, the people Republicans long ago abandoned with their policies of lowering tax rates for rich people and spreading the tax burden to the middle class, offering as much government welfare as possible for corporations (see Halliburton, Big Pharma, Big Oil, Student Loan Lenders, etc.), enabling many of those same corporations to outsource as many American jobs as possible overseas (the real "job killers"), and passing laws like the Bankruptcy Reform Act that were aimed at maximizing profits for the credit card and banking industries (cuz' Citicorp isn't making enough money, you know...I guess that's why they're outsourcing 22,000 American jobs overseas...)

I dunno if the Republican Party realizes this, but after 6+ years of Bush's rule, many Americans no longer see them as the tax-cutting, fiscally prudent party. They see them as the wasteful (see Iraq costs, see Katrina costs) inept (see Iraq, see Katrina) and corrupt (see Bob Ney, see Jack Abramoff, see Tom Delay, see Scooter Libby, see John Doolittle, see Rick Renzi...)

Maybe fighting to keep taxes low for the top 2% will be a great electoral strategy for Repubs but I'm not sure it will be as easy for them to frame that way as they think.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

This Is Progress?

Here are the top two headlines on the MSNBC website tonight:


The commanders search for signs of success. On Friday night at dusk, Petraeus boarded a helicopter to look for scenes of normalcy and progress from above the maelstrom of the capital.

"On a bad day, I actually fly Baghdad just to reassure myself that life still goes on," he said, leaning back and propping his legs on the seat in front of him.

The aircraft banked right and Petraeus caught sight of a patch of relative calm. "He's actually watering the grass!" Petraeus said with a laugh, peering down at a man tending a soccer field, with children playing nearby.


BAGHDAD - Gunmen in northern Iraq stopped a bus filled with Christians and members of a tiny Kurdish religious sect, police said, separating out the groups and taking 23 of the passengers away to be shot.

The attack came on a violent day in Baghdad, with at least 20 people killed in car bombings, most in a double suicide strike against a police station in a religiously mixed neighborhood.


Two suicide car bombers attacked a police station, police said, killing at least 13 people and turning nearby buildings into piles of rubble.

The first driver raced through a police checkpoint guarding the station and exploded his vehicle just outside the two-story building, police said. Moments later, a second suicide car bomber aimed at the checkpoint’s concrete barriers and exploded just outside them, police said.

The blasts collapsed nearby buildings, smashing windows and burying at least four cars under piles of concrete. Metal roofs were peeled back by the force of the explosions. Pools of blood made red mud of a dusty driveway.

A man who was among the 82 wounded in Sunday’s attack staggered through the wreckage.

“All our belongings and money were smashed and are gone. What kind of life is this? Where is the government?” he asked. “There are no jobs, and things are very bad. Is this fair?”

Yes, but a soccer field got watered.

All these people do is complain.

POSTSCRIPT: Prime Minister Maliki killed U.S. plans to build 12 foot walls around Sunni areas of Baghdad to protect them from Shiite areas:

In his first public comments on the issue, al-Maliki said he had ordered the construction to stop.

“I oppose the building of the wall and its construction will stop,” al-Maliki told reporters during a joint news conference with the Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa in Cairo, Egypt. “There are other methods to protect neighborhoods.”

A cynic might say Maliki doesn't actually give a shit about Sunnis or Sunni neighborhoods.

Not that I'm a cynic or anything.

Senate/House Still Look Bleak For GOP In '08

Obviously this is very early out and conditions could change, but Stu Rothenberg says the political environment for the GOP in the Senate is not so good for '08:

Republicans started off the 2008 election cycle on the defensive, and the last three months haven't done anything to change that. In fact, controversies over care at Walter Reed Hospital and the removal of U.S. attorneys by the White House have added to the GOP's problems.

Not only did Republicans lose their majority in the Democratic sweep of '06, but now they find themselves defending 21 of the 33 Senate seats up for election in '08. More importantly, there are few Republican opportunities and a number of states where Democrats could make gains.

Rothenberg lists three Republican seats as "Vulnerable": Norm Coleman's Minnesota seat, Susan Collins' Maine seat, and the Colorado seat vacated by Wayne Allard.

He places two Dems and two Repubs on the "Watch List": Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Gordon Smith (R-OR), and John Sununu (R-NH). (I would note on the plus side for Repubs that the strongest Democratic challenger to Gordon Smith in Oregon, Representative Peter DeFazio, has declined to run against Smith for the Senate seat.)

16 Republicans and 10 Democrats are listed as "Safe".

On the House side, the Washington Post reports today that ethical woes and criminal investigations are putting the spotlight back on the GOP's "Culture of Corruption," and making it very difficult for Repubs to win the 17 seats they need to retake power in the House:

The abrupt resignations last week of two Republican House members from their sensitive committee assignments have thrust lingering legal and ethics issues back into the limelight, potentially complicating GOP efforts to retake Congress next year.

On successive days, Wednesday and Thursday, Reps. John T. Doolittle (Calif.) and Rick Renzi (Ariz.) disclosed FBI raids on their wives' businesses. The men proclaimed their innocence, but the raids exposed their legal jeopardy. The announcements were only the most recent in a series of developments that have kept the focus on the old ethical and legal clouds that helped chase the Republican Party from power on Capitol Hill.

Two other lawmakers face possible ethics investigations amid allegations that they pressured a U.S. attorney in New Mexico to indict Democrats before last year's fall elections.

Rep. Gary G. Miller (R-Calif.), under investigation by the FBI for a series of land deals, is now facing Democratic ads alleging that he lied about a land sale that he declined to pay taxes on.

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) still faces FBI scrutiny of his work as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and this month, his campaign filings showed that he has racked up $892,951.69 in legal fees since July. And for the first time, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) reported significant legal fees -- $15,620.60 -- in his campaign filing this month, as he tries to stave off accusations that he used taxpayer-funded congressional staff and resources to do political work.

"Everybody's kind of a little bit numb," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.). "There's this, 'What else can happen now?' feeling going around here."

The Post article notes that Democrats William Jefferson and Allan Mollohan remain under investigation for their own alleged wrongdoing, but the main thrust of most of the criminal investigations has been against Republicans, which is harming the GOP's attempts to portray the Democratic-controlled Congress as "do-nothings":

For the GOP, the spate of bad news over ethics has clouded its efforts to portray the new Democratic majority as ineffective, while it has helped Democrats stay on the political offensive. Ethics troubles loomed large last year in the Democrats' sweep of Congress. Republicans lost seats in Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, Ohio, North Carolina and Montana, where ethical lapses were decisive. And Democrats will use the new ethics charges to remind voters why they pushed out the Republicans, said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Van Hollen goes on to say that with so many Republicans shelling out so much money for criminal lawyers, it seems almost certain that more shoes will drop in investigations that started before the Democrats retook control of the Congress in 2006 and that will just reinforce for voters why they threw the GOP bums out.


Amy Walter, political analyst at the Cook Report, tells The Politico that early action in these investigations could help Republicans by getting the bad news over long before the '08 elections. Early indictments would also allow Republican leaders to get indicted representatives to resign before primaries, allowing the party to avoid running "suspects" instead of candidates in the general election or having to make quick replacements (as they had to do with Mark Foley in Florida and Bob Ney in Ohio) or run write-in campaigns (as they had to with Tom Delay's old seat in Texas.)

House Minority Leader John Boehner and the current GOP leadership in the House at least recognize the problems these ethical lapses have caused their party. They moved very quickly to get both Doolittle and Renzi to step down from their committee seats, unlike last year when former House Speaker Denny Hastert wouldn't pressure disgraced Representative Bob Ney to resign his seat even after he had pled guilty to charges of conspiracy and filing false financial disclosure forms.

That says they will get Doolittle, Renzi and any other potential ethically-challenged party member to step down as quickly as possible. Still, no matter how Boehner and the GOP leadership handle these ethical lapses, having to replace half a dozen indicted Republican representatives before '08 surely won't help them erase the "Culture of Corruption" label from voters' minds.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Desperate Man

Preznut Bush says his surge policy in Iraq is working wonderfully.

Of course he does.

He's crazy.

And desperate.

He doesn't want to be forced to withdraw troops from Iraq while he is preznut.

He wants the next man or woman to have to do that for him.

He's Barbara's little boy - always needing someone else to clean up his mess for him.

You would think by the time he reached 60, he would have grown up.

But he hasn't.

So he can say things like this:

EAST GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. — President Bush said Friday that his revised military strategy was taking hold in Iraq and "the direction of the fight is beginning to shift," even as he acknowledged "horrific" bombings that killed more than 200 people in Baghdad this week.

"So far, the operation is meeting expectations," Bush said of the boost in U.S. troops he ordered and the new focus on improving security in Baghdad neighborhoods.

The president said the number of sectarian attacks in the capital had declined by half since the stepped-up efforts began.


Bush said U.S. and Iraqi forces had received more tips about terrorist and insurgent hideouts in the last three months than in any previous three-month period. He also said seizures of weapons had increased.

"Day by day, block by block, Iraqi and American forces are making incremental gains in Baghdad," he said.

"Direction of the fight has shifted...making incremental by day, block by block..."

Finish his next sentence for him.

I think it's "...we have to give this Petraeus plan a chance to work..."

Which is another way of saying: "Let the next guy or gal clean up my mess for me."

A desperate man is a scary man - he's willing to say or do anything to save his own skin.

And Preznut Bush is one desperate man.

POSTSCRIPT: And just to prove how hollow the preznut's words about Iraq are, here are two examples of Bush's soaring, Michael Gerson-penned rhetoric about Iraq that proved unable to stand the test of the reality on the ground:

After declaring "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down..." at least 125 times over the past few years, the United States NO LONGER believes the Iraqi security forces will be able to stand up for themselves and defeat the insurgency:

WASHINGTON - Military planners have abandoned the idea that standing up Iraqi troops will enable American soldiers to start coming home soon and now believe that U.S. troops will have to defeat the insurgents and secure control of troubled provinces.

Training Iraqi troops, which had been the cornerstone of the Bush administration's Iraq policy since 2005, has dropped in priority, officials in Baghdad and Washington said.

So much for U.S. foreces standing down anytime soon.

The preznut has also said:

The success of democracy in Iraq would be a crushing blow to the forces of terror, and the terrorists know it. The defeat of terror in Iraq will set that nation on a course to lasting freedom, and will give hope to millions, and the Iraqi people know it. And a free, democratic Iraq will inspire reformers throughout the Middle East and make America more secure.

What the preznut fails to mention is how this new free and democratic Iraq will contain very high walls separating the free and democratic Iraqis from each other:

US troops are building a wall around a Sunni enclave in Baghdad, part of a strategy to “break the cycle of sectarian violence” in the Iraqi capital.

Work began on April 10 on the 5-km cement wall at Adhamiya, a mainly Sunni Arab area surrounded on three sides by Shi’ite communities.

“The wall is one of the centrepieces of a new strategy by coalition and Iraqi forces to break the cycle of sectarian violence,” Sergeant Mike Pryor, a public affairs officer, wrote in an article released by the US military.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that a similar project had started around Doura, another Sunni area in southern Baghdad.

You know, when I think about a "free and democratic society," I think 12 foot walls dividing the citizenry from each other.

No wonder the preznut is so desperate.

Every piece of propaganda he has uttered over the past 4 years regarding Iraq has come back to bite him on his desperate, arrogant ass.

UPDATE: According to the Associated Press, the Pentagon is laying the groundwork to extend the U.S. troop build-up in Iraq at the very same time that the escalation is proving deadly to the U.S. military:

More than half of the extra 21,500 combat troops designated for Baghdad duty have arrived; the rest are due by June. Already it is evident that putting them in the most hotly contested parts of the capital is taking a toll. An average of 22 U.S. troops have died per week in April, the highest rate so far this year.

"This is certainly a price that we're paying for this increased security," Adm. William Fallon, the senior U.S. commander in the Middle East, told a House committee Wednesday.


So far the results are mixed, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this week during a visit to Iraq that he wants to see faster political progress by the Iraqis. "The clock is ticking," he said, referring to the limited time the administration can pursue its strategy before the American public demands an end to the war.

Sure the clock is January 2009, the pull-out starts.

Until then, the casualties will continue and if Bush insists upon placing American forces in posts around Baghdad, the casualties will continue at an accelerated rate.

SECOND UPDATE: Some Sunnis REALLY don't like the wall the U.S. is building around them:

Some Adhamiya residents have said the wall will make their district a prison.

"The Americans will provoke more trouble with this," one resident, Arkan Saeed, told the BBC. "They're telling us the wall is to protect us from the Shia militia and they're telling the Shia they're protecting them from us.

"But it's the Americans who started all the sectarian violence in the first place."


"Erecting concrete walls between neighbourhoods is not a solution to the collapse in security and the rampant violence," housewife Um Haider told AFP news agency.

"If so, Baghdadis would find themselves in a maze of high walls overnight."

Another resident, Mustafa, said: "I resent the barrier. It will make Adhamiya a big prison."

Other residents also expressed alarm and said they had not been consulted before construction began.

"This will make the whole district a prison. This is collective punishment on the residents of Adhamiya," Ahmed al-Dulaimi told the Associated Press news agency.

"We are in our fourth year of occupation and we are seeing the number of blast walls increasing day after day."

I'm sure the preznut does not understand the ingratitude of the complaining Sunnis. After all, aren't we building the 12 foot walls with good old American taxpayer money? just can't make some people happy.

Politico: GOP Culture of Corruption As Big A Problem Now As In 2006

Front cover story this morning in The Politico:

A string of revelations this week offer potent evidence that the Republican Party hasn’t shaken its corruption woes and probably won’t before the 2008 elections.

Thursday’s raid of a business tied to Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi came less than a week after FBI agents rummaged through the home of California Rep. John Doolittle, who is under scrutiny for his relationship with Jack Abramoff, a former lobbyist convicted last year on bribery related charges.

On Monday, news broke that Doolittle’s former chief of staff, Kevin A. Ring, had abruptly quit his lobbying job as the Justice Department investigation of his former boss intensified.

And, throughout the week, Republican lawmakers’ first-quarter reports revealed hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees draining campaign reelection accounts.

Amid it all, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee desperately trying to fend off charges that he fired eight U.S. attorneys because they were not loyal enough to President Bush or aggressive enough in investigating Democrats.

“What it suggests is that, in 2008, the issue of competence and corruption will be on the front burner,” said Amy Walter, a nonpartisan political analyst at Cook Political Report. “The reality is that the political environment has gotten worse, not better, for Republicans, and we’re not seeing anything that suggests the tide that brought the Democrats into the majority in 2006 is ebbing.”

Democratic Congressman Bill Jefferson(you remember...the guy with the money hidden in the freezer) is also mired in a criminal probe, but so far, most of the criminal investigations we are hearing about are all directed at GOPers.

And that's as it should be.

I say that not because I think Democrats and liberals are less susceptible to crooked behavior than Repubs and conservatives.

I say that only because Republicans have had 6 years of one-party government and there has been an awful lot of criminal activity, nefariousness, nepotism and malfeasance that Repubs have engaged in over that period of time.

The Doolittle criminal probe and the Renzi criminal probes (there are two) are both aimed at alleged crimes committed when Rove and Company were trying to create their "Permanent Republican Majority."

You have to think that during that period of time when they ran the White House, the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court and of course the Department of Justice, crooked Repubs figured they could get away with just about anything because who was going to investigate them?

Now they have found some very vigorous oversight coming from Dems in the House and the Senate (Representative Henry Waxman - chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee - has been particularly vexing to Repubs.)

It's about time.

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