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ThinkFast: November 27, 2007

Tue, 2007-11-27 07:04

While President Bush is attending a Mideast conference in Annapolis this morning, “he won’t remain there for long.” He “plans to head back to the White House after delivering his opening speech to the diplomats and dignitaries at the U.S. Naval Academy.” White House aides said he wasn’t planning to offer new American proposals to resolve the conflict.

The WSJ’s Bret Stephens recalls, when the House Speaker visited Syrian President Bashar Assad back in April, “President Bush denounced her for sending ‘mixed signals’ that ‘lead the Assad government to believe they are part of the mainstream of the international community, when in fact they are a state sponsor of terror.’” Today, Assad will sit with Condoleezza Rice.

At least 1.4 million homeowners will lose their properties to foreclosure in 2008 while “the property value of U.S. homes will fall by $1.2 trillion,” says a new report by the the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Council for the New American City. The report predicts “deep economic impact from ongoing housing market problems.”

In an attempt to put to rest concerns over his ignorance about FISA reform legislation, Time magazine columnist Joe Klein writes, “I have neither the time nor legal background to figure out who’s right.” Glenn Greenwald responds by noting “the extreme lack of professionalism and corruption required” for Klein to say he “isn’t interested in bothering to find out (and isn’t even capable of determining) if anything he wrote was accurate.”

USA Today’s DeWayne Wikham writes, “While there is still little evidence to suggest that Bush was knowingly involved in this coverup [of the Plame outing], the evidence against Cheney is piling up. … This trail of lies and deception has put Cheney on the same path that led to Nixon’s impeachment.” (more…)

White House’s new benchmark: ‘enduring’ presence.

Mon, 2007-11-26 19:09

The New York Times recently reported that the Bush administration has “scaled back” its benchmarks for political progress in Iraq, instead “focusing their immediate efforts on several more limited but achievable goals.” Today, the administration announced one of its goals: an endless, unqualified, “enduring” presence in Iraq. Spencer Ackerman reports that the White House and the Maliki government released a joint declaration of “principles” for “friendship and cooperation.” The key principle:

Iraq’s leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America, and we seek an enduring relationship with a democratic Iraq. We are ready to build that relationship in a sustainable way that protects our mutual interests, promotes regional stability, and requires fewer Coalition forces.

The White House’s embrace of a permanent presence contradicts their long record of declarations against permanent bases. White House war czar Gen. Doug Lute said the new long-term occupation plan won’t require Congress’ approval.

Hastert’s resignation effective 10:59 PM CST today.

Mon, 2007-11-26 17:42

After announcing his resignation on Nov. 15, Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) today formally handed in his letter of resignation, which goes into effect at 10:59 PM CST tonight. A special election will be held to fill his position on Feb. 5. See the full letter HERE.

Probe finds fake DHS press briefing in 2006.

Mon, 2007-11-26 16:34

Late last month, FEMA came under intense criticism for staging a fake news conference on the California wildfires at which agency staffers posed as journalists and asked softball questions. But as AP reports today, this “was not the first time a Homeland Security public affairs official has acted like a reporter by asking questions during a briefing”:

In January 2006, an official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement asked a question during a news conference in San Antonio, Texas, according to an investigation by the Homeland Security Department — the parent agency of both FEMA and ICE.

The ICE public affairs official was standing with about 12 reporters but did not identify herself when she posed the question, Homeland Security’s head of public affairs, J. Edward Fox, wrote in a Nov. 19 letter to the chairman of the House Homeland Security committee. The government employee was verbally reprimanded for asking the question after the news conference, Fox told Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

Fox has assured Thompson that “reforms to FEMA’s external affairs are already under way.”

Barbour’s Proposed Special Election To Replace Lott May Violate Election Law

Mon, 2007-11-26 15:33

Earlier today, Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-MS) announced that he “will be retiring from the Senate by the end of the year.” Soon after the announcement, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) put out a statement declaring that “pursuant to Mississippi law,” he would “call a Special Election for United States Senator to be held on November 4, 2008″:

Pursuant to Mississippi law, specifically § 23-15-855 (1), of the Mississippi Code, once the resignation takes effect, I will call a Special Election for United States Senator to be held on November 4, 2008, being the regular general election day for the 2008 congressional elections.

If Lott does indeed retire by the end of 2007, as he says he wishes to do, Barbour’s proposed timing for the election might run afoul of state election law. According to the Mississippi secretary of state’s office, Barbour would have to hold the election before Nov. 2008:

While Lott sneaks in under the wire for the extended ban on lobbying Congress by retiring this year, the secretary of state’s office said Monday that state law appears to require a special election within 90 days if he does so.

Conversely, if Lott were to wait and retire in 2008, the law allows for the special election to be held the same day as the general. Of course, he would then be subject to the new two-year ban on lobbying his former colleagues, instead of the current one-year ban.

Because 2007 was a statewide election year, it “could affect how the language of the law is interpreted.” The secretary of state’s office is “checking that law to make sure the 90-day window still applies,” according to spokesman Kell Smith.

Barbour’s office, however, appears to not be concerned about the potential legal brouhaha, saying simply that the governor’s statement “speaks for itself.”

It is speculated that Lott is retiring now so that he can avoid tougher restrictions on former members of Congress’ lobbying activities, but if Lott leaves before 2007 and forces an earlier special election, he may threaten his party’s continued control of his seat:

An earlier special election would likely produce smaller turnout, which would probably benefit Democrats in an overwhelmingly GOP state with a concurrent presidential election.

Lott faces a tough decision: Sacrifice a year of cashing in on his Senate seat or potentially sacrifice his seat to his political opponents.

Gore’s meeting with Bush was ‘very cordial.’

Mon, 2007-11-26 14:49

After his Oval Office meeting with President Bush, Al Gore described their exchange as “very cordial” and “substantive,” confirming that they had spoken about global warming. The Swamp’s Mark Silva reports:

In his private Oval Office meeting with President Bush, the former vice president insisted that they had spoken about global warming “the whole time.” It wasn’t clear if the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who shared the honor for his work on climtate change, was serious. […]

But Gore, calling the meeting with Bush “very cordial” and “substantive,” declined to elaborate on their meeting. “I’m not going to do an interview here,” Gore said in his walk down the streets outside the White House. “I don’t want to comment more.”

UPDATE: The AP adds:

The two men stood next to other, sharing uncomfortable grins for photographers and reporters, who were quickly ushered in and out.

“Familiar faces,” the former vice president said of the media. Bush, still smiling, added nothing.

Cheney diagnosed with irregular heartbeat.

Mon, 2007-11-26 14:16

While examining him recently for “a lingering cough from a cold,” doctors discovered that Vice President Dick Cheney was “found to have an irregular heartbeat, which on further testing was determined to be atrial fibrillation, an abnormal rhythm involving the upper chambers of the heart.” Cheney, who has a history of heart problems, will be evaluated at George Washington University Hospital.

FLASHBACK: As Halliburton CEO, Cheney Evaded U.S. Law To Do Business With Iran

Mon, 2007-11-26 13:44

In an interview with Fortune Magazine’s Nina Easton, Dick Cheney conceded that as Halliburton CEO he opposed unilateral sanctions on Iran, even though he now strongly supports them. Cheney explained that as a private sector official, he didn’t have any responsibility to be concerned about the impact of his company’s dealings with Iran:

Q: You opposed unilateral sanctions on Iran when you were CEO of Halliburton.



That’s a whole set of considerations that a CEO doesn’t have to worry about, that a private company doesn’t have to worry about. But the President of the United States does.

What Cheney conveniently neglects to mention is that Halliburton evaded U.S. law in order to deal with Iran. The International Emergency Economic Powers Act authorizes the president to block transactions and freeze assets to deal with rogue nations. In 1995, President Clinton signed an executive order barring U.S. investment in Iran’s energy sector. To evade U.S. law, Halliburton set up an offshore subsidiary that engaged in dealings with Iran.

In 1996, Cheney blasted the Clinton administration for being “sanction-happy as a government.” “The problem is that the good Lord didn’t see fit to always put oil and gas resources where there are democratic governments,” Cheney explained of his desire to do business with Iran.

ABC’s Sam Donaldson confronted Cheney about this in 2000, only to hear Cheney obfuscate about his dealings with Iran:

DONALDSON: I’m told, and correct me if I’m wrong, that Halliburton through subsidiary companies was actually trying to do business with Iraq.

CHENEY: No. No, I had a firm policy that we wouldn’t do anything in Iraq, even arrangements that were supposedly legal. What we do with respect to Iran and Libya is done through foreign subsidiaries totally in compliance with U.S. law.

DONALDSON: Make a way around U.S. law?

CHENEY: No, no, it’s provided for us specifically with respect to Iran and Libya. Iraq’s different, but we’ve not done any business in Iraq since the sanctions were imposed, and I had a standing policy that I wouldn’t do that.

Cheney’s evasion of U.S. law to deal with Iran has been well-documented. As the Bush administration now presses for tougher sanctions against Iran, Cheney should concede that Halliburton violated the spirit of the law and encourage other U.S. companies not to follow his lead.

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CREW seeks Condi’s email policy.

Mon, 2007-11-26 12:43

Responding to a July interview on CNBC in which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she doesn’t have a blackberry because “they don’t let me play with almost anything technological now,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request “seeking documents stating the Department of State’s policies governing the Secretary of State’s methods of communicating via e-mail with audiences both internal and external to the U.S. government.”

Cheney on predatory lending: ‘the markets are working.’

Mon, 2007-11-26 12:00

In a new interview with Fortune magazine, Vice President Cheney says that the government shouldn’t intervene to curb predatory lending practices because it would interfere with the “working of the markets“:

“The fact is, the markets work, and they are working,” said Cheney in an interview in his White House office. “And people - some of the big companies obviously - have taken risks. Risk means risk. And there’s an upside as well as a downside in some of the choices they’ve made. We have to be careful not to have this set of developments lead us to significantly expand the role of government in ways that may do damage long-term for the economy.”

The same goes for Democratic efforts to curb the predatory lending practices that left naive homeowners in trouble, says Cheney: “We don’t want to interfere with the basic, fundamental working of the markets.”

A few nights before the interview, “Cheney had dinner with [Alan] Greenspan at the home of friend, mentor, and deposed Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.”

Bush bristles at diplomacy.

Mon, 2007-11-26 11:24

The New York Times reports that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has an “unusually tight bond” with President Bush, which she has used to “gain control over the national security process.” But Bush hasn’t always been receptive to her suggestions of increased international diplomacy:

In recent months, Ms. Rice has gone so often to Mr. Bush to push him on diplomacy with Iran and North Korea that he has started to needle her that she expects him to talk to people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the radical Islamist who is president of Iran, or Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader whom Mr. Bush has said he loathes.

“You want me to sit down with Ahmadinejad?” a White House official recalled that Mr. Bush had archly asked Ms. Rice. “Kim Jong-il? Is he next?”

Steve Benen and Jason Zengerle have more.

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Lott: Lobby ban ‘didn’t play in big role’ in decision.

Mon, 2007-11-26 11:00

In a press conference this afternoon in Mississippi, Sen. Trent Lott said that the looming ethics restrictions “didn’t have a big role” in his decision to retire. He added that he has spoken with former Senate colleagues who tell him “a lot of what you do anyways is involved with consulting rather than direct lobbying.” Lott said he has no opportunities lined up at this time, but he floated the idea of perhaps returning to work for a Mississippi law firm. Watch it:

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Lott Resigns To Enter ‘Lucrative’ World Of Lobbying That He Worked In The Senate To Protect

Mon, 2007-11-26 10:11

Earlier today, news broke that Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-MS) intends “to resign his seat before the end of the year.” Lott will explain his plans in two news conferences in his home state of Mississippi later today.

Though the reasons for Lott’s resignation are still unknown, a “congressional official” told the AP that “there is nothing amiss with Lott’s health” and that “the senator has ‘other opportunities‘ he plans to pursue.” NBC News reports that Lott’s “other opportunities” involve joining the “lucrative world of lobbying Congress” before “tougher restrictions in a new lobbying law” take effect:

While the exactly reason Lott is stepping down before he finishes his term is unknown, the general speculation is that a quick departure immunizes Lott against tougher restrictions in a new lobbying law that takes effect at the end of the year. That law would require Senators to wait two-years before entering the lucrative world of lobbying Congress.

“A Lott friend” confirmed to the Politico that the new lobbying law is “a factor in the timing” of his resignation.

Lott, whose son is a lobbyist, was part of a small bloc of conservatives who voted against the ethics reform bill in August that included the two-year revolving door ban. His vote reflected his longtime position as an opponent of lobbying reform. Here are a few more examples of Lott’s defense of his potential, soon-to-be job:

- In Jan. 2006, Lott praised “the practice of secretly inserting special projects into spending bills at the behest of lobbyists,” calling it “an effective way for Congress to address a problem or need back home.”

- In Feb. 2006, Lott derided the effort to fix lobbying loopholes after the Jack Abramoff scandal as “the usual over reaction that we see happen quite often in Washington.”

- In March 2006, Lott voted against establishing a Senate Office of Public Integrity.

- In March 2006, when Congress sought to ban free meals from lobbyists, Lott defended the free meals, saying a ban would imply “that we can be had for the price of a lunch or dinner.”

Lott’s defense of lobbyists should come as no surprise considering how well they treated him while in office. Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported that Lott topped “the list of current lawmakers who have most frequently been jetted around the country aboard the luxurious private jets of Corporate America.”

Now, with tougher restrictions looming, Lott appears likely to pass through the revolving door to take the type of “lucrative” lobbying job that he fought so hard in the Senate to protect.

UPDATE: In a press conference today, Lott denied that the upcoming ban played “a big role” in his decision.

Perino: Bush wouldn’t lie to McClellan.

Mon, 2007-11-26 10:07

“Today at the off-camera briefing, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said she has discussed Scott McClellan’s forthcoming book with the president, and Perino said President Bush ‘has not and would not knowingly pass false information.’”

Despite Promises To ‘End Earmarks,’ Giuliani’s Law Firm Sought Millions In Pork For Clients

Mon, 2007-11-26 09:09

Former New York City mayor and GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has repeatedly touted fiscal discipline as one of his “12 Commitments to the American People.” At the top of that commitment is slashing federal earmarks, which he has stated “waste taxpayer dollars within the Federal budget.” In June, Giuliani appeared on Fox News and promised to eliminate them:

HANNITY: All right. Third, “I will restore fiscal discipline, cut wasteful spending in Washington.” Can you end earmarks? Can you end…

GIULIANI: Oh, you have to end earmarks. I mean, the idea of anonymous spending of billions and billions and hundreds of billions of dollars is totally undemocratic and creates total unaccountability. You have to end earmarks.

But Giuliani’s own law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, has contributed to this explosion of spending. Bloomberg News reports:

In all, Bracewell & Giuliani sought federal earmarks for 14 companies this year, 11 of which hired the firm after Giuliani joined in March 2005, Senate records show. Giuliani, 63, isn’t registered as a lobbyist. The firm paid him $1.2 million last year, according to his personal financial-disclosure form.

The earmarks include $1 million for Buffalo, New York-based Calspan Corp. for a program to help military pilots control their aircraft; $1.2 million for Charlotte, North Carolina-based United Protective Technologies LLC, for developing protective treatments for helicopter windshields; and $800,000 for Burlingame, California-based AtHoc Inc., for an Air Force emergency-notification system.

Giuliani has also repeatedly attacked the current Democratic-led Congress for worsening the problem. At an Aug. 7, 2007 town hall meeting at Bettendorf High School in Iowa, Giuliani claimed, “Well, the Democrats have been in power now for eight months. Not only have they not done away with earmarks, they’ve increased them.”

Earmarking by the 110th Congress has significantly declined from levels during the previous conservative-led Congresses. An analysis by Citizens Against Government Waste estimates that earmarks in FY08 appropriations bills are “down about 33 percent from the $29 billion in earmarks in FY06 spending bills.”

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White House ‘downplays Gore visit.’

Mon, 2007-11-26 08:45

President Bush will today host the 2007 Nobel Laureates and will meet personally with Al Gore in the Oval Office “before a photo opportunity with the other Nobel winners.” But USA Today’s David Jackson writes that the White House is “playing down expectations” for the Gore meeting, as well as for Bush’s other meetings with the prime minister of Israel and the president of the Palestinian Authority.

UPDATE: Bush and Gore will meet privately in the Oval Office for what the White House concedes is a “photo opportunity.”

Save Tucker?

Mon, 2007-11-26 08:09

“Rumors have been flying recently that Tucker Carlson could soon be on the way out at MSNBC.” Tucker’s show is “in real danger of being canceled,” according to an NBC official, but the right won’t let him go down without a fight. TVNewswer reports that a few of Tucker’s die-hard fans have launched a petition drive to “save Tucker.” The group’s webpage states, “This decision by MSNBC will silence a conservative voice, part of a move by MSNBC to swing left and become ‘FOX for the Liberals,’ dropping any pretense of objectivity or balance.”

Tucker recently signed off his MSNBC show with this comment: “That does it for us. Thank you for watching, as always. We mean that sincerely to all eight of you.” MSNBC management was reportedly “infuriated” at Tucker’s flippant sign-off. Contact MSNBC here and tell them what you think of Tucker’s show.

ThinkFast: November 26, 2007

Mon, 2007-11-26 07:03

Seven years into President Bush’s term, the administration is today hosting a Middle East conference. Bush has never visited Israel as president, and has made just four visits to the region — three times to Iraq. In contrast, President Clinton “traveled to the Middle East seven times, all but one visit focused on the peace process in one form or another.”

Leading military officials say they hope that “the next major assessment [of the Iraq war] early next year would not place as much emphasis on the views of Gen. David H. Petraeus,” in an attempt to avoid “relentless focus on the opinion of a single commander.”

“Under intense pressure to show results after months of political stalemate,” the Iraqi government is publicizing “figures that exaggerate the movement” of displaced Iraqis back to Baghdad. One way the numbers are inflated is by counting “all Iraqis crossing the border, not just returnees.”

Former Treasury secretary Larry Summers today warns in a Financial Times op-ed that even if “necessary changes in policy are implemented, the odds now favour a US recession that slows growth significantly on a global basis.” There is also the potential that “adverse impacts will be felt for the rest of this decade and beyond.”

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and others “are working on legislation that would direct federal judges to review the president’s state secrets claims,” instead of just accepting them outright and “dismissing cases on the government’s word.” (more…)

Breaking: Trent Lott To Resign Before End Of The Year

Mon, 2007-11-26 05:51

Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) is reportedly informing close allies that he plans to resign his Senate seat before the end of the year. NBC reports, “It’s possible a formal announcement of his plans could take place as early as today.” Politico adds, “If he resigns, Lott would become the sixth Republican senator to announce they were stepping down this election cycle.”

UPDATE: Lott was forced from his Senate Majority Leader seat in disgrace in late 2002 after hailing the segregationist platform of former Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC). Speaking at a 100th birthday party celebration for Thurmond, Lott said, “I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.” He regained a leadership post after the 2006 midterm elections.

UPDATE II: Lott has “scheduled two news conferences in his home state later in the day.” AP reports, “No reason for Lott’s resignation was given, but according to a congressional official, there is nothing amiss with Lott’s health. The senator has ‘other opportunities’ he plans to pursue, the official said, without elaborating.”

UPDATE III: Lott’s term expires in 2012, therefore a resignation would trigger a special election for a replacement to serve the remainder of his term.

UPDATE IV: “While the exact reason Lott is stepping down before he finishes his term is unknown, the general speculation is that a quick departure immunizes Lott against tougher restrictions in a new lobbying law that takes effect at the end of the year. That law would require Senators to wait two-years before entering the lucrative world of lobbying Congress.”

UPDATE V: Politico reports that Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) plans to run for Senate Minority Whip.

UPDATE VI:Speculation on who Barbour might pick includes Rep. Charles W. “Chip” Pickering Jr. (R-MS) and Rep. Roger Wicker (R-MS). For Democrats, former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore (D) is the most prominent Democrat mentioned as a possible candidate for the seat in 2008.”

Natural disasters quadrupled in past two decades.

Sun, 2007-11-25 20:42

“More than four times the number of natural disasters are occurring now than did two decades ago,” said Oxfam today, largely blaming global warming for the increase in severe weather:

The world suffered about 120 natural disasters per year in the early 1980s, which compared with the current figure of about 500 per year, according to the report. […]

The number of people affected by extreme natural disasters, meanwhile, has surged by almost 70 percent, from 174 million a year between 1985 to 1994, to 254 million people a year between 1995 to 2004, Oxfam said.

Floods and wind-storms have increased from 60 events in 1980 to 240 last year, with flooding itself up six-fold.

“This is no freak year. It follows a pattern of more frequent, more erratic, more unpredictable and more extreme weather events that are affecting more people,” added Oxfam director Barbara Stocking.