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Updated: 1 hour 34 min ago

Olbermann to host AFL-CIO presidential forum.

Tue, 2007-07-17 10:49

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann will moderate the AFL-CIO Presidential Candidates Forum in Chicago on Aug. 7. Go HERE to read all the questions submitted by union members and vote for your favorites, which will be asked at the forum.

Nuclear Option Conservatives Embrace Permanent Filibuster For A Permanent Occupation

Tue, 2007-07-17 10:05

Tonight, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) will keep the Senate “working through the night” in an effort to force conservatives to stand and filibuster the Levin/Reed plan for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

The same conservatives filibustering tonight were singing a different tune two years ago. When Democrats held up the confirmation of a few of President Bush’s right-wing judicial nominees, conservatives repeatedly complained of “obstructionism.”

Senate conservatives had threatened to deploy the “nuclear option,” which would have eliminated the traditional Senate practice of filibustering.

Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS): “[Filibustering] is wrong. It’s not supportable under the Constitution. And if they insist on persisting with these filibusters, I’m perfectly prepared to blow the place up.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spokesman: “Senator McConnell always has and continues to fully support the use of what has become known as the ‘[nuclear]’ option in order to restore the norms and traditions of the Senate.”

Today, however, these conservatives are proposing the exact opposite of the nuclear option — a permanent filibuster. The Washington Post reports today that McConnell has requested that all Iraq amendments meet a 60 vote threshold, an effort designed to quietly block withdrawal legislation from ever passing the Senate:

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell responded to Reid with a counteroffer: an automatic 60-vote threshold for all key Iraq amendments, eliminating the time-consuming process of clearing procedural hurdles. … [A]ll the controversial war-related votes held since Democrats took control of the Senate in January have required 60 “yeas” to pass.

“It’s a shame that we find ourselves in the position that we’re in,” McConnell said. “It produces a level of animosity and unity on the minority side that makes it more difficult for the majority to pass important legislation.”

Conservatives who decried obstructionism when advocating for an up-or-down vote on Bush’s right-wing judicial nominees today stand in the way of an up-or-down vote on withdrawing troops from Iraq.

Bill Scher has more.

Breaking: VA Secretary Jim Nicholson resigns.

Tue, 2007-07-17 08:45

Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson has resigned.

Nicholson’s primary qualification for the VA job was serving as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1997 to 2000, “raising close to $380 million for the 2000 cycle.” In March, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) called for his resignation, noting that his appointment was purely political and looked “like a Brownie situation.”

UPDATE: In February, Nicholson tried to downplay the number of injured veterans, claiming that “a lot of them come in for dental problems.”

UPDATE II: In today’s press briefing, White House spokesman Tony Snow said that Nicholson plans to “stay on until October.”

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BREAKING: New Terrorism National Intelligence Estimate Released

Tue, 2007-07-17 08:17

The key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate have been released. Read them HERE. Below, some important findings:

Al Qaeda has “regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability”:

Al-Qa’ida is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership.

Iraq has strengthened al Qaeda, which will seek to “leverage the contacts and capabilities” gained in the war:

Of note, we assess that al-Qa’ida will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland.

Al Qaeda’s association with “al Qaeda in Iraq” (AQI) helps to “energize the broader Sunni extremist community” and “recruit and indoctrinate operatives”:

In addition, we assess that its association with AQI helps al-Qa’ida to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks.

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David Brooks Enters Bush’s ‘Universe,’ Walks Away Entranced By President’s ‘Self-Confidence’

Tue, 2007-07-17 07:33

Describing it as an encounter that was “like entering a different universe,” New York Times columnist David Brooks recounts a recent conversation he had with President Bush in the White House. In the editorial entitled “Heroes and History,” Brooks writes:

I left the 110-minute session thinking that far from being worn down by the past few years, Bush seems empowered. His self-confidence is the most remarkable feature of his presidency.

110 minutes with Bush, and all Brooks appears to be able to offer his readers is a superficial diagnosis of Bush’s psychology that any right-wing pundit on Fox News could render. In his last column, Brooks wrote: “I figured that sometime between now and September the White House would be so isolated that it would have to launch withdrawal plans. But ending a war is as complicated as starting one. In order to wind up the Iraq conflict there has to be some general agreement about how to do it. We’re nowhere close to that.”

Presented with an opportunity in a meeting with Bush to determine where this “general agreement” might lie, Brooks uselessly offers that Bush “feels no need to compromise to head off opposition from Capitol Hill and is confident that he can rebuild popular support. ‘I have the tools,’ he said.” (This was one of only two quotes Brooks managed to gather from a 110 minute session.)

Enamored with Bush’s self-confidence, Brooks writes of the two sources from which it flows:

The first is his unconquerable faith in the rightness of his Big Idea. Bush is convinced that history is moving in the direction of democracy […]

Second, Bush remains energized by the power of the presidency. Some presidents complain about the limits of the office. But Bush, despite all the setbacks, retains a capacious view of the job and its possibilities.

In an effort to head off the obvious criticism over his panderific column, Brooks argues, “Bush is not blind to the realities in Iraq.” His evidence? Bush “lives through” difficult moments: “the trips to Walter Reed, the hours and hours spent weeping with or being rebuffed by the families of the dead.”

To hear Brooks say this, one might forget that thousands of Americans and Iraqis live painful personal trials of the same sort each day, and many of them have come to the self-confident realization that the war needs to end. And where Brooks had an opportunity with Bush to shatter some illusions about the future course in Iraq, Brooks opted instead to reinforce the neoconservative faith in the “rightness of his Big Idea.”

Romney’s hair-brained hypocrisy.

Tue, 2007-07-17 07:07

When media reports revealed that former senator John Edwards had paid $400 for his haircuts, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney stated that “he pays $50 for a hair cut including the tip”:

You know I think John Edwards was right. There are two Americas. There is the America where people pay $400 for a haircut and then there is everybody else.

Today, Politico reports:

Romney recorded $300 in payments to a California company that describes itself as “a mobile beauty team for hair, makeup and men’s grooming and spa services.”

Romney spokesman Kevin Madden confirmed that the payments — actually two separate $150 charges — were for makeup, though he said the former Massachusetts governor had only one session with Hidden Beauty of West Hills, Calif.

ThinkFast: July 17, 2007

Tue, 2007-07-17 05:57

War supporters responded yesterday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) call for an up-or-down vote on Iraq withdrawal legislation by threatening a permanent Iraq filibuster. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed “an automatic 60-vote threshold for all key Iraq amendments.”

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. “reached a tentative agreement for the purchase of Dow Jones & Co. at its original $5 billion offer price. The deal will be put to the full Dow Jones board this evening for its approval, said people familiar with the situation.”

“Former Republican congressman J.D. Hayworth said Monday that he has sent documents to the Justice Department in response to its investigation of disgraced fundraiser Jack Abramoff.”

20.5 million: Number of decisions to classify government secrets last year. But the Information Security Oversight Office said “more than 1 in 10 documents it reviewed lacked a basis for classification, ‘calling into question the propriety‘ of the decisions to place them off limits to public disclosure.”

“The Pentagon approves disputed costs on Iraq contracts at a much higher rate than on military contracts as a whole, Defense Department records show. Through last October, almost two-thirds of costs challenged by Pentagon auditors as inflated, erroneous or otherwise improper — more than $1 billion — were eventually approved by project managers.” (more…)

Sen. Reed: White House Blocking Petraeus From Pursuing ‘New Direction’ In Iraq

Mon, 2007-07-16 17:00

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has repeatedly said that the United States must wait until September to assess the success of the President’s escalation policy in Iraq. Last month, Petraeus said it was “premature right now” to discuss the way forward in Iraq.

But yesterday on C-SPAN, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), who recently returned from a trip to Iraq, suggested that those comments aren’t Petraeus’s real views. Rather, he is shilling for the administration. “I got the impression from Gen. Petraeus that he wasn’t waiting” until September to reassess the Iraq policy. “Now he might be overruled by people in the White House and, you know, wait until September. But he seemed very eager to come forward as quickly as possible with a new direction and policy.” Watch it:

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The Bush administration has consistently used Petraeus as a “political prop,” as Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) has noted. Bush has mentioned Petraeus “at least 150 times this year in his speeches, interviews and news conferences.” In May, the White House used Petraeus as a PR flack to promote its war czar.

Today the Washington Post notes that some members of the military are worried that “the general is being set up by the Bush administration as a scapegoat if conditions in Iraq fail to improve. ‘The danger is that Petraeus will now be painted as failing to live up to expectations and become the fall guy for the administration,’ one retired four-star officer said.”

Transcript: (more…)

Is Vitter ‘morally unfit to govern’?

Mon, 2007-07-16 15:44

At a press conference this afternoon, Sen. David Vitter broke his silence and spoke for the first time since he acknowledged being on the D.C. madam’s list. A remorseless Vitter attacked his “long time political enemies and those hoping to profit from the situation.” Vitter said he would not answer questions on the issue, claiming that “might sell newspapers but wouldn’t serve my family or my constituents well.” Watch it:

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In Oct. 1998, Vitter attacked President Clinton, arguing the proper question was not whether people cared but rather whether Clinton was “morally unfit to govern.”

Some current polls may suggest that people are turned off by the whole Clinton mess and don’t care — because the stock market is good, the Clinton spin machine is even better or other reasons. But that doesn’t answer the question of whether President Clinton should be impeached and removed from office because he is morally unfit to govern. [Times-Picayune, 10/29/98]

DoJ blocks voting section chief from testifying.

Mon, 2007-07-16 15:43

The House Judiciary Committee’s scheduled hearing tomorrow on the Civil Rights Division’s voting rights section has been canceled because “the Justice Department has refused to allow the chief of the section, John Tanner, to testify.” As TPMmuckraker notes, “Tanner worked hand in hand with political appointees Bradley Schlozman and Hans von Spakovsky to ensure the passage of voter identification laws in Georgia and elsewhere — sometimes overruling the recommendations of staff analysts and attorneys, who found that the laws might discriminate against African American voters.”

Pentagon reaches out to conservative bloggers.

Mon, 2007-07-16 14:46

Stocked full of “administration cronies,” the Pentagon’s public affairs division under assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Dorrance Smith, has set up a rapid-response project that “seeks to bypass the traditional media and work directly with talk radio and bloggers, mostly those with a heavily conservative tilt.” Once known as the “Surrogates Operation,” the project also “provides talking points and briefings to retired military officials who now support the administration in appearances as media pundits.”

Korb: Iraq Study Group Recommendations Are ‘Weak,’ Not A ‘Serious Change Of Policy’

Mon, 2007-07-16 13:40

The New York Times reports today that “a growing number of senators from both parties are making a new push to adopt the [Iraq Study Group’s] recommendations into law.” The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt claims in today’s column that “everyone agrees” on the Baker-Hamilton approach.

The middle-ground proposal, introduced by Sens. Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), has been touted as a “compromise” between the President’s stay-course-strategy and a phased redeployment.

But as Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb, who formerly served as a Pentagon official in the Reagan administration, explains in today’s NY Daily News, the Baker-Hamilton recommendations “are now far too weak a prescription for the dire situation that faces us on the ground in Iraq”:

A cursory reading of the report might give one the impression that adopting its recommendations would result in a serious change of policy. After all, it calls for transitioning U.S. forces away from combat missions, accelerating the training of Iraqi forces and focusing more on regional diplomacy.

But look closer. While the Iraq Study Group does call for withdrawing some American troops in the spring of 2008, it conditions that withdrawal on the Iraqi government accomplishing a host of objectives.

But those are the very same benchmarks Bush is already using to measure our progress and using as a condition of withdrawal. The initial assessment report the White House released late last week makes clear that none of these benchmarks has been fully met, and on only half of these have the Iraqis made any progress.

Inexplicably, Salazar has argued that the Baker-Hamilton measure is the “right thing” because “there are people on both sides who don’t like it.”

As Korb explains though, the so-called “compromise” offered by Salazar and Alexander is toothless and does not constitute the true departure from the President’s failed policies that is needed. Instead, Congress should embrace the Levin-Reed amendment and start to “strategically reset” our presence in the Middle East.

Ryan Powers

‘No End In Sight’ for Iraq.

Mon, 2007-07-16 13:32

If you live in California, watch a free screening of No End In Sight, the first film of its kind to chronicle how the U.S. recklessly allowed Iraq to descend into chaos and civil war. RSVP today if you are in San Francisco on July 19 or Los Angeles on July 24. Watch the trailer HERE.

Army’s ‘middle ranks are dwindling.’

Mon, 2007-07-16 13:20

While the Army boasts that it is exceeding retention rates, it is actually “losing more front-line sergeants and other noncommissioned officers than it can afford to.” The retention rate for soldiers who have served between six and eight years is below the mark, meaning that the military is losing “the leaders it believes it needs to press two wars and train its expanding force.”

Fox Guest Smokes On-Air, Says Taxing Tobacco To Fund Children’s Health Is Like Racial Discrimination

Mon, 2007-07-16 12:30

This Saturday, Fox News’s Cashin’ In did a segment asking whether a bipartisan Senate plan to raise taxes on tobacco products to fund an expansion of the successful Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is “moral.”

Fox News contributor Jonathan Hoenig called the proposal “discrimination,” analogizing it to “all blacks” or “all Christians” having “to pay a surcharge for kids health care.” He also argued that smoking “harms nobody but the smoker,” proceeding to light up a cigarette on-air to prove his point. Watch it:

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The majority of Americans support taxing cigarettes to finance children’s health care. The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids reports that “67 percent favor” a 75-cent per pack federal cigarette tax increase ” while only 28 percent oppose it.” Additionally, as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has pointed out, tobacco taxes were used to fund the program when it began a decade ago.

Tobacco taxes have the added benefit of discouraging smoking, which does, despite Hoenig’s rhetoric, harm more than just the smoker. According to the American Association for Respiratory Care, with every 10 percent rise in the cigarette tax, “youth smoking drops by seven percent…and overall cigarette consumption declines by about four percent.”

SCHIP currently insures close to 6 million children and is considered “to be the main explanation” for why “the number of uninsured children has dropped from about 10 million to about 7 million from 1997 to 2006. The current proposal would expand “current levels of spending by $35 billion over the next five years” and “reduce the number of uninsured children by 4.1 million.” Unfortunately, President Bush has promised to veto the Senate legislation, which is being opposed heavily by the tobacco industry.

(HT: News Hounds)

Igor Volsky

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Transcript: (more…)

BREAKING: Reid To Force All-Night Filibuster On Iraq Withdrawal

Mon, 2007-07-16 11:40

Moments ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that in response to conservative obstructionism, he plans to force war supporters to physically remain in the Senate and filibuster Iraq withdrawal legislation.

Reid accused conservatives of “protecting the President rather than protecting our troops” by “denying us an up or down vote on the most important issue our country faces.” He said that if a vote on the Reed/Levin Iraq legislation is not allowed today or tomorrow, he will keep the Senate in session “straight through the night on Tuesday” and force a filibuster. From Reid’s speech:

Republicans are using a filibuster to block us from even voting on an amendment that could bring the war to a responsible end. They are protecting the President rather than protecting our troops.

They are denying us an up or down — yes or no — vote on the most important issue our country faces.

I would like to inform the Republican leadership and all my colleagues that we have no intention of backing down.

If Republicans do not allow a vote on Levin/Reed today or tomorrow, we will work straight through the night on Tuesday.

The American people deserve an open and honest debate on this war, and they deserve an up or down vote on this amendment to end it.

UPDATE: Watch the video:

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OpenLeft, Firedoglake and others have also called for Congress to call the conservatives’ bluff and force them to filibuster the Levin-Reed Iraq bill.

Read Reid’s full speech HERE. Bob Geiger has more.

Joint Chiefs weigh ‘bigger troop buildup.’

Mon, 2007-07-16 11:34

Gen. Peter Pace said today that the Joint Chiefs of Staff is weighing a range of possible new troop-level scenarios for Iraq before September, “including, if President Bush deems it necessary, an even bigger troop buildup.” “That way, if we need to plus up or come down” in numbers of troops in Iraq, then military services will be in position to carry out whatever policy Bush chooses, said Pace.

Voinovich: Bush Has ‘F—ed’ Up The War, Needs To Start Thinking About His Legacy

Mon, 2007-07-16 10:47

Last week, in a conversation with senior White House political aide Karl Rove, Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) warned that conservative support is quickly eroding for the war, and to stem the tide, Bush must institute a plan that begins the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Voinovich told Rove, “The president is a young man and should think about his legacy.” CNN reports:

Voinovich added that other Republicans are close to speaking out against the President’s current strategy. “I won’t mention anyone’s name. But I have every reason to believe that the fur is going to start to fly, perhaps sooner than what they may have wanted.”

In private, Voinovich is more blunt, using a profanity to describe the White House’s handling of Iraq by charging the administration “f–ed up” the war. […]

A White House spokeswoman confirmed to CNN that Rove, who speaks with Voinovich frequently, had the phone conversation with the senator last week and they did discuss the President’s legacy. But the spokeswoman declined to provide further details, citing Rove’s desire to keep phone conversations with senators private.

Watch CNN’s report:

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According to CNN’s Ed Henry, Voinovich is privately warning the White House that “if there’s not a dramatic new strategy [by September], he will endorse a Democratic plan mandating a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops.”

Voinovich had an opportunity last week to put his tough talk into action, but failed to do so. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced an amendment to provide more rest to members of the Armed Forces deployed overseas. Voinovich voted against that measure.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent labels Voinovich part of the “WINO caucus” — Waverers In Name Only.

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Rumsfeld ‘invited’ to testify about Pat Tillman.

Mon, 2007-07-16 10:28

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announced today they will hold a hearing on August 1, 2007, looking into “what the leadership of the Defense Department knew” about the friendly fire death of U.S. Army Corporal Patrick Tillman in Afghanistan. Invited to testify: former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Sen. Stevens’s popularity near ‘all-time low.’

Mon, 2007-07-16 10:07

Under 45 percent of Anchorage voters have a “positive view” of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), who is currently embroiled in an FBI corruption investigation. The ratings in the new poll are a “significant change” for Stevens, whose “positive rating between September 2005 and April 2007 ranged between 58 percent and 63 percent.”