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Updated: 1 hour 42 min ago

ThinkFast: August 13, 2007

Mon, 2007-08-13 06:16

“A chance discovery at Rome’s busy Fiumicino Airport led anti-Mafia investigators to a huge black-market transaction in which Iraqi and Italian partners haggled over shipping more than 100,000 Russian-made automatic weapons into Iraq.” Iraqi government officials were involved in the deal, apparently without the knowledge of the U.S. Baghdad command.

According to new court documents, former Rep. Bob Ney’s (R-OH) chief of staff Will Heaton was secretly recording conversations with his boss in order to facilitate a federal investigation. “Heaton taped numerous phone calls and wore a hidden wire to a 2 1/2 -hour, face-to-face meeting with Ney that provided ‘exceptionally important’ help to the FBI’s investigation of Abramoff.”

Roll Call reports that a fight has been averted over Bush’s recess appointments. “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has quietly shelved plans to hold the Senate in pro forma session this month after the White House agreed to refrain from making any executive appointments during the Senators’ August break.”

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) said he is drawing up legislation to strengthen subprime mortgage lending standards amid a credit crunch that has shaken financial markets around the world. “Clearly, the brokers need to be regulated,” he said.

A committee of British members of Parliament warned the escalation in Iraq is likely to fail. A report by the Commons foreign affairs committee delivered a pessimistic verdict on Washington’s bid to restore peace by committing 30,000 extra troops. “It is too early to provide a definitive assessment of the US ’surge’ but it does not look likely to succeed,” the MPs concluded. (more…)

Karl Rove To Resign

Mon, 2007-08-13 05:11

The Wall Street Journal reports that Bush’s deputy chief of staff and senior adviser Karl Rove will be resigning at the end of the month and will return to Texas. “I just think it’s time,” Rove said in the interview. “There’s always something that can keep you here, and as much as I’d like to be here, I’ve got to do this for the sake of my family.” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, “Obviously it’s a big loss to us. He’s a great colleague, a good friend, and a brilliant mind. He will be greatly missed.”

UPDATE: Bush was expected to make a statement Monday with Rove around 11:35 am ET. Later Monday, Rove, his wife and their son were to accompany Bush on Air Force One when the president flies to Texas for his vacation.

UPDATE II: “Even as he discussed his departure, Rove remained characteristically sunny. … In the interview, Rove predicted Bush will regain his popularity, which has sunk to record lows because of the war in Iraq.”

UPDATE III: Even while Rove has been talking about finding the right time to depart for a year, Bill Kristol never saw it coming. On Fox News this morning, Kristol said:

Karl’s departure is pretty sudden and for me, pretty surprising. … Karl Rove loves politics. He’s awfully smart. And September’s going to be an awfully big month for the presidency. It’s odd that he’s not going to be there.

UPDATE IV: Rove plans to write a book on the Bush presidency, a move which President Bush is encouraging:

He’d like to teach eventually, but he has no specific job plans, save to write a book on the Bush years, which “the boss,” as in Mr. Bush, “has encouraged me to do.”

UPDATE V: Rove said his “biggest error” was “not working soon enough to replace Republicans tainted by scandal.”

Digg It!

O’Hanlon: Iraq Trip Relied On ‘The Itinerary The Defense Department Developed’

Sun, 2007-08-12 15:08

In their now infamous New York Times op-ed, Brookings analysts Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack wrote that “[w]e are finally getting somewhere” in Iraq, based on their eight day trip to the war-torn country.

In the days following the op-ed, the media gushed over the analyst’s opinions, uncritically referring to them as “vocal war critics,” despite their long history of support for the war.

But in a recent interview, Glenn Greenwald elicits the inner details of the trip from O’Hanlon, confirming “rather conclusively what a fraud this Op-Ed was, and even more so, the deceitfulness of the intense news coverage it generated.” Some key points from the interview:

O’Hanlon admits he is a war supporter: “As you rightly reported,” O’Hanlon told Greenwald, “I was not a critic of this war. In the final analysis, I was a supporter.”

A rushed, cherry-picked trip: O’Hanlon admitted that they spent approximately “between 2-4 hours” in every area they visited outside Baghdad, “and much of that was taken up meeting U.S. military commanders, not inspecting the proverbial ‘conditions on the ground.’” “They spent every night ensconced in the Green Zone in Baghdad,” adds Greenwald.

Pentagon “choreographed” the trip: In the op-ed, the analysts boast, “We just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel.” But O’Hanlon admitted: “The predominant majority were people who we came into contact with through the itinerary the D.O.D. developed. … For the most part, the conversations were ones arranged by D.O.D”

Unrepresentative view of Iraq: “If someone wanted to argue that we were not getting a representative view of Iraqis because the ones we spoke with were provided by the military, I would agree that this would be a genuine concern,” said O’Hanlon. “By no means did all of the Iraqis agree with the view of progress in Iraq.”

As Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) told Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) last month, the trips to Iraq organized by the U.S. government are aptly characterized as “the dog and pony show” for the superficial, dressed-up view they provide. O’Hanlon and Pollack’s op-ed, however, made no mention of the extent of the Pentagon’s involvement. Nor did O’Hanlon make much mention of it to other media outlets, observes Greenwald.

With the superficiality of their trip revealed, O’Hanlon and Pollack’s op-ed can hardly be considered the “climate-changing” salvo that the right wing would like it to be.

Read the full interview HERE.

U.S. falls in life expectancy rankings.

Sun, 2007-08-12 14:13

The AP reports that while Americans are living longer than ever, they are not living as long as people in 41 other countries, including Japan, Guam, Jordan, and most nations in Europe. “A baby born in the United States in 2004 will live an average of 77.9 years. That life expectancy ranks 42nd, down from 11th two decades earlier.”

A New York Times editorial today writes that the “disturbing truth” is that “by an array of pertinent yardsticks, the United States is a laggard not a leader in providing good medical care.”

WaPo: Court twice said Bush wiretapping program was illegal.

Sun, 2007-08-12 11:36

Last week, Congress caved to White House pressure, passing an expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that moved the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program “out from under any real legal restrictions. Before the vote, House Minority Leader John Boehner revealed a secret opinion by the FISA court that declared part of the administration’s program illegal was central to rush to reform the law. The Washington Post adds more details today about the fight over the law, including the revelation that there were actually two court rulings against the program:

But in a secret ruling in March, a judge on a special court empowered to review the government’s electronic snooping challenged for the first time the government’s ability to collect data from such wires even when they came from foreign terrorist targets. In May, a judge on the same court went further, telling the administration flatly that the law’s wording required the government to get a warrant whenever a fixed wire is involved. […]

The rulings — which were not disclosed publicly until the congressional debate this month — represented an unusual rift between the court and the U.S. intelligence community. They led top intelligence officials to conclude, a senior official said, that “you can’t tell what this court is going to do” and helped provoke the White House to insist that Congress essentially strip the court of any jurisdiction over U.S. surveillance of communications between foreigners.

Carlson: Giuliani acts like he kept ‘third tower…from falling.’

Sun, 2007-08-12 09:26

On Meet the Press this morning, Bloomberg columnist Margaret Carlson commented on former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s claim that he “was at ground zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers.” “Giuliani now believes his own rhetoric,” said Carlson. “That he practically, maybe there was a third tower he kept from falling.” Watch it:

Transcript: (more…)

Megachurch cancels vet’s memorial because he was gay.

Sun, 2007-08-12 08:29

24 hours before it was to hold a memorial service for Navy vet Cecil Howard Sinclair, the High Point Church in Arlington, TX, canceled the ceremony after discovering that Sinclair was gay. “It’s a slap in the face. It’s like, ‘Oh, we’re sorry he died, but he’s gay so we can’t help you,’” said Sinclair’s sister, Kathleen Wright. High Point’s pastor, Rev. Gary Simons, claimed the church acted on “principle”:

“We did decline to host the service — not based on hatred, not based on discrimination, but based on principle,” Simons told The Associated Press. “Had we known it on the day they first spoke about it — yes, we would have declined then. It’s not that we didn’t love the family.”

Roadside bomb kills Iraqi governor.

Sun, 2007-08-12 06:48

A powerful roadside bomb on Saturday killed Khalil Jalil Hamza, the governor of the Qadisiyah province in southern Iraq, a province “that has seen fierce internal fighting between Shiite factions. … The area also has seen a rise in internal rivalries between rival militia forces, including the Mahdi Army that is loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.”

Mugabe cites U.S. program to justify wiretapping law.

Sat, 2007-08-11 19:33

Yesterday, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe “signed into law the controversial Interception of Communications Bill, which gives his government the authority to eavesdrop on phone and Internet communications and read physical mail.” In order to defend the law, which has been called “the dictator’s tool kit,” Mugabe’s spokesperson pointed to President Bush’s wiretapping program:

Human rights lawyer Otto Saki told VOA that the law interferes and undermines the enjoyment of rights enshrined in the constitution and is a sign Mr. Mugabe wants to consolidate his power by “any means necessary or unnecessary.”

But Communications Minister Christopher Mushowe said Zimbabwe is not unique in the world in passing such legislation, citing electronic eavesdropping programs in the United States, the United Kingdom and South Africa, among other countries.

Gonzales visits Iraq to offer advice on legal system.

Sat, 2007-08-11 12:05

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales “arrived in Baghdad on Saturday for his third trip to Iraq to meet with department officials who have been there to help fashion the country’s legal system. ‘I am pleased to see firsthand … the progress that the men and women of the Justice Department have made to rebuild Iraq’s legal system and law enforcement infrastructure,’ Gonzales said in a statement released by the department.” The AP notes: “[h]is optimistic assessment came despite the frequent sectarian lawlessness and killings in the country.”

Bush’s 10 yr plan for Iraq: bring back the draft.

Sat, 2007-08-11 09:27

Yesterday, Bush’s “war czar,” Gen. Doug Lute, told NPR that “it makes sense to certainly consider” a military draft and that it “has always been an option on the table.” Americans Against Escalation in Iraq has produced a video that puts Lute’s comments into context with the administration’s plan to stay in Iraq for “a nine or ten year endeavour.” Watch it:

Rev. Billy Graham on Iraq:

Sat, 2007-08-11 07:00

“I’m getting a little depressed about Iraq… Think of what it is doing to Bush. There doesn’t seem to be any way out.”

Right-Wing Media Give Favorable Platform To ‘Another 9/11′ Columnist

Sat, 2007-08-11 05:09

In his Thursday column, Philadelphia Daily News scribe Stu Bykofsky seemingly wished for the tragic death of 3000+ Americans when he wrote that “another 9/11 would help America.”

A host of right-wing media outlets provided Bykofsky a national platform yesterday that largely served to give credence to the columnist’s ghoulish suggestion.

Drudge gave the article a top row, center column link:

Radio host Mike Gallagher, who claims to have “over 3.75 million weekly listeners” across the country, hosted Bykofsky (on the very same day that he scored an interview with Rudy Giuliani):

Bykofsky’s biggest booster, however, was Fox News. Yesterday morning’s Fox and Friends did a segment on his column. Later in the afternoon, Bykofsky appeared on The Big Story, where host John Gibson agreed with and validated Bykofsky’s thesis. “I think it’s going to take a lot of dead people to wake America up,” said Gibson. Watch it:

The Bush administration used the events of 9/11 to launch an unnecessary war, curtail the rights of Americans, torture, illegally spy, and violate the Constitution. The right-wing can’t wait for “another 9/11″ so they can take it to the next level.

‘War Czar’: Military draft is on the table.

Fri, 2007-08-10 17:00

In an interview with NPR, the White House’s “war czar” Gen. Doug Lute said that “it makes sense to certainly consider” a military draft. “I can tell you, this has always been an option on the table, but ultimately, this is a policy matter between meeting the demands for the nation’s security by one means or another.” Listen to it:

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Center for American Progress analysts Lawrence Korb and Max Bergmann wrote recently, “Considering the current state of the Army, if the president wants to sustain a substantial number of U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the next 18 months, he should call for reinstating the draft. … Yet the president will never call for the draft. He knows the country would never support the level of sacrifice for this war that implementing a draft would demand.”

Listen to the full interview of Lute here.

Schakowsky On Iraq Visit: ‘Surge Is A Failure,’ Warns There Is ‘Major PR Effort Going On’

Fri, 2007-08-10 15:25

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) just returned from a visit to Iraq, a trip that she called a “PR tour” chaperoned by U.S. Embassy officials. In a conference call hosted by Americans Against Escalation In Iraq this afternoon, Schakowsky said plainly, “I believe overall the surge is a failure. Why’s that? Because the purpose was to reduce violence to create a safer environment, to create the space for political reconciliation. And Iraq is as far from that as it’s ever been. … It’s clear to me we cannot win someone else’s religious civil war.”

In addition to the lack of political progress, Schakowsky said that “the security situation in Baghdad is really bad.” As evidence of this, she noted, “You can’t go anywhere without being heavily guarded. To go a few miles from Baghdad to a training camp, we had to get into a Blackhawk helicopter. We had to put on our body armor and our helmets in order to get there.”

A member of the House Intelligence Committee, Schakowsky was one of six House members to visit Iraq. Her contingent spoke with Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. She said Petraeus told her “the U.S. would be in Iraq for 9-10 years if we want to win,” a comment he has made repeatedly. Listen to her remarks:

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She warned that there is ongoing PR blitz from the White House and its conservative allies to build public support for a long-term occupation of Iraq:

It concerns me that they’re building up enthusiastically in much the same way that we led up to the vote and then the war in October 2002 and then March of 2003. It does worry me that some the media is buying in. […]

What I feel is going on right now is that there’s a major PR effort going on to convince the Congress and the media and the public that just enough progress has been made to justify staying. A little more, and then maybe a little more, and a little more — perhaps to where Petraeus has said 9 or 10 years have elapsed. Calling for patience is not at this point going to work with the American people, and I’m hoping…are just too smart to be fooled again.

During one of the days she was in Iraq, Schakowsky said four soldiers were killed in the Diyala province, a British soldier was killed in Baghdad, 33 Iraqis were killed in Tal Afar in a residential neighborhood by a truck bomb, six street cleaners were killed by an IED in Baghdad, two people were killed on a minibus, and 17 bodies found killed by death squads.

“It’s so clear to me that our focus is on the wrong battlefield,” Schakowsky said. “And my experience in the region has convinced me more than ever that we must set a deadline to withdraw our troops from the religious and tribal civil war that’s going on in Iraq.”

ABA criticizes Bush’s illegal torture policies.

Fri, 2007-08-10 15:06

Two American Bar Association committees say that “President Bush’s recent order on CIA interrogations of terror suspects should be overturned” as it still permits harsh treatment in violation of international treaties. “The CIA should follow the same rigorous standards adopted by the military that are intended, in part, to ensure that captured U.S. soldiers are extended the same protections,” according to an ABA resolution expected to be adopted next week. “The CIA should not be exempted from rules that guide even our armed forces,” ABA president Karen Mathis said.

Fox News viewers more ‘negative’ about news media.

Fri, 2007-08-10 14:40

In a new survey of media users and their attitudes by Pew Research, Fox News viewers “stand out among the TV news audience for their negative evaluations of news organizations’ practices“:

Fully 63% of Americans who count Fox as their main news source say news stories are often inaccurate — a view held by fewer than half of those who cite CNN (46%) or network news (41%) as their main source.

Similarly, Fox viewers are far more likely to say the press is too critical of America (52% vs. 36% of CNN viewers and 29% of network news viewers). And the Fox News Channel audience gives starkly lower ratings to network news programs and national newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post…

For example, fully 71% of Fox News Republicans hold an unfavorable opinion of major national newspapers, compared with 52% of Republicans who use other sources, and 33% of those who are not Republicans.

Giuliani ‘Clarifies’ 9/11 Comments: ‘I Was Saying…I’m There With You’

Fri, 2007-08-10 13:34

Yesterday, former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani claimed he “was at ground zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers…in that sense, I’m one of them.” Election Central obtained video of the comments. Watch it:

After receiving harsh criticism from 9/11 rescue workers, Giuliani attempted to clarify his comments today on conservative Mike Gallagher’s radio show:

“I think I could have said it better,” he told nationally syndicated radio host Mike Gallagher. “You know, what I was saying was, ‘I’m there with you.’” […]

“What I was trying to say yesterday is that I empathize with them, because I feel like I have that same risk,” he said.

“There were people there less than me, people on my staff, who already have had serious health consequences, and they weren’t there as often as I was,” Giuliani said, “but I wasn’t trying to suggest a competition of any kind, which is the way it come across.”

Giuliani’s attempt at mollifying the outrage over his attempt to tie himself to 9/11 rescue workers didn’t satisfy many of his critics:

“He is such a liar, because the only time he was down there was for photo ops with celebrities, with politicians, with diplomats,” said deputy fire chief Jimmy Riches, who spent months digging for his firefighter son.

“On 9/11 all he did was run. He got that soot on him, and I don’t think he’s taken a shower since.”

UPDATE: The Politicker has the audio of Rudy’s radio appearance.

UPDATE II: Watch 9/11 rescue workers John Graham and Reggie Cervantes criticize Giuliani. Both of them appeared in Michael Moore’s SiCKO. For his part, Moore will be hosting a fundraiser for 9/11 rescue workers tomorrow.

Tip-toeing around George W. Bush.

Fri, 2007-08-10 13:15

The Financial Times reports that Republicans find President Bush politically radioactive but can’t say that publicly. “We are caught in a bind,” says a senior staffer on one of the campaigns. “We cannot attack George Bush because we would be punished for disloyalty by the party base. And we cannot endorse him because that would be suicide. So we tip-toe around.”

Bush set to beat Reagan’s vacation record.

Fri, 2007-08-10 12:10

Yesterday, President Bush took off for his vacation home in Crawford, TX, where he has already “spent all or part of 418 days of his presidency.” With 17 months left in office, Bush is on course to beat “the presidential vacation-time record holder,” the late Ronald Reagan, “who tallied 436 days in his two terms.” Bush’s vacation will mark the 65th time he has visited Crawford as President.