Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pelosi Endorses Potential Criminal Investigations

Rachel Maddow sat down with Nancy Pelosi the other night for a comprehensive interview:

A few items of note, specifically on the sections of the interview that focus around investigating potential criminal actions by the Bush Administration:

1. Pelosi endorses the idea of Senator Leahy's proposed "Truth Commission" to investigate past actions by the Bush Administration, but is concerned about any proposed immunity for officials that agree to testify.

- I fully agree with Pelosi on this point. Exchanging immunity for testimony, while potentially helpful in bringing out elements of the truth, would impede any meaningful attempt at holding those who broke the law accountable. The goal needs to be more than simply a "truth commission", but a serious attempt to investigate the lawbreaking of the past eight years.

2. If the Inspector General report comes back with the indication that there was criminal wrong-doing, Pelosi would support moving forward with additional action against former Bush Administration officials.

- It is reassuring to hear the Speaker of the House come out and directly state that she would support these actions. While President Obama still remains non-committal on this issue, stating that while no one is above the law he prefers to look forward, members of Congress will need to lay the groundwork and keep the pressure on Obama to move forward with these investigations.

3. Maddow does a fantastic job of following up this line of questioning with confronting Pelosi with the fact that she, and other Democrats, had been briefed on these torture programs in 2001 and 2002. Maddow asks Pelosi if it is problematic that she did not raise these concerns over torture publicly after she was briefed. Pelosi then claims that she (and others) were never made aware that the government was actually using these so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques".

Maddow continues to (rightly) push Pelosi on this point because Pelosi's presence in meetings that discussed these techniques could indicate that she and other Democrats not only knew of these programs but were complicit in approving torture. Maddow asks Pelosi if the Administration gave the inference that they believed that waterboarding was now legal. Pelosi says that they may have given that inference, but that she never knew it had been implemented.

This admission is potentially problematic. If Pelosi and others knew that the Administration viewed techniques like waterboarding as legal, what would stop them from using such techniques. Just because the Bush Administration didn't come out and tell Pelosi that they were torturing doesn't mean that it is a surprise that they did. After all, if they told Pelosi and other Democrats that they believed these actions to be legal, why would they not use them? Pelosi is adamant that she couldn't talk about anything that was disclosed in the meetings and therefore could not publicly object to these policies.

Pelosi's statements are difficult to verify at this point considering so much is still secret and I still have my doubts that Democrats were completely in the dark as to what was going on. The new information that this interview does bring out, is that Pelosi is willing to endorse investigations into criminal wrong-doing by the Bush Administration and does not believe that anything that she and/or other Democrats knew, will get in the way of these investigations.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Continued Need for Expanded Racial Discourse

Since the election of Barack Obama into this nation's highest office, there has been widespread praise for how far the United States of America has come in regard to race relations. After all, not even half a century ago, our black brothers and sisters were fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds in order to achieve equality. It still pains us to watch the old footage of black members of society being beaten, attacked by police dogs, and sprayed with fire hoses. These images, along with the images of peaceful protests singing "We Shall Overcome" cannot help but remind us not only of how far we have come, but of the power of a determined people to create social change.

While a black man ascending into the office of President indicates measured progress for race relations, it does not automatically mean that issues of race and racism are no longer relevant or worth discussing. Isolated incidents of achievement are not always indicative of widespread societal progress. One only needs to turn back the clock a mere three and a half years and remember the scenes that played out in New Orleans duirng Hurricane Katrina for a reminder of why race issues should continue to be discussed in the twenty-first century.

Attorney General Eric Holder recently gave a speech in honor of Black History Month and used the opportunity to encourage people to have an open dialogue about race. Holder said that we are "essentially a nation of cowards" in our collective failure of engaging in meaningful discussions on race related issues. Holder continued:

Our history has demonstrated that the vast majority of Americans are uncomfortable with, and would like to not have to deal with, racial matters and that is why those, black or white, elected or self-appointed, who promise relief in easy, quick solutions, no matter how divisive, are embraced. We are then free to retreat to our race protected cocoons where much is comfortable and where progress is not really made. If we allow this attitude to persist in the face of the most significant demographic changes that this nation has ever confronted-and remember, there will be no majority race in America in about fifty years-the coming diversity that could be such a powerful, positive force will, instead, become a reason for stagnation and polarization.

With President Obama now in office we see people retreating into their "race protected cocoons". Racial disparity and racial inequality have not just magically disappeared, but rather it is the chance for meaningful discourse which has fallen into old patterns and continues to fade into the background. What a fantastic opportunity this country currently has to speak to each other about issues of race now that we have witnessed the election of our first black President. What follows should not be the assumption that all has been overcome, but rather a dialogue on how we can continue to move forward. Communication and emerging from our protected cocoons is the only way that we can effectively continue this all important progression on these issues.

Recently, the much publicized editorial cartoon printed by The New York Post, touched off a firestorm of criticism. The cartoon (linked to above) shows two white police officers standing over a bullet-ridden and bloodied chimp with their guns smoking. One officer is saying to the other: "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill". Rev. Al Sharpton was quick to criticize the cartoon as racist for the implication that the dead chimpanzee could be interpreted to be President Obama. The Post initially issued a statement defending the cartoon and attacking "those in the media and in public life who have had differences with the Post in the past". "To them," the statement read, "no apology is due." This led to continued demonstrations outside the Post's offices and concluded with an apology from Rupert Murdoch, CEO of NewsCorp.

This incident got a lot of sensational coverage in the media and set off debates between pundits who argued whether or not the cartoon was racist. Whether the chimpanzee was initially intended to represent Obama is not necessarily the central issue. A more productive discussion would have stretched beyond the surface and could have examined the history of likening African-Americans to monkeys and chimpanzees. Now, with Murdoch's apology and the sensational aspect of this story fading, we will once again shelve the discussion of this issue until the next controversy erupts. This pattern, one we have seen for years on the issue of race, is not a recipe for progress, but like Eric Holder says, a reason for stagnation.

While the recent controversy over the Post's editorial cartoon shows us an example of the continued failure of discussing race in a meaningful way, there are still some who feel that it is appropriate to engage in behavior that directly works against progress. Jim Schifrin is the publisher of The Whistleblower (an internet based alternative "news" source for Cincinnati) and has come under fire recently for blatantly racist language and images as well as assassination jokes that he has posted. As you can read in other stories posted at The Cincinnati Beacon, many area politicians have repudiated this racist language.

In the January 17th edition of The Whistleblower Schifrin made mention of sharing Obama jokes with Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters:

Q: What do Abe Lincoln, JFK, Martin Luther King Jr. and Obama have in common? A: Nothing, yet!

Q: What's the difference between Sarah Palin naked and Michelle Obama naked?
A: Playboy and National Geographic!

BREAKING NEWS: “Hail to the Chief” is being replaced with the theme song from "The Jefferson's"!

Finally, everybody—just relax. When was the last time you saw an black guy keep
a job for four years?

In the February 20th edition of The Whistleblower Schifrin has Obama's face pasted over the face of a monkey and also published this result of a "limerick competition":

The best part of dead Presidents' Day
Is that at some point this one will also be that way.
I don't wish him bad luck
(Though I really don't give a good ... uh ... "darn")
Just call me a nasty old Republican ofay!

and in the February 21st edition of The Whistleblower, Schifrin posted a photo that likens Michelle Obama to a monkey. It is racist actions like these that run directly contrary to the kind of progress that Eric Holder talks about in his speech. There is nothing about the publication of such images and so-called jokes that allow us to have an intelligent and productive conversation about serious race related issues. The fact that there are still Jim Schifrin's of the world out there should indicate not only that racism is still alive and well, but that we need to take every opportunity that we are given to have intellectual discussions that will actual move this country forward instead of backward. After all, as Eric Holder said:

As I indicated before, the artificial device that is Black History month is a perfect vehicle for the beginnings of such a dialogue. And so I urge all of you to use the opportunity of this month to talk with your friends and co-workers on the other side of the divide about racial matters. In this way we can hasten the day when we truly become one America.

Perhaps Jim Schifrin would like to take Eric Holder's challenge and discuss (in interview format) his use of assassination jokes, racist jokes, and likening monkeys to the Obamas. (If he is interested in such an interview, he should let me know.) After all, lobbing racist insults is an easy thing to do, but tackling these issues in a meaningful manner is another matter entirely.

Though we have made great strides with race, it is evident by the examples that I have listed above, that we still have a long way to come. As Eric Holder states in his speech, "to respect one another, we must have a basic understanding of each other" . Communication and dialogue is the only way that we can begin to understand each other and understand the full history of black America. "The history of black America and the history of this nation are inextricably tied to each other", Holder states, and until we start to talk with each other and understand this, we will see more stagnation and less progression.

This article can also be found at:

Gov. Bobby Jindal's Awful Repsonse to Obama's Speech

There has been a good amount of reaction to both President Obama's address to the nation last evening and also the response that was given by Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA). Jindal's response can be viewed below:

I would like to meet whoever it is that thought this type of speech would be a good idea. The delivery is poor, Jindal is talking down to his audience as if they are in grade school, and he merely recycles the same Republican talking points that we have seen articulated for the last few decades. There are some surprising new arguments, like ridiculously using Hurricane Katrina as a positive example of restructuring the schooling system, but the majority of the speech plays the same old tune. From stirring up patriotism ("Americans can do anything") to using the same old "Republicans believe in the people, Democrats believe in the government", to telling stories with an overly simplistic message, it was one of the poorest rebuttals that I have ever seen.

David Brooks says: come up at this moment in history with a stale "government is the problem," "we can't trust the federal government" - it's just a disaster for the Republican Party. The country is in a panic right now. They may not like the way the Democrats have passed the stimulus bill, but that idea that we're just gonna - that government is going to have no role, the federal government has no role in this, that - In a moment when only the federal government is actually big enough to do stuff, to just ignore all that and just say "government is the problem, corruption, earmarks, wasteful spending," it's just a form of nihilism. It's just not where the country is, it's not where the future of the country is. There's an intra-Republican debate. Some people say the Republican Party lost its way because they got too moderate. Some people say they got too weird or too conservative. He thinks they got too moderate, and so he's making that case. I think it's insane, and I just think it's a disaster for the party. I just think it's unfortunate right now.

The fact that the Republicans chose this type of message as a response to President Obama clearly shows the dysfunctional position that they are currently in. It is almost as if they set out to produce a GOP recruitment video, but forgot about (or omitted) everything that has happened over the last few decades.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Gather the Torches...

It's no surprise to hear the continued criticisms of President Obama from the right regarding his being a "socialist". After all, if being a "tax and spend liberal" isn't enough then I guess you could always through the dreaded "socialist" label around to get people riled up. As we saw during the campaign season, this type of language could be expected, but I have seen a recent trend of hyperbole and rhetoric that leaves a different taste in my mouth and I see that Digby and Andrew Sullivan have also picked up on this.

Alan Keyes recently said:

"Obama is a radical communist and I think it is becoming clear. That is what I told people in Illinois and now everybody realizes it is coming true. He is going to destroy this country and we are either going to stop him or the United States of America is going to cease to exist."

This may seem ridiculous at first, but the language of "either we stop Obama or America will not exist" is a little alarming and not isolated to Keyes. Rush Limbaugh recently stated:

RUSH: At this point, at this point, Gretchen, I don't care about the "why." They're not going to leave; they're trying to control it. At this point, the only thing is: They. Must. Be. Stopped.

CALLER: I agree, and what can you do, Rush?

RUSH: Within the confines of our Constitution and the political arena of ideas, they must be stopped. I don't care why they see this country the way they see it. I don't care why a murderer does it. I don't care why a rapist does it. I don't care why this Muslim guy off-ed his wife's head. The NOW gang is out there saying (paraphrased), "Nah, that's not domestic violence. That's just..." What did they call it? "It's a cultural thing, an 'honor killing.' This woman was going to divorce him, and that's against the law. That's his diversity." You know, I don't care. I don't care why anymore. If I figure it out I'll be glad to tell you because it's interesting to know, but it doesn't matter in terms of defeating them.

Limbaugh did mention that Obama should be stopped "within the confines of our Constitution", but if this the type of rhetoric that is being whipped up against Obama only one month into his Presidency, you can only imagine the road that we are headed down over the next four years.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Slow Day for Bronson at the Enquirer?

The Cincinnati Enquirer's Peter Bronson must be having a slow blogging day. His entry today is entitled "A president who never stops running can't stand for anything".

In this entry he criticizes President Obama for traveling to various cities throughout the country instead of staying at his office in Washington D.C. because Bronson somehow thinks that Obama's travels reflect poorly on Obama's management skills:

So when does our new president ever show up at the office? Is he so thrilled with Air Force One that he just can't resist taking it for a spin every day? (How do those chastised auto executives feel about that, as they drive electric cars to D.C. to panhandle for bailouts because they were spanked for using jets?) Or is Obama still hooked on the campaign jones, the adoring crowds, the adulation and cheers, the fainting fans who laugh uproariously if he dents a dimple?

Bronson makes it sound like Obama is on vacation or giving stump speeches instead of visiting some of the areas that have been hit hardest by the economic crisis. Are not Presidents supposed to be in touch with the citizens of the country? I have no problem with a President who wants to visit different areas of the country to get a snapshot of how the economy is taking its toll on hardworking citizens.

Bronson then quotes Tony Blankly's latest piece in the Washington Times which criticizes Obama for apparently not knowing what would happen to the inmates at Guantanamo once he ordered the base closed. This stems from Obama asking his White House council if the executive order had been written in regard to the disposal of the detainees. Bronson uses both of these examples as indication that Obama has no management skills. Nevermind that Obama's order to close Guantanamo within one year includes a period of review so the Administration can decide what they should do with the detainees.

Using these examples to make Obama sound like some dunce who is gallivanting around the country on his jet while unable to grasp issues that need to be addressed for the policies that he is implementing is just a pathetic partisan attempt to make an issue out of no issue at all. A President who is always running can't stand for anything.....what?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Questions on Detainees Loom as al-Marri's Case Nears the Supreme Court

Jane Mayer was on NPR today and on Rachel Maddow's show yesterday discussing her latest piece in The New Yorker. Mayer writes about Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a native of Qatar who entered the United States on September 10, 2001 on a student visa. In December, 2001, al-Marri was arrested as a material witness in the September 11 attacks. Just as his trial was scheduled to begin in June, 2003, President Bush ordered the military to seize al-Marri and transport him to a military brig in South Carolina where he has been held, without charge, ever since.

Al-Marri's case is due to come before the Supreme Court sometime in April will more than likely put a host of questions before the Obama Administration on how they intend to not only handle this case, but other cases in which detainees have been designated "enemy combatants". Other issues that are likely to be addressed are the limits of executive power regarding the President's authority to label individuals enemy combatants and the scope of the so-called battlefield. After all, al-Marri was arrested in Illinois.

Marri recently released a statement saying:

“I am not asking to be taken at my word and to be released, although I very much want to go home to my family. All I am asking for is to be treated like every other person in the United States who is accused of a crime, including terrorism, and to be given a fair trial in an American court.”

Whether this happens remains to be seen, but due to this case rapidly approaching the Supreme Court, these various issues may be forced upon the Obama Administration. Obama has already indicated that his Administration is looking at various options for what to do with the detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay. There are some who believe that Obama may push for the creation of a separate National Security Court that will be separate from criminal trials and will allow for preventive detention for a certain period of time without charge. Others, like former Attorney General John Ashcroft, believe that Obama will handle detainees much like President Bush did. Ashcroft recently said:

“How will he be different? The main difference is going to be that he spells his name ‘O-b-a-m-a,’ not ‘B-u-s-h.’ ”

Regardless, this case is going to be very interesting to follow within the coming weeks to see how the Obama Administration is going to react in their first test on handling a so-called enemy combatant.

Here is a video clip of Jane Mayer discussing this issue on The Rachel Maddow Show:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fixing Legal Policy Around Political Objectives

There is a continued buzz over the results of an investigation by H. Marshall Jarrett, head of the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility, into the legal advice that the Bush Administration received on policies of torture. The Public Record is quoting "legals sources familiar with the case" in saying that the results of this investigation are "damning" and that there was "misconduct" on the part of John Yoo and other lawyers who were apart of the Office of Legal Council during the Bush Administration.

The issue here is not merely that Yoo and others gave the Bush Administration bad legal advice, but that their opinions were not in good faith and were actually fixed around the policy goals that the Administration wanted to accomplish. This report and the conclusions that it reaches, could be very destructive for the Bush Administration's continued defense of its torture policies. The Bush Administration has continually pointed to the legal opinions that they received in the form of the Yoo and Bybee memos in justifying the legality of their policies on torture, but if these legal opinions were indeed fixed around political objectives, then this justification (which was shaky to begin with) will disintegrate.

From the article:

One part of the OPR report criticized Yoo’s use of an obscure 2000 health benefits statute to narrow the definition of torture in a way that permitted waterboarding and other acts that have historically been regarded as torture under U.S. law, the sources said.

The report also criticizes Yoo’s legal theories that the President of the United States had the right to suspend Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, the sources said. It is believed that Yoo’s legal theories led to a warrantless wiretap program after 9/11.

The OPR report was completed late last year but was kept under wraps by Attorney General Michael Mukasey while Bush finished out his days in office, the sources said.

While the question of why Former Attorney General Mukasey decided to suppress this report needs to be answered, it is interesting to take into account John Yoo's involvement in White House policy meetings at the same time that he was forming the legal opinions that allowed for said policies to be implemented. It is clear, as The Public Record points out, that Yoo's own writings provide evidence of his involvement in the shaping of policy. Perhaps two of the most interesting lines from Yoo's book War by Other Means state:

“Many at Gitmo are not in a state of calm surrender. Open barracks for most are utterly impossible; some al-Qaeda detainees want to kill not only guards, but their peers who might be cooperating with the United States. The provision of ordinary POW infeasible.”

“If Geneva Convention rules were applied, some believed they would interfere with our ability to apprehend or interrogate al-Qaeda leaders.”

These lines indicate not only Yoo's communication with those who believed that the Geneva Conventions should not be applied, but they indicate that Yoo's involvement with policy makers translated into legal results that allowed for this very policy to become justified. With this "damning" of a report, it becomes harder for both the Bush Administration to justify their actions on torture and for the Obama Administration to ignore the need for punishment of the arrogant law-breaking from the last eight years.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Rare Challenge to the Beltway Mindset

Believe me, I was just as surprised as anyone to see MSNBC's Contessa Brewer provide a brief moment of clarity that was able to cut through the mindset of beltway journalism. Kudos to Crooks and Liars for catching this exchange with Sheryl Gay Stolberg, White House Correspondent for the New York Times:

Brewer: Is President Obama able to control his message against than the Nattering Nabobs of Negativism Can he slowly change the ways of Washington?

Stolberg: Obama wanted a big bipartisan vote and he didn't get it. He passed it just like George Bush passed pushing through a one party bill.

Harwood: Are you respond as a Nattering Nabob since he's at 66%?

Stolberg: I am a Nattering Nabob of Fairness instead

Stolberg: Obama went courting Republicans...he framed bill as a show of unity. Instead it could have been a lesson in setting expectations. We need this measure and if it get Republican votes fine, but it's a high priority for us.

Brewer: Didn't he do just that....Cocktails etc. Reaching across the aisle. But they wanted what? a Republican stamp on the bill. After all the Democrats won.

Stolberg: (long reply about the "I won" statement from POTUS meaning nothing) Even so the pres made such a strong point in his campaign of about changing the ways of Washington, it couldn't help but be a disappointment when it didn't get
republican votes.

Brewer: Perhaps it was the Republicans with the deaf ears on that front

Stolberg (Taken aback and stutters) "Well perhaps.....

Brewer: Let's make that the last word on that

Stolberg: Okay I'll let you have the last word.

You can view video of the exchange here. It really is amazing to watch what happens when an anchor has a moment of clarity and dare challenge the beltway mentality, that Obama failed in his mission for a bipartisan stimulus bill. Nevermind if the Republicans turned "deaf ears" to any idea of bargaining and nevermind that Obama weakened his own bill in order to appease the minority, a minority that ends up patting itself on the back for not voting for the bill. This is the new definition of bipartisanship, President Obama moves to the right by accommodating the wants of the Republicans and they react by not bargaining in good faith and end up voting in a bloc against the legislation. This narrative has failed to get through to the beltway journalists and it is moments like this that are a little bit refreshing.

Obama to Tackle Social Security Reform?

Here is an item to watch. According to Co-Director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research, Dean Baker:

Word has it that President Obama intends to appoint a task force the week after next which will be charged with "reforming" Social Security. According to inside gossip, the task force will be led entirely by economists who were not able to see the $8 trillion housing bubble, the collapse of which is giving the country its sharpest downturn since the Great Depression.

Let's hope that Baker is dead wrong about this and that this rumor (I don't like to put my faith in articles that start with the phrase "word has it") will remain a rumor. Tackling Social Security reform is a silly idea at a time of such economic crisis and plus, as Baker points out, Social Security can pay out its benefits for the next 40 years without reform according to the GAO's own figures. Remember what happened when President Bush tried to reform Social Security?

Perhaps President Obama's time would be better spent continuing to focus on getting the economy back on track and if anything is in need of reform in the near future, it is the Health Care industry, not Social Security. Stay tuned on this one.

Eric Cantor: The House GOP is "Back in the Saddle"

Do you think that the Republican Party going to try and run on the stimulus bill in the midterm elections?

Maybe this video, put together by House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), can give us a hint!


In case you are wondering why the above video no longer works, it is because Stage Three Music, the publishers of this song, has demanded that Cantor take this down. “Aerosmith did not approve of its use and also wanted to have it taken down.” said a spokesperson for Stage Three.

More Evidence of Torture Still Translates to Zero Accountability

Recently, over at The Public Record, Jason Leopold took a look at some recently declassified documents from the Department of Defense that continue to make it clear that the Bush Administration knowingly put procedures into place that allowed for the abuse and torture of detainees in U.S. custody. The ACLU has also released reports on five detainee deaths that have occurred in Afghanistan and Iraq. From the Leopold:

Those documents which span thousands of pages include:
  • Investigation of two deaths at Bagram. Both detainees were determined to have been killed by pulmonary embolism caused as a result of standing chained in place, sleep depravation and dozens of beatings by guards and possibly interrogators. (Also reveals the use of torture at Gitmo and American-Afghani prisons in Kabul).
  • Investigation into the homicide or involuntary manslaughter of detainee Dilar Dababa by U.S. forces in 2003 in Iraq.
  • Investigation launched after allegations that an Iraqi prisoner was subjected to torture and abuse at “The Disco” (located in the Special Operations Force Compound in Mosul Airfield, Mosul, Iraq). The abuse consisted of filling his jumpsuit with ice, then hosing him down and making him stand for long periods of time, sometimes in front of an air conditioner; forcing him to lay
    down and drink water until he gagged, vomited or choked, having his head banged against a hot steel plate while hooded and interrogated; being forced to do leg lifts with bags of ice placed on his ankles, and being kicked when he could not do more.
  • Investigation of allegations of torture and abuse that took place in 2003 at Abu Ghraib.
  • Investigation that established probable cause to believe that U.S. forces committed homicide in 2003 when they participated in the binding of detainee Abed Mowhoush in a sleeping bag during an interrogation, causing him to die of asphyxiation.

These documents make it clear more of what we already know and what I have written about in great detail, that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, was personally involved in the policies that were implemented regarding treatment of detainees:

Additionally, a Dec. 20, 2005, Army Inspector General Report relating to the capture and interrogation of suspected terrorist Mohammad al-Qahtani included a sworn statement by Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt. It said Secretary Rumsfeld was “personally involved” in the interrogation of al-Qahtani and spoke “weekly” with Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander at Guantanamo, about the status of the interrogations between late 2002 and early 2003.


“Those techniques were implemented under the supervision and guidance of Secretary Rumsfeld and the commander of Guantánamo, Major General Geoffrey
Miller. These methods included, but were not limited to, 48 days of severe sleep
deprivation and 20-hour interrogations, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, physical force, prolonged stress positions and prolonged sensory over-stimulation, and threats with military dogs.”

This is not groundbreaking news for anyone who has been following this issue, but rather more evidence that very real crimes were more-than likely committed during Bush's reign in the White House. Couple the results of these reports with an item that came out of Newsweek recently. According to Michael Isikoff, an Internal Justice Department report has preliminary findings concluding that Bush Administration lawyers (including John Yoo) did not act in good faith in issuing legal opinions on issues of torture. The implications of this, that these legal opinions were so outrageous that the actions of these lawyers cannot be viewed in good faith, continue to undercut claims by the Bush Administration and their supporters. Namely, that they believed their actions to be legal. To the contrary, evidence continues to mount that the legal opinions were crafted around policies (which required legal backing) that the former Administration wanted to implement.

Despite all of this, President Obama continues to respond to questions about criminal charges against the Bush Administration by stating that he wishes to "look forward" instead of backward. While Attorney General Holder and President Obama say that "no one is above the law", their language of "moving forward" indicates that serious investigations into lawbreaking are not a top priority. Chris Floyd suggests (though obviously tongue and cheek) that since the current Administration has no interest in pursuing any type of serious investigation into some of the worst crimes that we have seen in recent years, that we have a bipartisan compromise. We take one high level official (Floyd suggests Rumsfeld) and have him take the fall for everything. This way, as Floyd puts it, "The Republicans can claim they got rid of their 'bad apple,' and the Democrats can claim they have 'restored American honor."' After all, isn't this what bipartisan has come to mean these days during this so-called "new age" of government?

Despite calls for investigations and the growing interest of the public to look into criminal wrongdoing, the White House continues to downplay any meaningful action under the guise of putting the past behind us. Part of the "past" that the current Administration is attempting to bury is the complicity of the Democrats in implementing torture policies. It is not just the absence of action that should warrant criticism, but the proactive approach by the Obama Administration to defend and continue some of the worst policies of the Bush Administration; most recently the "state secrets" provision.

Claiming that "no one is above the law" while simultaneously turning a blind eye to crimes committed by the past Administration is inherently contradictory and will not deter future elected officials from committing blatant violations of the law. Actual accountability is not shielding members of your own party from potential investigation nor is it continuing policies like the "state secrets" provision after naming it one of the fundamental problems of the last eight years. The pressure on the Administration for real accountability needs to continue as more evidence continues to see the light of day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Economists Were Absent from the Discussion on the Stimulus Plan

Media Matters for America recently did a study of Sunday talk shows and twelve cable news programs from January 25 to February 8. It is during this time period that there has been much talk in the media about Obama's stimulus plan and battle within Congress to get some form of the bill passed. Interestingly enough, this study found that out of 460 total guests on the programs measured, only 25 guests (or 5%), were economists.

In addition:

Media Matters purposefully used a broad definition of "economist" to be inclusive, coding as an economist any guest who has a master's degree or doctorate in economics or who has served as an economics professor at a university or college, as best as we could determine. (All current members of Congress were coded as non-economists.)

The show with the most economists? Glenn Beck's show on Fox News.

- Glenn Beck had on 7 economists out of 21 guests which discussed the stimulus (33%).
- The Situation Room had on 3 economists out of 73 guest which discussed the stimulus (4%)
- Lou Dobbs Tonight had on 1 economists out of 27 guests which discussed the stimulus (4%)
- Campbell Brown had on 0 economists out of 26 guests which discussed the stimulus (0%)
- Anderson Cooper had on 0 economists out of 31 guests which discussed the stimulus (0%)
- Neil Cavuto had on 2 economists out of 53 guests which discussed the stimulus (4%)
- The O'Reilly Factor had on 1 economist out of 15 guests which discussed the stimulus (7%)
- Hannity had on 0 economists out of 44 guests which discussed the stimulus (0%)
- Chris Matthews had on 1 economist out of 46 guests which discussed the stimulus (2%)
- Keith Olbermann had on 1 economist out of 15 guests which discussed the stimulus (7%)
- Rachel Maddow had on 1 economist out of 11 guests which discussed the stimulus (9%)

and as for the Sunday talk shows:

- This Week had on 3 economists out of 20 guests that discussed the stimulus (15%)
- Face the Nation had on 1 economist out of 7 guests that discussed the stimulus (14%)
- Meet the Press had on 2 economists out of 14 guests that discussed the stimulus (14%)
- Fox News Sunday had on 1 economist out of 20 guests that discussed the stimulus (5%)

You can view a list of all the guests by clicking here.

Is this really in the best interest of a fully informed citizenry? This system assures that certain important questions will not get asked and it limits the discourse on one of the most important topics that has been recently discussed. Is it any surprise that people are confused about the stimulus plan and began to cling to ideas and phrases similar to those expressed by Joe "The Plumber"? We deserve better than this.

The Dishonesty of the Wall Street Journal

If you are looking for your daily dose of inaccuracy and dishonesty, you need look no further than today's editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. This discussion centers around President Obama's prime-time press conference the other night and his practice of calling on reporters from a pre-arranged list. From the piece (emphasis mine):

The problem wasn't the lighting in the East Room. The President was running down a list of reporters preselected to ask questions. The White House had decided in advance who would be allowed to question the President and who was left out.

Presidents are free to conduct press conferences however they like, but the decision to preselect questioners is an odd one, especially for a White House famously pledged to openness. We doubt that President Bush, who was notorious for being parsimonious with follow-ups, would have gotten away with rescreening his interlocutors. Mr. Obama can more than handle his own, so our guess is that this is an attempt to discipline reporters who aren't White House favorites.

I don't take exception to questioning the practice of preselecting reporters who get to question the President, I take exception to the WSJ's false statement that President Bush would not have gotten away with this practice. One would only need to do a small amount of research before realizing that President Bush also preselected reporters to call on during his press conference. Just the other night on The O'Reilly Factor, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer blatantly stated that this was the practice:

Not only did President Bush make it an accepted practice to preselect who he would call on, but as noted in this article, the Bush Administration even scripted a whole press conference in the lead-up to the Iraq War to assure that no questions would be asked from the likes of TIME magazine or The Washington Post.

For the Wall Street Journal to suggest that Bush could have never "gotten away with rescreening his interlocutors" is misleading at best and flat-out dishonest at worst.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Brilliant Decision to Make "Joe the Plumber" a Correspondant for PJTV

I did my best to stay away from Pajamas Media and for a while, but once I heard that "Joe the Plumber" (Joe Wurzelbacher) was following up his trip to Israel with a trip to Washington D.C., I had no choice but to take a glance at the "news" organization that continued to think that this was a good idea.

Pajamas Television describes themselves as follows:

Pajamas Media (PJM) was established in 2004 and is a network of about 100 bloggers that covers news and issues of the day in a refreshingly thoughtful and civil way. Led by CEO Roger Simon, the network includes well known personalities such as the “Instapundit,” Glenn Reynolds (named one of the 10 most influential legal scholars in America by the Social Science Research Network), and well known TV commentator Michelle Malkin. About 1 million people visit the PJM network every week (about 3.5 million monthly), many of whom, are politically center-right, with maybe 40% declaring they are Democrats.

Pick a few videos from the PJTV website and you can clearly see that this website is offering conservative opinion and commentary. I looked for the results of the poll which indicated that "maybe 40%" of the visitors declared themselves Democrats, but as you might imagine...such a poll is not available. Regardless of political or ideological affiliation, it's the content that matters and any website that thinks making Joe The Plumber a correspondent is a good idea is bound to have some riveting footage.

Joe's first assignment for PJTV was to travel to Israel and report what was happening with Israel's "average Joe's". This assignment led to Joe's famous outburst where he declares "I don't think that journalists should be anywhere allowed war!"

Joe did later admit that he got a little emotional on that first day in Israel, but then settled down and asked some important questions. After Joe's stretch in Israel, his next assignment was to travel to Washington D.C. to speak to senators and ordinary Americans about the stimulus package. I won't bore you by posting all five of his "reports" here on my blog, but below is the most interesting one.

The entire validity and accuracy of this "news" organization can be summed up in the clip above. Joe's report begins with his description of attending briefings at The Club for Growth, Heritage Foundation, and Cato Institute. Joe describes these organizations as "bipartisan" or "neutral". This statement is either flat-out ignorance or a lie. Here the language from the Heritage Foundation's website regarding their mission:

To formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.

Cato's mission:

The mission of the Cato Institute is to increase the understanding of public policies based on the principles of limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and peace. The Institute will use the most effective means to originate, advocate, promote, and disseminate applicable policy proposals that create free, open, and civil societies in the United States and throughout the world.

and Club for Growth's mission:

Club for Growth is a national network of thousands of Americans, from all walks of life, who believe that prosperity and opportunity come through economic freedom. We work to promote public policies that promote economic growth primarily through legislative involvement, issue advocacy, research, training and educational activity. The primary tactic of the separate Club for Growth PAC is to provide financial support from Club members to viable pro-growth candidates to Congress, particularly in Republican primaries.

So by the very descriptions found on each of the website of these organizations, they are conservative think-tanks. The Heritage Foundation even uses the word "conservative" in their mission statement. According to Joe The Plumber and PJTV however, these are "neutral" organizations filled with "real brainiacs" and wouldn't you know it...all three organizations advocate voting down the stimulus plan.

Fast forward to the disbelief expressed by both Joe and Roger Simon that Joe was not issued press credentials for interviews because PJTV is viewed as an organization that expresses opinions instead of "hard news". Wurzelbacher and Simon are baffled that they were not granted credentials, but NBC (who has Keith Olbermann) did get credentials. (Need I point out the obvious, that NBC is a well-established news organization?) Joe is "pretty upset" that NBC, who he says has had to retract countless stories, somehow manages to get access to interview Senators and he doesn't. Instead Joe is forced to catch Senator Lindsey Graham next to a subway to get his view on the stimulus package and to listen to Graham talk about why the Republican version of the bill is better. Joe mentions that everything that Graham said is true and that the Republican bill has no pork at all...Joe checked and he couldn't find any!

If you want to torture yourself any further you can check out more videos and "reports", but I think it is quite clear that PJTV offers nothing new or original to broaden the discussion on any of these issues.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tom Daschle Withdraws His Nomination to Become Health and Human Services Secretary

Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination for Health and Human Services Secretary today amid brewing concerns over back taxes and various conflicts of interest. Obama accepted Daschle's withdrawal with "sadness" and Daschle stated:

"...if 30 years of exposure to the challenges inherent in our system has taught me anything, it has taught me that this work will require a leader who can operate with the full faith of Congress and the American people, and without distraction.
Right now, I am not that leader, and will not be a distraction. The focus of Congress should be on the urgent business of moving the president's economic agenda forward, including affordable health care for every American."

Personally, I think that Daschle withdrawing his nomination is a positive outcome. Just the other day I expressed my concern over Daschle's numerous conflicts of interest and the fact that Daschle represents anything but the change that Obama has stated that he will bring to Washington.

One need only look as far as the level of support that Daschle has received from figures such as Bob Dole and other members of Congress despite his reputation outside the beltway of making millions pushing for the interests of big pharma. How ironic that he would then be tapped to oversee the industry that helped make him so much money. It is also telling the amount of "shock" that is being expressed by various members of Congress in reacting to Daschle's announcement today.

“To tell you the truth, I’m in shock," said Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA). Senator John Kerry even suggested that Daschle's problems are overblown and should not be held against him when you take into account the larger picture. “We’re getting silly here, and people ought to step back and measure these things against the larger picture,” Kerry said, “We’re going to miss his talents being directly involved in the health care reform effort.”

The only surprise that I am feeling is that Daschle decided to withdraw at all. Despite all of these troubles, the vast support for his nomination to this position made it clear that he would have no trouble being confirmed. Washington has operated like this for years and the staunch support of Daschle from all of his beltway friends is a prime example of why he is not a good fit for an Obama White House that wants to change this very system.

Hopefully Obama will take this opportunity to choose a more progressive thinking champion for health care reform when he nominates a replacement for Daschle. It would be a refreshing step-up from a beltway politician who has vast interest in big pharma industries and it would be an indication that Obama is serious about reforming our broken health care system. As The Nation's John Nichols put in his piece this afternoon:

No one -- or, at least, no one who is invested either in securing real health care reform or seeing an Obama presidency succeed -- should mourn Daschle's departure. Daschle was always a better fit with Bush's administration than Obama's.

Monday, February 2, 2009

There is a Story that is Bigger than Daschle's Unpaid Taxes

So it looks like President Obama's nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Daschle, failed to pay $128,000 in taxes. This revelation has predictably elicited criticism from the right and a reassurance from the Administration and Democrats that Daschle is still the most qualified man for the job...and so the Beltway turns.

As Daschle prepares to appear before the Senate Finance Committee to face "tough" questions about all of this (that will more than likely still lead to his confirmation), I couldn't help but feel that this was really not the biggest story that the media should be focusing on in regard to Daschle. After all, Daschle is the guy that Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi said would "suck off a corpse for a cheeseburger" in reacting to Daschle's nomination in December.

I tend to agree with the New York Times, Glenn Greenwald, Lawrence Lessig, and Matt Stoller that the issue of focus should actually be a much broader topic that has plagued Washington for years, the issue of lobbying and the conflict of interests it creates. Professor Lawrence Lessig asks this question in response to Politico's "Arena" topic:

Why is the "ethical issue" here whether Mr. Daschle('s accountant) understands the (insanely complex) tax code, and not whether it is appropriate for former Members to trade that status for millions?

It seems as though the "revolving door" of lobbyist turned government official turned lobbyist has become so commonly accepted, that this initial question often gets overlooked. One need only look as far as the lobbying that Daschle's firm Alston and Bird did in regard to pushing for immunity for telecom companies during the FISA debate. Daschle then wrote a piece for the Washington Post which praised Obama for supporting the FISA legislation which gave immunity to telecom companies that spied on Americans. Funny how things work isn't it?

The New York Times article also references Daschle's limbo between lobbying and government:

Affiliated with the firm Alston & Bird, Mr. Daschle has operated in the gap between the popular understanding and legal definition of a lobbyist. There is no evidence that he directly sought to influence his former colleagues or other government officials in ways that would have required him to register as a lobbyist or could have run afoul of the restrictions on former lobbyists entering the Obama administration. But the rules still left plenty of room for him to advise businesses seeking to influence the government or to profit otherwise from the fame and insights he acquired in public life.

“Did he attempt to influence? Maybe,” said Thomas Susman, an official at the American Bar Association and author of its lobbying manual. “Did he advise
others in the business of influencing? Probably. But he wasn’t a lobbyist.”

Illegal? Probably not, but enough to make you feel uncomfortable while reading of these accounts. Glenn Greenwald observes:

Other than his being more extreme than most, and the fact that he and his wife work in tandem as a public-private team, there isn't anything particularly unusual about how Tom Daschle functions. He's quite emblematic of the Beltway syndrome. But that's the point: while it's unreasonable to expect that Obama will be able to avoid all ethically questionable individuals, it seems rather unnecessary to take one of the most ethically compromised Beltway mavens and place him in charge of a massive industry, one that has been lavishing him with undeserved wealth for the past several years.

This is the real story in my view, but perhaps the corporate media views a story like Daschle's as the same old song and dance. Everyone knows Washington is what? After all, it would be quite an undertaking to review all the stories that are similar to Daschle's experience and that would cut into stories about the Obama's choice of puppy for his daughters and Sarah Palin's latest travels. Despite all this, I still think that Daschle will be confirmed due to the strong support he is receiving. Stay tuned!