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Report: Bush Administration’s FOIA Compliance Deteriorating, Gonzales’ DoJ Most Secretive Agency

Fri, 2007-08-10 11:36

After overcoming a hold placed by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the Senate unanimously passed the OPEN Government Act last week, which would expedite government agency responsiveness to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) hoped that the legislation would boost transparency in an administration characterized by stonewalling:

As the first major reform to FOIA in more than a decade, the OPEN Government Act will help to reverse the troubling trends of excessive delays and lax FOIA compliance in our government and help to restore the public’s trust in their government.

A new analysis from the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government documents the extent of the administration’s secrecy. The report notes “current government handling of FOIA requests is deteriorating” across the government agencies. Some highlights:

- Two of every five FOIA requests filed in 2006 were not processed.

- Number of exemptions cited to support the withholding of information has increased 83% since 1998.

- The number of FOIA denials increased 10% in 2006.

- Cost of processing FOIA requests is up 40 percent since 1998, even though agencies are processing 20 percent fewer requests.

- “Most people are waiting longer” for FOIA information.

Additionally, the report notes that the DOJ is “consistently granted the lowest percentage of [FOIA] appeals of any agency — only 4% in 2006.” The DOJ’s “rate of grant-making is down 70%” than that of President Clinton.

The administration’s refusal to comply with FOIA requests is particularly relevant to current investigations into major scandals. The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has used FOIA to gather information related to the administration’s e-mail destruction in the attorney scandal. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff recently used a FOIA request to expose that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales “has never addressed Dick Cheney’s failure to comply with the executive order on classified information.

The report adds: “There has been a clear shift toward less disclosure by the current administration. When agencies did get around to responding, they were increasingly stingy.” In contrast, the “OPEN Government Act will help ensure that these important values [of transparency] remain a cornerstone of our American democracy,” said Leahy.

Bill O’Reilly: Liberal bloggers = blackmailers.

Fri, 2007-08-10 10:38

Last night, O’Reilly said: “[W]hat people don’t understand is that these Internet bloggers give messages to these candidates: ‘If you don’t do what we tell you to do, we will trash you and try to interfere with your fundraising.’ ” Right-wing columnist Dick Morris later asserted that O’Reilly is “a great rallying point for” liberal bloggers, to which O’Reilly replied: “But I think it’s a danger to have blackmailers, which is what these bloggers are, active in the political process.” Media Matters has the video.

Gitmo Lawyers File Constitutional Challenge Of Recently-Passed FISA Bill

Fri, 2007-08-10 09:30

Yesterday, lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainees asked a federal judge in San Francisco to invalidate the recently-passed FISA law that lets the Bush administration conduct warrantless surveillance on suspected terrorists without first getting court-approved warrants.

“We are asking your honor, as swiftly as possible, to declare this statute unconstitutional,” said Michael Avery, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights. … “Neither Congress nor the president has the power to repeal the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirements,” Avery said.

In CCR v. Bush, the Center is arguing that the government’s surveillance jeopardizes its ability to represent Gitmo clients. CCR reports that it has engaged in thousands of telephone calls and e-mails with people outside the United States in the course of its representation.

The Center writes, “Given that the government has accused many of CCR’s overseas clients of being associated with Al Qaeda or of being of interest to the 9/11 investigation, there is little question that these attorneys fall within the likely range of victims of the NSA Surveillance Program.” CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren said:

It is virtually certain that the NSA spied on our confidential communications with our clients as well as conversations with other American attorneys outside of the U.S. The president violated his oath of office to faithfully execute the laws of this nation and instead secretly broke the law for years to spy on Americans. He has taken an axe to the Constitution.

Anthony Coppolino, a special counsel to the Justice Department, refused to rebut the challenge to the new law. Copppolino offered this defense: “It’s possible that their clients were and it’s possible that their clients were not” spied on.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker has not indicated when he will rule on the case.

Kristol: Surge deserves ‘another six months.’

Fri, 2007-08-10 09:03

On Wednesday, the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol discussed his recent trip to Iraq on right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt’s talk show, where he said Bush’s strategy “certainly deserves another six months to play out.”

Bush admin resists education benefits for troops.

Fri, 2007-08-10 08:30

The Blotter reports that the Bush administration is opposing a congressional effort to restore full educational benefits for returning veterans. “Senate Democrats, led by Virginia’s Jim Webb, want the government to pay every penny of veterans’ educational costs, from tuition at a public university to books, housing and a monthly stipend.” The administration is resisting because it finds the program “cumbersome.”

Kristol: ‘I’m not an uncritical cheerleader.’

Fri, 2007-08-10 08:00

In a new Time magazine piece, Bill Kristol writes that he is “impressed” by the progress being made in Iraq. Like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) before him, Kristol cites a visit to a Baghdad market as evidence of progress:

My traveling companions (military experts Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan) and I walked around the Haifa Street market in Baghdad with Colonel Bryan Roberts, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division, and watched him coordinate reconstruction efforts and deftly manage the political-economic interactions with local shopkeepers and citizens.

Kristol writes, “I’m not an uncritical cheerleader for the American military.” No — he’s simply an uncritical cheerleader for war.

Rep. Bill Sali: Religious Diversity In Congress ‘Was Not Envisioned By The Founding Fathers’

Fri, 2007-08-10 07:00

When Idaho State Rep. Bill Sali was running for Congress in 2006, Vice President Cheney visited his state and said, “Bill is ready to make a difference in Washington, and he’s going to be the kind of Congressman who will make you proud.” Now-Congressman Bill Sali (R-ID) is demonstrating his worth by criticizing the new religious diversity embodied in the 110th Congress:

We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes — and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

Really? Sali may want to take a peek at Article VI of the Constitution, which notes that there is no religious test for public office:

Sali’s not alone in his bigotry. In Dec. 2006, shortly after Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) was elected as the first Muslim congressman, Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) warned that “American citizens” need to “wake up” or “there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office.”

Last month, protestors belonging to the Christian Right anti-abortion group Operation Save America loudly interrupted the first Hindu prayer delivered in the Senate. Sali said that when a Hindu prayer is offered, it “creates problems for the longevity of this country.”

UPDATE: MahaBlog notes that Thomas Jefferson argued strongly for religious freedom.

Smoking declines as taxes increase.

Fri, 2007-08-10 06:45

A USA Today report “finds that higher state taxes on smokers have produced sharp declines in consumption. The amount of decline in smoking is directly tied to the size of the tax increase.” Some examples:

– Cigarette sales fell 18% in North Carolina last year after the tax was raised in two steps to 35 cents from a nickel.

– Connecticut has increased its tax to $1.51 from 50 cents per pack in 2002. Since then, per capita consumption of cigarettes has fallen 37%.

– New Jersey raised its tax to $2.40 from 80 cents in 2002. Smoking has dropped 35%.

By contrast, South Carolina has kept its lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax at 7 cents, and cigarette consumption there has fallen only 5 percent since 2000. Congress is currently considering raising the federal cigarette tax as a way to pay for expanded government health care for children.

ThinkFast: August 10, 2007

Fri, 2007-08-10 06:00

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said yesterday there are no “defining moments” in Iraq. “I don’t think there is a date on the calendar, whether it’s in September or any other time in which you can say, ‘This is the defining moment. It’s all coming together, or it’s all falling apart.’ It’s an enormously complex situation.”

President Bush said he can’t recall when he learned that Army Ranger Pat Tillman died by friendly fire. Just days before Bush delivered a 2004 speech that made reference to Tillman, a top general had written a memo to Gen. John Abizaid, then head of Central Command, warning that it was “highly possible” that Tillman was killed by friendly fire and making clear that the information should be conveyed to the president.

“The next decade will be a hot one, according to scientists unveiling the first 10-year projection of global warming. … The significance of the new study is that over the last century, global warming has contributed to about a one-degree rise in average temperatures.”

“Nearly half the people murdered in the U.S. each year are black, part of a persistent pattern in which African Americans are disproportionately victimized by violent crime, according to a new Justice Department study released yesterday.”

“I was at ground zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers,” said former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani yesterday. “I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to. So in that sense, I’m one of them.” Battalion Chief John McDonnell, head of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association in New York, responded, “I think he’s really grasping and trying to justify his previous attempts to portray himself as the hero of 9/11.” (more…)

Iraqis united in opposition to foreign control over oil.

Thu, 2007-08-09 19:21

Alternet reports, “Despite the ethnic bloodshed in Iraq, majorities of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are united in their disapproval of the proposed oil laws that Washington and Big Oil are pushing.” A recent poll of all Iraqi ethnic and sectarian groups across the political spectrum oppose the principles enshrined in the laws. “Considering the multiethnic bloodbath we’ve witnessed over the past four years, it’s an impressive display of Iraqi solidarity,” writes Joshua Holland.

Cheney advocating confrontation with Iran.

Thu, 2007-08-09 18:10

McClatchy reports that behind the scenes “the president’s top aides have been engaged in an intensive internal debate over how to respond” to Iran. “Vice President Dick Cheney several weeks ago proposed launching airstrikes at suspected training camps in Iraq run by the Quds force, a special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to two U.S. officials who are involved in Iran policy.”

Columnist calls for another 9/11.

Thu, 2007-08-09 17:30

Philadelphia Daily News columnist Stu Byokofsky: “One month from The Anniversary, I’m thinking another 9/11 would help America.” (Via Atrios.)

In A Three Minute Monologue, Matthews Gushes Over Bush’s ‘Great Neo-Conservative Mind’

Thu, 2007-08-09 15:49

Immediately following President Bush’s press conference today, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews spent three unbroken minutes fawning over the president’s “powerful rendition” of his “philosophy” without uttering a single critical word. “I thought in listening to the president, I was listening to one of the great neoconservative minds,” gushed Matthews.

Calling Bush “powerful” on three separate occasions, Matthews marveled at the president’s defense of his foreign policy:

We were given a rare opportunity to hear the real philosophy of this administration with regard to the war in Iraq. A powerful rendition by the president of why we’re there. When he talked about the fact that we can support emerging democracies in the Middle East, and that’s the only way we can prevent future 9/11’s, you’re getting to the heart of why this administration is fighting that war in Iraq.

“This president is ready to fight like a rock through the rest of his term,” Matthews proclaimed. “He made it clear that he’s going to fight as long as it takes to develop a democracy in Iraq. There’s not going to be any change come September.” Watch it:

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Bush’s comments today, which contained at least one untrue assertion, were nothing more than a rehashing of his tired old rhetoric. Yet somehow, Matthews, who is labeled a liberal by partisan conservatives, only saw it through rose-colored glasses.

Matthews’ monologue is unsurprising, however, given his long record of hero worship for Bush and his supposedly “powerful” presidency:

– “We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical.” [5/1/03]

– “Sometimes it glimmers with this man, our president, that kind of sunny nobility.” [10/25/05]

– “I like him. Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs, maybe on the left.” [11/28/05]

– “A little bit of Lincoln there, I think,” referring to Bush finally admitting that telling Iraqi insurgents to “bring it on” in 2003 “sent the wrong signal to people.” [5/25/06]

Given the president’s track record with the truth on Iraq, Matthews should check his uncritical awe at the door.

UPDATE: Media Matters catches Matthews lamenting over the lack of “big, beefy” and “every-way big” guys in the Democratic presidential race.

Digg It!

Washington Post journalist Robin Wright

Thu, 2007-08-09 14:57

takes issue with our post. We argued that her article this morning presented a one-sided platform for neoconservative pundits to articulate their long-running agenda to bomb Iran as “a new drumbeat for bolder action.” Wright disagrees:

This article totally misrepresents what I wrote and the intent, and I consider it intellectually dishonest to attack me or The Post for merely trying to identify the people, institutions and arguments for more aggression action against Iran. In three references, I pointed out that the people cited were either advocates of war in Iraq or echoed arguments to justify war in Iraq.

Second, the press is constantly coming under attack for not identifying early enough the arguments made for going to war with Iraq. I am trying to make sure that the press is devoting attention to what is beginning to be a critical mass for this argument on Iran. This was meant to be a benchmark piece in covering the emerging debate, which is no longer focused just on Iran’s alleged nuclear program but is also now tied to Tehran’s role in Iraq.


O’Hanlon/Pollack Rebuffed By Travel Companion Cordesman: ‘I Did Not See Any Dramatic Change’

Thu, 2007-08-09 13:51

In their infamous New York Times editorial, Brookings analysts Michael O’Hanlon and Ken Pollack alleged that “significant changes [are] taking place” in President Bush’s escalation, potentially ushering in a “sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with” in the future.

Center for Strategic and International Studies military analyst Anthony Cordesman, who accompanied O’Hanlon and Pollack on the trip to Iraq, recently published a report expressing a difference of opinion.

In a briefing today, Cordesman further elaborated on his disagreements with the Brookings analysts and asserted that there has been little change in Iraq:

I did not see any dramatic change in our position in Iraq during this trip. Many of the points, the problems which exist there are problems which have existed really since late 2004, if not earlier. I didn’t see a dramatic shift in the ability of the Iraqi’s to reach the kind of compromise that is almost the foundation of moving forward. […]

But I also want to stress another thing. I did not see success for the strategy that President Bush announced in January.

Watch it:

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While O’Hanlon and Pollack claimed “many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the [security] force have been removed,” Cordesman observed the opposite. “The security forces are more divided, facing more problems in terms of alignment with Shi’ite factions than I had expected to see, even for the army.”

Later in the briefing, Cordesman slammed O’Hanlon’s plan calling for a “soft-partition” of Iraq into three distinct regions, stating that such an effort would be “brutal, it is repressive, it kills people, it injures them, it drives them out of their homes, and it drives them out of their country. To talk about this as if it was something that is gentle or nonviolent is simply dishonest.”

Cordesman added: “It is clear, that in some ways our intervention in Iraq has allowed the Sadr militia and Shi’ite extremist groups to operate in terms of sectarian cleansing with more freedom than they had in the past.”

Combating global poverty bridges bipartisan divide.

Thu, 2007-08-09 13:34

Today, the ONE campaign released the results of a bipartisan survey of likely Democratic and Republican New Hampshire primary voters. Among its findings:

– Nearly all Democrats (97%) and 70% of Republicans agree that America’s standing has suffered in recent years.

– Democrats (91%) and Republicans (78%) agree that the United States also needs to improve diplomatic relations by doing more to help improve health, education and opportunities in the poorest countries around the world.

– Democrats (90%) and Republicans (85%) agree that it is in keeping with the country’s values and our history of compassion to lead an effort to solve some of the most serious problems facing the world’s poorest people.

See more results from the survey here.

Biden suggests bringing criminal charges against Bush admin.

Thu, 2007-08-09 13:18

In a recent interview with Newsweek, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) said he is opposed to impeachment proceedings because they would disrupt Congressional business. “But he has a pretty stunning Plan B“:

The alternative, and it’s taken me time to think through, I think we should be acquiring and accumulating all the data that is appropriate for possibly bringing criminal charges against members of this administration at a later date.

Wash Post Provides Discredited Neoconservative Pundits A Platform To Advocate For Iran War

Thu, 2007-08-09 12:26

In today’s Washington Post, reporter Robin Wright gives neoconservative pundits like the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol and AEI’s Michael Rubin a platform to advocate for military action against Iran. Wright suggests these calls are part of “a new drumbeat for bolder action.” Without offering opposing viewpoints, Wright recycles the preemptive strike theories of her sources — all prior advocates of preemptive military action against Iraq.

Like the NYT’s Michael Gordan before her, Wright uncritically reports the Bush administration’s claim that “since May, the first formal talks between U.S. and Iranian envoys in 28 years have not deterred Iranian support for Iraqi Shiite militias targeting U.S. troops and the Green Zone,” a claim that has become media conventional wisdom.

Yet the contention that Iran is formally undermining efforts in Iraq has little grounding in reality:

Gen. Peter Pace told reporters he has no evidence of any links between the explosives killing Americans and the Iranian government.

– A National Intelligence Estimate released in February concluded that Iranian involvement was “not likely” to be a major driver of violence.

– A recent McClatchy analysis of U.S. casualties in Iraq confirms earlier reports that the great majority of foreign fighters in Iraq are Sunni Saudis, not Iranians.

The Washington Post acknowledged that its pre-Iraq failures resulted in part because it did not seek alternative sources of information.

Reviewing the paper’s coverage in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, Washington Post editor Bob Woodward admitted that “we should have warned readers we had information that the basis for this was shakier” than widely believed. Media reporter Howard Kurtz characterized the paper’s reporting as “strikingly one-sided at times.”

But if Wright’s most recent report is any indication, then the Post is in danger of replicating its past mistakes.

- Igor Volsky

UPDATE: Robin Wright writes in to take issue with the post:

This article totally misrepresents what I wrote and the intent, and I consider it intellectually dishonest to attack me or The Post for merely trying to identify the people, institutions and arguments for more aggression action against Iran. In three references, I pointed out that the people cited were either advocates of war in Iraq or echoed arguments to justify war in Iraq.

Second, the press is constantly coming under attack for not identifying early enough the arguments made for going to war with Iraq. I am trying to make sure that the press is devoting attention to what is beginning to be a critical mass for this argument on Iran. This was meant to be a benchmark piece in covering the emerging debate, which is no longer focused just on Iran’s alleged nuclear program but is also now tied to Tehran’s role in Iraq.


White House worried about Powell’s Iraq skepticism.

Thu, 2007-08-09 12:00

Syndey Blumenthal reports that Steven Hadley and other White House officials “are taking Powell’s early skepticism toward the surge and willingness to express it as a potential sign that he will swoop down on them” just after Gen. Petraeus “asks for more forbearance for the president’s policy” in September. Blumenthal adds that the “release of a documentary on the administration’s failures in Iraq, ‘No End in Sight‘… has the White House spooked” because “it might augur to upset their September rollout.”

Murdoch complains he’s being treated as ‘genocidal tyrant.’

Thu, 2007-08-09 11:30

In his first detailed comments since his acquisition of the Wall Street Journal, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch “complained that his victorious three-month battle to buy the Wall Street Journal involved fending off criticism bearing a degree of vitriol usually reserved for “genocidal tyrants.’”

“The Wall Street Journal is the greatest newspaper in America and one of the greatest in the world,” said Mr Murdoch, insisting that he would be hiring - rather than firing - staff. The paper had “tremendous” journalists and a valuable brand. “That’s why we put such a premium on it and why I spent the better part of the last three months enduring criticism normally levelled at a genocidal tyrant.”