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Government secrecy on the rise.

Sat, 2007-09-01 06:47

A new report by, a coalition of 67 organizations, finds that government secrecy “by almost any measure is expanding and little is being done to stop it.” Some highlights:

– In six years, President Bush has issued at least 151 signing statements, challenging 1149 provisions of laws. In the 211 years of our Republic to 2000, fewer than 600 signing statements that took issue with the bills were issued. Among recent presidents, Reagan issued 71 statements challenging provisions of laws before him; G.W.H. Bush issued 146; Clinton, 105.

– Since 2001, the “state secrets” privilege has been invoked a reported 39 times–an average in 6.5 years (6) that is more than double the previous 24 years (2.46).

– A 2007 Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report on secret wiretap warrants indicated that the government made 143,074 National Security Letter requests in the period 2003-2005. The number for 2006 remains classified.

Patrice McDermott, director for the coalition, said, “The executive branch seems to believe that something is kept under wraps solely on its say-so, whether it is legitimately so or not.”

Iraqi deaths rise for second month straight.

Sat, 2007-09-01 06:02

New Iraqi civilian death toll statistics contradict the Bush administration’s claims that the escalation is working. From the LA Times:

Bombings, sectarian slayings and other violence related to the war killed at least 1,773 Iraqi civilians in August, the second month in a row that civilian deaths have risen, according to government figures obtained Friday.

In July, the civilian death toll was 1,753, and in June it was 1,227. The numbers are based on morgue, hospital and police records and come from officials in the ministries of Health, Defense and the Interior. The statistics appear to indicate that President Bush’s increase in troops this year has done little to rein in civilian bloodshed, despite U.S. military statements to the contrary.

(HT: Greatscat!)

Inhofe ‘excited’ by attempted attack on his plane in Iraq.

Fri, 2007-08-31 18:50

After his plane was forced to take evasive maneuvers to avoid rocket-propelled grenades while taking off from Baghdad, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said “he watched through the window as the grenades exploded near the plane. He said he felt the blasts.” Asked if he was frightened, Inhofe responded, “Not a bit. I was kind of excited.”

Commanders convey concern about troop strain to Bush.

Fri, 2007-08-31 15:34

Today, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke to President Bush about their growing conern of the “strain on troops and their families from long and repeated combat tours.” Currently, many U.S. soldiers are serving 15-month tours of duty with just 12 months at home.

Rove ‘overcome with emotion’ on his last day.

Fri, 2007-08-31 14:49

CNN reports:

Karl Rove was nearly overcome with emotion Friday as colleagues privately paid tribute to the political adviser as he leaves the White House, senior officials say.

At the closed-door senior staff meeting at 7:30 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room, Rove was surprised with a slide show of photos chronicling his nearly seven years at President Bush’s side, through good times and bad.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow told CNN that Rove was so touched by the tribute that he didn’t have any final words for his colleagues. “He was pretty choked up,” Snow said.

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Craig to announce ‘future plans’ tomorrow.

Fri, 2007-08-31 14:28

AP is reporting that tomorrow, Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) will announce whether or not he intends to resign. “Idaho Gov. C.L. ‘Butch’ Otter already appears to have settled on a successor - Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, according to several Republicans familiar with internal deliberations.”

UPDATE: According to four Idaho GOP officials, “Craig will announce at a news conference in Boise Saturday morning that he will resign effective Sept. 30.”

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Bush’s Legacy Under Tony Snow: All-Time Low Poll Numbers, Legislative Defeats

Fri, 2007-08-31 13:58

When Tony Snow took over as White House Press Secretary on April 26, 2006, the media and pundits predicted that he would turn around the President’s image and help push forward his agenda:

Bush’s first press secretary, Ari Fleischer, said Snow and other staff changes offer the chance to show Americans that “something new may come from the White House” and that Bush deserves a second look. [MSNBC, 4/26/06]

“An outsider with a somewhat happy-go-lucky attitude could help externally, but also internally,” said [William] Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, because staffers tend to get “so defensive after years of getting pummeled.” [Washington Post, 4/26/06]

“We want fresh thinking, to charge the batteries, and passionate participation,” said Dan Bartlett, a top Bush adviser. “There is a lot of value added in Tony coming on board and helping us internally with his own views and ideas. It fits into the mold.” [Washington Post, 4/27/06]

On Wednesday, Snow’s appointment, which had been rumored for days, got positive reviews by Republicans on the Hill, including from one senior GOP leadership aide who told NEWSWEEK it was “great news.” “He’ll give some good outside-the-box thinking for the White House,” said the Republican aide.” [Newsweek, 4/27/06]

But Snow has been unable to sell Bush and his policies to the American public. For the past year, Bush’s poll numbers have continued to fall, dropping to all-time lows and rivaling Richard Nixon’s ratings right before he resigned from office:

Additionally, nothing “new” has come from the White House in the past year, and Snow’s “good outside-the-box thinking” has been largely rejected by the public. Even right-wing pundits Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes recently admitted that the White House has “no agenda.” As the Washington Post noted in July:

But the president’s unpopularity has left the White House to play mostly defense for the remainder of his term. With his immigration overhaul proposal dead, Bush’s principal legislative hopes are to save his No Child Left Behind education program and to fend off attempts to force him to change course in Iraq. The emerging strategy is to play off a Congress that is also deeply unpopular and to look strong by vetoing spending bills.

Looks like even Tony Snow couldn’t spin around the White House.

UPDATE: Tim Grieve at Salon has highlights during Snow’s tenure.

Lawmakers Who Were Almost Shot Down Declare ‘Significant Progress’ In Iraq

Fri, 2007-08-31 13:20

Yesterday, a plane carrying three U.S. senators and a member of the House was forced to take evasive maneuvers to avoid rocket-propelled grenades as they took off from Baghdad. “It was a scary moment,” said Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL). “There were a few minutes there where I wondered: ‘Have we been hit? Are we OK?’” added Rep. Bud Cramer (D-AL).

Despite the close call, the lawmakers continued to insist that progress was being made in Iraq:

– “Incredibly significant progress has been made on the military front,” Martinez told the Orlando Sentinel.

– “I believe the surge, from observations…that they have made a lot of progress with the surge. It’s not definitive, but it’s on the right track,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told the Tuscaloosa News.

– Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) told the Tulsa World that “his visit allowed him to witness firsthand the progress resulting from the ongoing troop surge in Iraq.”

The senators’ assessments are contradicted by the conclusion in the Government Accountability Office’s upcoming report on Iraq, a draft of which was leaked to the Washington Post yesterday. The “strikingly negative” draft report says that “Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress”:

“While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced,” it states. While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. It also finds that “the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved.”

“Overall,” the report concludes, “key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds,” as promised. […]

It contradicts the Bush administration’s conclusion in July that sectarian violence was decreasing as a result of the U.S. military’s stepped-up operations in Baghdad this year. “The average number of daily attacks against civilians remained about the same over the last six months; 25 in February versus 26 in July,” the GAO draft states.

In an interview with ThinkProgress this week, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) described the “physiological phenomenon” of lawmakers claiming to see progress in Iraq that is contradicted by empirical evidence. She called it “Green Zone fog.”

Apparently even a close-call with a rocket propelled grenade isn’t enough to shake the “Green Zone fog” from the eyes of some Bush supporters.

White House ‘e-mail mystery deepens.’

Fri, 2007-08-31 12:45

ABC’s The Blotter reports:

The White House will not identify a private company which appears to be involved in the disappearance of millions of White House e-mails.

The company was responsible for reviewing and archiving White House e-mails, a White House official told congressional staff in May, according to a letter yesterday from House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif. Congressional investigators asked then for the name of the company and “have repeatedly requested” the information since then, according to Waxman. […]

According to the White House, at least five million e-mails were not properly archived and may be lost forever, in apparent violation of the Presidential Records Act. The post-Watergate law states that communications relating to official activity in the offices of the president and vice president are owned by the American public and cannot be destroyed.

U.S. Military Censors ThinkProgress

Fri, 2007-08-31 11:55

ThinkProgress is now banned from the U.S. military network in Baghdad.

Recently, an avid ThinkProgress reader — a U.S. soldier serving his second tour in Iraq — wrote to us and said that he can no longer access The error message he received:

The ban began sometime shortly after Aug. 22, when Ret. Maj. Gen. John Batiste was our guest blogger on ThinkProgress. He posted an op-ed that was strongly critical of the President’s policies and advocated a “responsible and deliberate redeployment from Iraq.” Previously, both the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times had rejected the piece. An excerpt:

It is disappointing that so many elected representatives of my [Republican] party continue to blindly support the administration rather than doing what is in the best interests of our country. Traditionally, my party has maintained a conservative view on questions regarding our Armed Forces. For example, we commit our military only when absolutely necessary. […]

The only way to stabilize Iraq and allow our military to rearm and refit for the long fight ahead is to begin a responsible and deliberate redeployment from Iraq and replace the troops with far less expensive and much more effective resources–those of diplomacy and the critical work of political reconciliation and economic recovery. In other words, when it comes to Iraq, it’s time for conservatives to once again be conservative.

Not surprisingly, both the National Review and Fox News are still accessible.

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Rep. Meek blasts Bush’s $50 billion Iraq request.

Fri, 2007-08-31 11:29

Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL) just returned from a trip to Iraq yesterday and gave an interview criticizing the recent news that the Bush administration plans to request another $50 billion to fund the war in Iraq:

The American people are asking for our troops to come home. I think that should be the goal of the Congress — for our troops to come home. I think that there are some Members of Congress who feel that we should be there as long as we need to be there. I think that when you start looking at billions and billions of dollars that have been spent thus far on this war and then with the President just yesterday asking for an additional $50 billion dollars as though I was to ask you “let me borrow $50 dollars” — I think that’s the kind of attitude that has been allowed to take place here in Washington for far too long and we need to bring an end to it.

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Sen. Warner retires.

Fri, 2007-08-31 11:12

Sen. John Warner (R-VA), who has served five terms in the Senate, has announced that he is retiring and won’t run for re-election.

Petraeus Attempts To Manipulate Australian Election With False Claims About Iraq

Fri, 2007-08-31 10:33

On Monday, President Bush will visit Australia to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. The White House is using the trip to try to influence the Australian election, where Bush’s good friend John Howard is pitted in a contest against Labor leader Kevin Rudd.

Howard was an early supporter of the Iraq invasion and has remained one of Bush’s few solid foreign allies. Prior to the 2004 U.S. presidential election, Howard weighed in, claiming a Bush reelection was needed in order to “stay and finish the job” in Iraq.

Now, the Iraq war is dragging down Howard’s chances of being reelected. 57 percent of Australians want to end the war. Rudd, who leads the Labor Party, has “made it clear he will withdraw the Australian combat forces from Iraq by the middle of next year.” Recent polls indicate Labor leads Howard’s coalition by 14 points. Howard has yet to set a date for the election, but it is expected to occur later this year.

The White House appears to be using Gen. David Petraeus as a PR flack to assist Howard’s reelection effort. Petraeus offered a one-on-one interview with The Australian, timed to coincide with Bush’s visit. In the interview, Petraeus said Bush’s Iraq strategy is working:

General Petraeus told The Australian during a face-to-face interview at his Baghdad headquarters there had been a 75 per cent reduction in religious and ethnic killings since last year.

The Australian reports, “In a general sense, this success will help the Howard Government.” But as numerous reports have indicated, these claims of success are specious. Sectarian and ethnic killings remain very high, running at almost double the rate of last year.

Dennis Shanahan, the Australian reporter who spoke with Petraeus, said there were attacks directed at the U.S. embassy during the interview. “So for [Petraeus] to be talking there about security in Iraq, there was a certain irony attached,” Shanahan said.

For his contribution, Bush granted an interview to Australian Sky News to laud Howard as “a man of steel.” Bush “refused to accept” that his key Iraq ally was heading to defeat.

First gay couple legally marries in Iowa.

Fri, 2007-08-31 10:02

This morning, a minister married two men, “sealing the state’s first legal same-sex wedding. Less than 24 hours earlier, a judge had thrown out Iowa’s ban on gay marriage.”

UPDATE: Polk County officials won a stay of a judge’s order today, halting pending marriage applications.

O’Hanlon Hopes Final GAO Report On Iraq Will Be ‘Improved’ To Reflect WH Claims Of Progress

Fri, 2007-08-31 09:16

Yesterday, a leaked draft of an upcoming Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on progress in Iraq painted a “strikingly negative” picture of the war-torn country. The draft contradicts “the Bush administration’s conclusion in July that sectarian violence was decreasing as a result” of the surge. It concludes, “The average number of daily attacks against civilians remained about the same over the last six months; 25 in February versus 26 in July.”

On CNN this morning, Brookings analyst Michael O’Hanlon, who recently co-wrote a New York Times op-ed declaring progress in Iraq, took exception to the report: “I have to be quite critical of the GAO.” He implied that he trusted Bush administration’s numbers more than the GAO’s, and said he hoped the GAO report would be “improved” to better reflect progress:

Gen. Petraeus just gave an interview, I think yesterday, to an Australian paper, in which he said that there could be a 75 percent reduction in sectarian killing since the winter time. Now let’s allow for the possibility that Petraeus’ data isn’t quite right.

Let’s allow for the possibility that in other parts of Iraq, things could be a little worse perhaps. Still, a 75 percent reduction is very striking. GAO by contrast is apparently saying, “no documented change whatsoever in the secuity environment.”

I just don’t understand how that could be their conclusion. And I will look forward to their report. I hope it’s a flaw in the draft that will be improved in the final result.

Watch it:

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O’Hanlon’s desire for the GAO report to be “improved in the final result,” so as to show a rosier picture in Iraq is emblematic of why the draft was leaked in the first place:

The person who provided the draft report to The Post said it was being conveyed from a government official who feared that its pessimistic conclusions would be watered down in the final version — as some officials have said happened with security judgments in this month’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.

By claiming that the GAO report said there was “no documented change whatsoever in the secuity environment,” O’Hanlon is misrepresenting the report in order to attack it. In reality, the draft reported that “there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces.” But it also found that “the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged” and “violence remains high.”

It’s unsurprising though that O’Hanlon chose to accept Petraeus’s vague claim that “there could be a 75 percent reduction in sectarian killing” while dismissing the GAO’s empirical assessment. After all, it was O’Hanlon who claimed in June that no one can “question the forthrightness” of Petraeus, despite the general’s conflict of interest in reporting on the success of his own plan.

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Breaking: Tony Snow stepping down on Sept. 14.

Fri, 2007-08-31 08:56

CNN reports that White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino will be taking his place.

UPDATE:President Bush will formally announce Snow’s departure at the White House press briefing at 12:45 PM. AP reports that Snow, who is battling cancer, is leaving “because he needs to make more money.”

UPDATE II: Snow said he’s going to do “a little” radio and tv after he leaves the White House, but won’t return to full anchor duties.

Petraeus to acknowledge low troop morale.

Fri, 2007-08-31 08:10

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) recently had dinner in Baghdad with Gen. David Petraeus, at which time he expressed concerns that “troops were being pushed to the limit.” Durbin told the Chicago Tribune that “Petraeus concurred,” and will likely tell President Bush about the problem in his report next month. “I expect the general to acknowledge to the president what I said about troop morale and the readiness of the troops to continue this battle at this level,” said Durbin. “He said as much over dinner.”

Gen. Tommy Franks as the next vice president?

Fri, 2007-08-31 07:38

Three of the eight announced 2008 Republican presidential candidates are considering retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks as their vice presidential running mate. Franks has been strongly criticized for his closeness to Donald Rumsfeld and his lack of pre-invasion planning for Iraq. A book by a highly commended active duty Army officer said that Franks was “slow to grasp the realities of the war” and “overly optimistic” in his assessments.

U.S. Troops Given Misleading, Inaccurate Bios Of Democratic Lawmakers Visiting Iraq

Fri, 2007-08-31 06:47

This morning, the Washington Post has a story on how lawmakers are being “slimed in the Green Zone” when they travel to Iraq for congressional delegation trips. Reps. James Moran (D-VA), Jon Porter (R-NV), and Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) recently returned from such a trip. While there, Tauscher and Moran noticed sheets of paper that “seemed to be everywhere” in the Green Zone, “distributed to Iraqi officials, U.S. officials and uniformed military of no particular rank.”

The sheets of papers were short, thumbnail biographies of the two lawmakers. ThinkProgress has obtained copies of the bios for Moran and Tauscher. Instead of receiving the official bios readily available on the congressional websites, the U.S. troops were given new ones that cherry-pick the representatives’ “most incendiary” statements:

The bios also either ignore or completely misrepresent the lawmakers’ records. The Washington Post notes:

Under “latest Iraq vote,” Tauscher’s bio noted that she had voted in favor of legislation requiring the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq within 120 days of the bill’s enactment.

She did vote that way — in May. On Aug. 2, Tauscher voted in favor of her own bill, which mandates that troops be granted a leave from combat at least as long as their last combat deployment before being shipped back to Iraq. That vote might have been a little too popular with the soldiers she was meeting, Tauscher said.

Moran’s bio says that he “[v]oted NO on legislation requiring the withdrawal of U S troops from Iraq within 120 days of the bill’s enactment.” In reality, Moran voted “yes.” He also voted for Tauscher’s dwell-time legislation.

When Porter learned about his colleagues’ rap sheets, he stated, “I had never seen that in the past. That’s new. Now I want to see what they’re saying about me.”

ThinkProgress spoke with one of the delegation’s military escorts, Maj. Toby Patterson, who said that he didn’t know who made the bios or why they were created in the first place. He added that his office, the Marine Corps liaison for the U.S. House of Representatives, usually just uses lawmakers’ readily-available bios off of

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ThinkFast: August 31, 2007

Fri, 2007-08-31 06:02

Today is Karl Rove’s last day on the job at the White House.

Bush will visit Pentagon commanders today who are reportedly divided over what to do about Iraq. He “is expected to hear deep concerns about the long-term impact on U.S. forces of maintaining a heavy troop presence in Iraq in 2008 and beyond.”

One of the most pressing issues for Alberto Gonzales’ replacement, according to dozens of current and former federal prosecutors, “is a budget squeeze at U.S. attorneys’ offices that has led to declines in crime prosecutions and delays in major investigations.”

New e-mails released by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) confirm that the Bush administration “viewed former surgeon general Richard H. Carmona as a public relations tool, pushing him to make political appearances and promote the Bush administration’s agenda while he was in office.”

An American-owned company operating from Kuwait, Lee Dynamics International, “paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to American contracting officers in efforts to win more than $11 million in contracts.” (more…)