Friday, August 31, 2007

Politics > public safety

More evidence on how politics trumps all in the current President's administration. Here, we have a story from the Washington Post by Marc Kaufman and Christopher Lee (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/30/AR2007083002198.html?wpisrc=newsletter) on how an ad campaign designed to effectively teach women the benefits of breast-feeding children was (pardon the pun) emasculated by lobbyists from the baby formula industry.

This story, in the wake of former surgeon general Richard Carmona's testimony that the current President repeatedly used the influence of his administration to stop the surgeon general from making public health recommendations because those recommendations were not in line with the current President's politics.

Of course, coming from a party who has a significant percentage of its' presidential candidates who don't "believe in evolution," it's probably not surprising that science isn't terribly important. After all, if you don't understand it, it can't be true, right?

This story has a predictable end. A very effective campaign - that would have cost formula companies a lot of money - was scrapped in favor of a much more timid one that the ad company said from the start would be ineffective. Guess what. It was ineffective.

I'm not sure what it will take to incense and outrage people any more. Things like this don't. The war doesn't. It's just shocking and depressing how little people pay attention to what is being done in their name and with their tax dollars.

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HHS Toned Down Breast-Feeding Ads
Formula Industry Urged Softer Campaign

By Marc Kaufman and Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 31, 2007; A01

In an attempt to raise the nation's historically low rate of breast-feeding, federal health officials commissioned an attention-grabbing advertising campaign a few years ago to convince mothers that their babies faced real health risks if they did not breast-feed. It featured striking photos of insulin syringes and asthma inhalers topped with rubber nipples.

Plans to run these blunt ads infuriated the politically powerful infant formula industry, which hired a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a former top regulatory official to lobby the Health and Human Services Department. Not long afterward, department political appointees toned down the campaign.

The ads ran instead with more friendly images of dandelions and cherry-topped ice cream scoops, to dramatize how breast-feeding could help avert respiratory problems and obesity. In a February 2004 letter, the lobbyists told then-HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson they were "grateful" for his staff's intervention to stop health officials from "scaring expectant mothers into breast-feeding," and asked for help in scaling back more of the ads.

The formula industry's intervention -- which did not block the ads but helped change their content -- is being scrutinized by Congress in the wake of last month's testimony by former surgeon general Richard H. Carmona that the Bush administration repeatedly allowed political considerations to interfere with his efforts to promote public health.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is investigating allegations from former officials that Carmona was blocked from participating in the breast-feeding advocacy effort and that those designing the ad campaign were overruled by superiors at the formula industry's insistence.

"This is a credible allegation of political interference that might have had serious public health consequences," said Waxman, a California Democrat.

The milder campaign HHS eventually used had no discernible impact on the nation's breast-feeding rate, which lags behind the rate in many European countries.

Some senior HHS officials involved in the deliberations over the ad campaign defended the outcome, saying the final ads raised the profile of breast-feeding while following the scientific evidence available then -- which they say did not fully support the claims of the original ad campaign.

But other current and former HHS officials say the muting of the ads was not the only episode in which HHS missed a chance to try to raise the breast-feeding rate. In April, according to officials and documents, the department chose not to promote a comprehensive analysis by its own Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) of multiple studies on breast-feeding, which generally found it was associated with fewer ear and gastrointestinal infections, as well as lower rates of diabetes, leukemia, obesity, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome.

The report did not assert a direct cause and effect, because doing so would require studies in which some women are told not to breast-feed their infants -- a request considered unethical, given the obvious health benefits of the practice.

A top HHS official said that at the time, Suzanne Haynes, an epidemiologist and senior science adviser for the department's Office on Women's Health, argued strongly in favor of promoting the new conclusions in the media and among medical professionals. But her office, which commissioned the report, was specifically instructed by political appointees not to disseminate a news release.

Wanda K. Jones, director of the women's health office, said agency media officials have "all been hammering me" about getting Haynes to stop trying to draw attention to the AHRQ report. HHS press officer Rebecca Ayer emphatically told Haynes and others in mid-July that there should be "no media outreach to anyone" on that topic, current and former officials said.

Both HHS and AHRQ ultimately sent out a few e-mail notices, but the report was generally ignored. Requests to speak with Haynes were turned down by other HHS officials.

Regarding the changes made to the earlier HHS ad campaign, Kevin Keane, then HHS assistant secretary for public affairs and now a spokesman for the American Beverage Association, said formula companies lobbied hard, as did breast-feeding advocates.

"We took heat from the formula industry, who didn't want to see a campaign like this. And we took some heat from the advocates who didn't think it was strong enough," Keane said. "At the end of the day, we had a ground-breaking campaign that goes further than any other administration ever went."

But the campaign HHS used did not simply drop the disputed statistics in the draft ads. The initial idea was to startle women with images starkly warning that babies could become ill. Instead, the final ads cited how breast-feeding benefits babies -- an approach that the ad company hired by HHS had advised would be ineffective. The department also pulled back on several related promotional efforts.

After the 2003-05 period in which the HHS ads were aired, the proportion of mothers who breast-fed in the hospital after their babies were born dropped, from 70 percent in 2002 to 63.6 percent in 2006, according to statistics collected in Abbott Nutrition's Ross Mothers Survey, an industry-backed effort that has been measuring breast-feeding rates for more than 30 years. In 2002, 33.2 percent of women were doing any breast-feeding at six months; by 2006, that rate had declined to 30 percent.

The World Health Organization recommends that, if at all possible, women breast-feed their infants exclusively for at least six months.

* * *

The breast-feeding ad campaign originated in a formal "Blueprint for Action on Breastfeeding" released in 2000 by David Satcher, who had been appointed surgeon general by President Bill Clinton. The Office on Women's Health convinced the nonprofit Ad Council to donate $30 million in media time, and it hired an ad agency to work alongside scientists from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and elsewhere.

Officials met with dozens of focus groups before concluding that the best way to influence mothers was to delineate in graphic terms the risks of not breast-feeding, an approach in keeping with edgy Ad Council campaigns on smoking, seat belts and drunken driving. For example, an ad portraying a nipple-tipped insulin bottle said, "Babies who aren't breastfed are 40% more likely to suffer Type 1 diabetes."

Gina Ciagne, the office's public affairs specialist for the campaign, said, "We were ready to go with our risk-based campaign -- making breast-feeding a real public health issue -- when the formula companies learned about it and came in to complain. Before long, we were told we had to water things down, get rid of the hard-hitting ads and generally make sure we didn't somehow offend."

Ciagne and others involved in the campaign said the pushback coincided with a high-level lobbying campaign by formula makers, which are mostly divisions of large pharmaceutical companies that are among the most generous campaign donors in the nation.

The campaign the industry mounted was a Washington classic -- a full-court press to reach top political appointees at HHS, using influential former government officials, now working for the industry, to act as go-betweens.

Two of the those involved were Clayton Yeutter, an agriculture secretary under President George H.W. Bush and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Joseph A. Levitt, who four months earlier directed the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition food safety center, which regulates infant formula. A spokesman for the International Formula Council said both were paid by a formula manufacturer to arrange meetings at HHS.

In a Feb. 17, 2004, letter to Thompson, Yeutter began "Dear Tommy" and explained that the council wished to meet with him because the draft ad campaign was inappropriately "implying that mothers who use infant formula are placing their babies at risk," and could give rise to class-action lawsuits.

Yeutter acknowledged that the ad agency "may well be correct" in asserting that a softer approach would garner less attention, but he said many women cannot breast-feed or choose not to for legitimate reasons, which may give them "guilty feelings." He asked, "Does the U.S. government really want to engage in an ad campaign that will magnify that guilt?"

He also praised Keane, the HHS public affairs official, for making "helpful changes" and removing "egregious statements," but asked that more be done. Two months later, Yeutter wrote Thompson to thank him for meeting with a group that included Levitt and an official of the council. The group members supported breast-feeding, he said, but they wanted HHS to use "positive visual images."

The formula companies also approached Carden Johnston, then president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Afterward, Johnston wrote a letter to Thompson advising him that "we have some concerns about this negative approach and how it will be received by the general public."

The letter made a strong impression at HHS, former and current officials said. But it angered many of the medical group's members and the head of its section on breast-feeding, Lawrence M. Gartner, a Chicago physician. Gartner told Thompson in a letter that the 800 members of the breast-feeding section did not share Johnston's concerns and had not known of his letter.

"This campaign needed to be much stronger than it was," Gartner said, adding that in his view, the original ads were backed by solid scientific evidence.

According to former and current HHS officials, Cristina V. Beato, then an acting assistant secretary at HHS, played a key role -- in addition to that of Keane -- in toning down the ads. They said she stressed to associates that it was essential to "be fair" to the formula companies.

Beato was then serving in an acting capacity because lawmakers refused to vote on her confirmation because of complaints that she had padded her official r?sum?. In a 2004 interview with the ABC newsmagazine "20/20," which described some of the industry's efforts to change the breast-feeding ad campaign, Beato confirmed that she "met with the industry, because they kept calling my office, every two weeks." She said in a telephone interview that their complaints played no role in her decisions.

"I brought together our top public health people to examine the health claims, and they examined the science and concluded what should be in and what should be out," Beato said.

Duane Alexander, head of the government's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, was among the officials contacted by the industry who later supported eliminating some of the ads.

"Our concern was that the campaign was going to discredit itself if it included these things -- these wild claims really -- that had no sufficient basis in science," Alexander said.

Another top agency official who weighed in on the campaign was Ann-Marie Lynch, then in charge of the agency's Office of Planning and Evaluation. Lynch, a former lobbyist for the drug industry trade association PhRMA, reversed an HHS decision to finance a $630,000 community outreach effort to promote breast-feeding, according to an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post. Asked to comment, Lynch said she never discussed "baby formula issues with baby formula manufacturers" at HHS.

Speaking to the International Lactation Consultant Association in 2005, Haynes, of the HHS women's health office, said she was "overruled." Veteran pediatrician and breast-feeding researcher Ruth A. Lawrence of the University of Rochester, who was on the initial advisory committee brought together by Haynes, said the science undergirding the ads was "entirely convincing. Everyone on the committee had to agree on a finding before it was approved. We were very distressed by what happened."

After the changes, the advertising company, McKinney + Silver of Durham, N.C., withdrew from the campaign in protest, according to sources inside and outside HHS. A company spokeswoman declined to comment. Carmona, meanwhile, was told that Beato and HHS press officer Christina Pearson did not want him to become involved in the campaign's launch or in any public promotion of the underlying themes, according to current and former HHS officials. Beato and Pearson said they do not recall giving that advice.

The industry substantially increased its own advertising as soon as the HHS campaign was launched. According to a 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office, formula companies spent about $30 million in 2000 to advertise their products. In 2003 and 2004, when the campaign was underway, infant formula advertising increased to nearly $50 million.

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Iraq, like Vietnam?

More analysis from the current President analogizing Iraq to Vietnam, this time from H.D.S. Greenway of the Boston Globe, reprinted in the International Times-Herald (http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/08/28/opinion/edgreenway.php?page=1). No additional commentary is necessary, I think, but it is a well-done piece on how yes, in fact, Iraq IS like Vietnam in a number of very bad ways.

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BOSTON: It ill behooves an administration led by two who assiduously avoided the Vietnam War to lecture the nation now on the lessons of its consequences. President George W. Bush said last week that those who succumbed to calls to end the war would be responsible for the same tragedies that the end of Indochina wars unleashed.

"Will today's generation of Americans resist the allure of retreat?" he asked? Or will we bug out and leave Iraq to Khmer Rouge-like horrors?

For those of us who spent some years in Indochina, living through that drawn-out catastrophe, there are indeed parallels with today. The president's rousing claim that "a free Iraq" is within our reach is the same drivel as was the "light at the end of the tunnel" to a previous generation.

Robert McNamara, the Donald Rumsfeld of the Vietnam War, admitted, even tearfully, years afterward that we had little business sending soldiers to die in a country where we knew so little about its culture or history. Of course there were knowledgeable people who tried to tell McNamara, but, like Rumsfeld, he had his own illusions of American military capability, and didn't want to hear anything that ran counter to his preconceived conceptions.

There are parallels in the arrogance and hubris of those whom David Halberstam called the "best and the brightest," the men President Lydon B. Johnson inherited from John Kennedy - smart to a fault and, like Paul Wolfowitz and his soulmates, totally wrong.

There are parallels in the corrupt and ineffectual leaders that America tried to prop up in Saigon, then, and in Baghdad today. In the end they were always handicapped by being seen as lackeys to a foreign power.

Nationalism and patriotism, two powerful forces in Indochina as they are in Iraq today, always favored the other side. The U.S. presence, and the destruction that is the natural business of foreign armies, could always create more recruits for the other side than we could kill.

The calls in Congress, and by presidential hopefuls, to dump Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, because he is following his own interests instead of the interests of the United States, reminds me of the efforts to unseat President Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam. At first, Washington had praised Diem to the skies, but when he didn't do things our way he had to go. Our efforts succeeded. He was murdered in a coup, but neither the war nor the political situation improved for us.

There are parallels in the ability of U.S. troops to clear, hold, and build in any given area for a while, but the moment the Americans are gone the other side moves back in. In most cases the other side was never absent - just lying low.

I was amazed after the Henry Kissinger-negotiated cease-fire in Vietnam, when I traveled in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, that areas we had considered to be safely on our side raised the Viet Cong flag. All the schools we had built, the hospitals, the roads we had used as benchmarks of our success meant nothing.

We can win every battle and yet lose the war. Does anyone really think that we have really won the hearts and minds of Falluja, just because things are comparatively quiet there now?

The president is right that many of us underestimated the consequences of our failure in Indochina, and the consequences of our failure in Iraq will be much worse for us geopolitically and strategically.

But the horror of Cambodia was the result of war, not our leaving it. When societies are torn asunder under the stress of war, dark forces - like diseases when the immune system fails - come to the fore. The Khmer Rouge would never have come to power if the war had not come to Cambodia, any more than Mao would have come to power in China were it not for the Japanese invasion, or Lenin in Russia had it not been for World War I.

But the most important parallel that Colin Powell, and others, learned from Vietnam is that the American public will not sustain a war that drags on for years with no discernible progress.

Historians may one day write that the Iraq war was lost right after Baghdad fell and we failed to stop the disintegration of the country. It's too late to speak of winning now. We should be concentrating on mitigating the failure.

More on the September surpise

Interesting post by Faiz Shakir at AlterNet (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/60982/), exposing again that the report General David Petraeus will be presenting to Congress in September on the "progress" of the "surge" is of questionable credibility. In addition to the previous disclosure that Gen. Petraeus won't be, you know, actually writing the report, but instead allowing the White House to do so, now reports from the Washington Post and other sources disclose that Gen. Petraeus has been trying to soft-sell the violence in Iraq to make the surge look more like it's working.

Never mind the fact that whatever military progress the surge makes is only relevant in that it "sets the table" for political reconciliation that we have seen precious little of. Never mind the fact that the current President has a habit of surrounding himself with cronies that are far more interested in being a "loyal Bushie" (see, e.g., Alberto Gonzales, Harriet Myers, and "heckuva job" Brownie). Never mind the fact that the current President says he listens to the generals on the ground, then fires them when those generals tell him something he doesn't want to hear.

Look, it's pretty obvious that this September report was just a stall for time back in January when the surge was announced. There's no doubt that whatever comes out in this "report" the White House ghost-writes for Gen. Petraeus will be used to argue for more time to "let the surge work" and keep the war going until the January 2009.

Assuming, of course, there's nothing done to attempt to extend the current President's reign beyond that time ...

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This post, written by Faiz Shakir, originally appeared on Think Progress

The Washington Post reports that Gen. David Petraeus, after reviewing an early draft of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, succeeded in altering the document's judgments about the violence in Iraq:

The NIE, requested by the White House Iraq coordinator, Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, in preparation for the testimony, met with resistance from U.S. military officials in Baghdad, according to a senior U.S. military intelligence officer there. Presented with a draft of the conclusions, Petraeus succeeded in having the security judgments softened to reflect improvements in recent months, the official said.

The first line of the key judgments of the NIE reported that there had been "measurable but uneven improvements in Iraq's security situation," but cautioned that violence will remain high over the next six to 12 months. The Washington Post's report today suggests that the intelligence community's initial judgment about the security situation was harsher.

Petraeus and other military officials have repeatedly suggested that sectarian killings in Iraq are down, touting the decline as proof of security progress in Iraq. Media reports, however, dispute the military claims, and the military has thus far refused to provide its statistics to resolve the matter:

U.S. officials say the number of civilian casualties in the Iraqi capital is down 50 percent. But U.S. officials declined to provide specific numbers, and statistics gathered by McClatchy Newspapers don't support the claim. [McClatchy, 8/15/07]

[T]he death toll from sectarian attacks around the country is running nearly double the pace from a year ago. ... Brig. Gen. Richard Sherlock, deputy director for operational planning for the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said violence in Iraq "has continued to decline and is at the lowest level since June 2006." He offered no statistics to back his claim. [AP, 8/25/07]

Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) suggested recently that the White House would "tweak" the upcoming "Petraeus report." But if Petraeus is so willing to alter intelligence findings, it appears the White House may not have much tweaking to do.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Terrorism, in context

Brilliant piece from AlterNet by Sean Gonsalves (), discussing a study by Temple math professor John Allan Paulos. The premise of the study is that, if we assumed a 99 percent success rate at catching terrorists, then we run the risk of catching up three innocent people for every terrorist we would catch.

And that underlies the basic point. People who trade on fear will provide no balance, no context to the discussion of terrorism. If one terrorist is stopped, then it doesn't matter if a thousand innocent people are caught up and imprisoned.

Unless, of course, that one innocent person is them. But that's another story.

The fundamental point, though, is critical. Terrorists don't win when they blow up buildings. Terrorists win when they make us so scared that we become like them, that we surrender our principals and buy into their idea of a "cultural war." So, looking at how things have gone under the current President, they're winning.

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Thanks to Temple University math professor John Allen Paulos, it can be demonstrated mathematically why the threats to our civil liberties should be of more concern than terrorism threats.

Paulos’ approach to terrorism draws on probability theory and a bit of common sense, specifically, on “the obvious fact that the vast majority of people of every ethnicity are not terrorists.”

Imagine a near-perfect, information gathering and interpretation system that could identify terrorists and stop them before the act of terrorism is committed. Because no system is perfect, Paulos’ system is assumed to be 99 percent accurate. And, of course, for this near-perfect terrorist fly-trap to be really effective it would also have to be able to correctly identify nonterrorists 99 percent of the time.

Such a system would only catch terrorists, right?

“Well, no,” Paulos wrote in an analysis for the LA Times back in 2003. It bears repeating, as the terrorism-centered presidential campaign season heats up, brought to you by Fear Inc.

Paulos applies the near perfect data-mining numbers to a country about the size of America -- a nation of 300 million in which 1,000 “future terrorists” lurk among the citizenry.

With a 99 percent detection rate, the system will identify 990 of 1,000 future terrorists. Pretty good.

But the flip side is ugly. In a nation of 300 million (minus 1,000 future terrorists) there are 299,999,000 nonterrorists. If the system is 99 percent accurate, one percent will be improperly detained as an “enemy-combatant.” How much is one percent of 299,999,000? Just under 3 million. That’s 3 million innocent Americans for every 990 Jose Padillas.

Just to bring it home, we’re talking about 3,000 times more innocent Americans being caught in the dragnet than the number of guilty ones! That alone ought to have each one of us thinking real hard about political priorities.

Despite my miniscule efforts and those of others in the dreaded “mainstream media,” the national media have fallen short on providing context in the “war on terror,” aiding and abetting America’s foreign policy cataracts problem.

How often do you see reports of terrorism with context that points out the relative rarity of actually being a victim of terrorism? And how many articles do you see that call into question the alarmism of say, Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said that if terrorists were able to kill 10,000 Americans in an attack, they would “do away with our way of life.”

As John Mueller wrote in a recent of issue of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, it’s the subtext of this kind of fear-mongering that’s most interesting. “These hysterical warnings suggest: the ‘existential’ threat comes not from what the terrorists would do to us, but what we would do to ourselves in response.”

Mueller also refers to the 1999 Gilmore Commission, a government-funded advisory group that assessed domestic response to WMD terrorism.

The group “pressed a point it considered ‘self-evident,’ but one that nonetheless required ‘reiteration’ because of the ‘rhetoric and hyperbole’ surrounding the issue: Although a terrorist attack with a weapon of mass destruction could be ‘serious and potentially catastrophic,’ it is ‘highly unlikely that it could ever completely undermine the national security, much less threaten the survival, of the United States.’ To hold otherwise ‘risks surrendering to the fear and intimidation that is precisely the terrorist’s stock in trade.’”

Over the weekend, GOP Sen. John Warner, who wants U.S. troops to start coming home from Iraq by Christmas, said he may support Democratic legislation ordering withdrawals if President Bush refuses to set a return timetable soon.

And, then fear-mongering followed. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is also a member of Senate Armed Services Committee, responded by saying: “I don’t think it’s in our best interest to put so much pressure on the new Iraqi government that it absolutely collapses. We don’t want to allow that to happen, because it would make us less safe here at home.”

Fear isn’t just the “stock in trade” of terrorists. It’s a booming industry in America. And if we continue to trade true freedom for security, in fear, the “war on terror” will defeat us from the inside.

Healthcare: fundamental right or socialist plot?

Great post by Paul Krugman of the New York Times (http://www.alternet.org/workplace/60817/) analogizing the right to pubilc education to the right to public health care. It's a great dissection of the right's argument against public health care as "unAmerican" and violating market principals. It puts the idea in very good context, and makes people think about things we do already.

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Suppose, for a moment, that the Heritage Foundation were to put out a press release attacking the liberal view that even children whose parents could afford to send them to private school should be entitled to free government-run education.

They'd have a point: many American families with middle-class incomes do send their kids to school at public expense, so taxpayers without school-age children subsidize families that do. And the effect is to displace the private sector: if public schools weren't available, many families would pay for private schools instead.

So let's end this un-American system and make education what it should be -- a matter of individual responsibility and private enterprise. Oh, and we shouldn't have any government mandates that force children to get educated, either. As a Republican presidential candidate might say, the future of America's education system lies in free-market solutions, not socialist models.

O.K., in case you're wondering, I haven't lost my mind, I'm drawing an analogy. The real Heritage press release, titled "The Middle-Class Welfare Kid Next Door," is an attack on proposals to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Such an expansion, says Heritage, will "displace private insurance with government-sponsored health care coverage."

And Rudy Giuliani's call for "free-market solutions, not socialist models" was about health care, not education.

But thinking about how we'd react if they said the same things about education helps dispel the fog of obfuscation right-wingers use to obscure the true nature of their position on children's health.

The truth is that there's no difference in principle between saying that every American child is entitled to an education and saying that every American child is entitled to adequate health care. It's just a matter of historical accident that we think of access to free K-12 education as a basic right, but consider having the government pay children's medical bills "welfare," with all the negative connotations that go with that term.

And conservative opposition to giving every child in this country access to health care is, in a fundamental sense, un-American.

Here's what I mean: The great majority of Americans believe that everyone is entitled to a chance to make the most of his or her life. Even conservatives usually claim to believe that. For example, N. Gregory Mankiw, the former chairman of the Bush Council of Economic Advisers, contrasts the position of liberals, who he says believe in equality of outcomes, with that of conservatives, who he says believe that the goal of policy should be "to give everyone the same shot and not be surprised or concerned when outcomes differ wildly."

But a child who doesn't receive adequate health care, like a child who doesn't receive an adequate education, doesn't have the same shot - he or she doesn't have the same chances in life as children who get both these things.

And insurance is crucial to receiving adequate health care. President Bush may think that lacking insurance is no problem - "I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room" - but the reality is that the nine million children in America who don't have health insurance often have unmet medical or dental needs, don't have a regular place for medical care, and frequently have to delay care because of cost.

Now, the public understands the importance of health insurance, even if Mr. Bush doesn't. According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, an amazing 94 percent of the public regards the fact that many children in America lack health insurance as either a "serious" or a "very serious" problem.

So how can conservatives defend the indefensible, and oppose giving children the health care they need? By trying the old welfare queen in her Cadillac strategy (albeit without the racial innuendo that made it so effective when Reagan used it). That is, to divert public sympathy from people who really need help, they're trying to change the subject to the supposedly undeserving recipients of government aid. Hence the emphasis on the evils of "middle-class welfare."

Proponents of an expansion of children's health care have, as they should, responded to this strategy with facts and figures. Congressional Budget Office estimates show that S-chip expansion would, in fact, primarily benefit those who need it most: the great majority of children receiving coverage under an expanded program would otherwise have been uninsured.

But the more fundamental response should be, so what?

We offer free education, and don't worry about middle-class families getting benefits they don't need, because that's the only way to ensure that every child gets an education - and giving every child a fair chance is the American way. And we should guarantee health care to every child, for the same reason.

AlterNet is making this material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Why Hillary is dangerous for the Democrats

I worry about Hillary Clinton being the Democratic nominee, mainly because I believe she is the only candidate whom the Republicans can make the election a mandate about. Whether or not that will be successful is another question, but the Democrats have a prime opportunity to rebut eight years of the current President, and the best Republican strategy to hold the White House is to make the '08 Presidential race a referendum on the Democratic candidate rather than on what a mess the Republican guy is leaving to clean up.

Clinton gives the Republicans the best chance to do that. And this article by Jonathan Martin of The Politico (http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=9F088D9A-3048-5C12-0073237EC2D5AA49) makes that point.

We'll see. Hillary Clinton is a very smart campaigner and, quite honestly, the Republican candidates have issues of their own. Maybe this is just the Republicans seeing the trend toward an awful 2008 and looking for something to latch on to in order to keep hope alive. Maybe 2008 will be the end of the Rove era of hyper-cynical politics, but that's something I'll have to see to believe.

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GOP activists root for Clinton win
By: Jonathan Martin
August 26, 2007 07:35 PM EST

INDIANAPOLIS — He may be on his way out the door at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in coming days. But the party Karl Rove has labored to build over the past eight years seems to have picked up his talking points on next year’s presidential race: Hillary Rodham Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee and that could be the GOP’s saving grace in an otherwise uphill battle.

Conversations with Republicans gathered here for the biennial Midwest Republican Leadership Conference reflect a party unenthused or just plain uncertain about their potential White House nominee. But GOP faithful also seem quite confident and even upbeat about the prospect that the senator from New York is, as Rove put it, the “prohibitive favorite to win the nomination.”

That likelihood, they say, is good news for any hopes of keeping the White House and getting other Republicans on the ballot elected.

Asked if Clinton being the nominee would improve his party’s chances both nationally and in Indiana, Howard County (Ind.) GOP Chair Craig Dunn got excited. “Absolutely, absolutely!” he exclaimed animatedly, grinning widely. “We’ve never elected a president of the United States who started off with 45 percent unfavorable ratings!”

But from Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels on down to county chairs like Dunn, Republicans also concede that they’re still licking their wounds from the losses that took place nearly 10 months ago.

“No, no, I don’t think so,” Daniels candidly replied Friday after a kickoff luncheon when asked if the party had recovered from its dismal midterm performance. As somebody who saw three Republican incumbent congressmen in his state go down in defeat last fall and who faces a potentially tough reelection battle of his own next year, Daniels would know.

But Daniels, the budget director in President Bush’s first term, said there is reason for hope.

Acknowledging that any two-term presidency “leads to a natural tendency to change,” Daniels said he’s nevertheless optimistic because of the “array of fresh faces” running for the GOP nomination. “This will not be a continuity candidacy. And I say this as somebody who has served in this administration and is loyal to it. A continuity candidacy, given the erosion in the party, wouldn’t have much of a chance.”

Although he got behind Sen. John McCain early and still supports the Arizonan (a longtime friend, Daniels repeatedly pointed out), the governor said he doesn’t know who the GOP nominee will be. “But our party is going to present a new face, a new program, a new look to America and it might just be one that is good enough to win.”

And Republicans here are hopeful that they’ll get to contrast that fresh look with a Democrat who they think Americans will reject as part of a checkered past and who can only boost their hopes to get otherwise dispirited GOP activists to come out and vote.

It’s why the focus on Clinton is so constant that it bordered on obsessive in both the official sessions and less-formal corridor conversations here.

In a multimedia presentation to the most diehard of GOP heartland activists, RNC Chair Mike Duncan played and replayed a video of Clinton talking about the economy in a manner he claimed smacked of “socialism.”

Duncan also offered barbs at Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, among other Democrats — but as with most of the Republicans here, the main target was clearly Clinton.

So when Duncan wrapped up his treatment of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, it was only Clinton that he admonished for being “one of only 22 senators to vote against [Supreme Court Chief Justice] John Roberts” and trying “to block” Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court nomination. And only she, as Duncan told it, “blasted the Supreme Court decision on partial-birth abortion.”

“It’s amazing,” Duncan concluded, “Hillary and her Democratic competitors have made their position clear — they’re running for MoveOn[.org] and not for America.”

The questions Duncan took from the audience reflect why Republicans so want to make Clinton the center of attention; talking about the current state of their own party is not nearly so much fun. Two of those who raised their hands wanted to know when the party will get on a unified message and one of them expressed fear that the immigration issue (which Duncan pointedly avoided during his presentation) will keep the GOP base home.

“My greatest fear is that they won’t turn out,” said the questioner. Another wanted to know just what Bush’s role will be in the election (to which Duncan said in three different ways that the focus will be on their nominee, not the outgoing president).

In an interview, an upbeat Duncan repeatedly came back to talking about the opposition instead of his own party. “We’ve got to get back to our basics,” Duncan said. “Low taxes, less government, strong national security.”

“When we get our candidate, we’ll be in good hands,” he predicted. And why? “Democrats are overplaying their hand.”

Back in the conference room, it was much the same message. “As Hillary Clinton becomes the nominee,” projected GOP pollster B.J. Martino of the Tarrance Group, pointing to charts and graphs, “Republican intensity will simultaneously spike.”

After a BBQ and fried chicken dinner at the famed speedway where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney enjoyed lusty applause and even brought a few Republicans to their feet for offering his stock line that Clinton “couldn’t become elected president of France, let alone president of the United States,” Republicans said they liked what they heard but were still shopping for a candidate.

Asked which way she was leaning, one local Republican who didn’t want her name used hemmed and hawed before blurting out, “Anybody but Hillary!”

Todd Rokita, Indiana’s secretary of state and a Romney backer, emphasized, given his is role as the state’s election officer, that the election next year would be fair and accurate. But as somebody with further statewide ambitions, Rokita couldn’t entirely hide his delight at the prospect of a Clinton nomination. Hoosiers “have had enough of the Clintons and they don’t want a return to that,” he said.

But to Clinton’s camp, the lavishing of GOP attention on the former first lady is seen as nothing short of flattery.

Noting Clinton’s uptick in both national and state polls, spokesman Mo Elleithee said the GOP is “attacking her and making her center of attention because they see these trends”

“They’re starting to get a little nervous and are trying to stop her momentum right now,” Elleithee said. And he offered a reminder: Many Republicans also once gleefully looked forward to taking on Clinton when she first ran for the Senate in New York, too.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

If this doesn't make you mad ...

A very disturbing story from the Associated Press on MSNBC.com (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20430153/), about how people in Iraq who are blowing the whistle on corruption in the reconstruction are being demoted, fined, shunned, kidnapped, imprisoned, and tortured.

You read that right. American citizens, trying to do the right thing, are being detained and tortured by American soldiers. Not because they are dangerous to the American people ... but because they are dangerous to the image of the current President.

Look, this entire administration, and specifically the "war on terror," has been about abuse of power. Everything, from warrantless wiretapping to Abu Gharib to Cheney's secrecy to this story, is about a government attempting to exercise absolute power without any checks or controls. This quote at the end of the story says it all.

“There’s an unspoken rule in Baghdad,” he said. “Don’t snitch on people and don’t burn bridges.”

The "he" is Nathan Ertel, a man who was imprisoned by the U.S. military and subjected to "harsh interrogation tactics" (a euphamism for torture) for trying to stop guns from being illegally sold to God knows who. Don't snitch. Omerta. Iraq has now become an episode of "The Sopranos."

It makes me furious. It also makes me scared. If they can do this, what makes you think they won't try to "extend" in some way the current President's regime beyond January 2009, particularly if the "wrong" person wins the election?

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Iraq fraud whistleblowers vilified
Cases show fraud exposers have been vilified, fired, or detained for weeks
The Associated Press
Updated: 11:02 a.m. CT Aug 25, 2007
One after another, the men and women who have stepped forward to report corruption in the massive effort to rebuild Iraq have been vilified, fired and demoted.

Or worse.

For daring to report illegal arms sales, Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods.

There were times, huddled on the floor in solitary confinement with that head-banging music blaring dawn to dusk and interrogators yelling the same questions over and over, that Vance began to wish he had just kept his mouth shut.

He had thought he was doing a good and noble thing when he started telling the FBI about the guns and the land mines and the rocket-launchers — all of them being sold for cash, no receipts necessary, he said. He told a federal agent the buyers were Iraqi insurgents, American soldiers, State Department workers, and Iraqi embassy and ministry employees.

The seller, he claimed, was the Iraqi-owned company he worked for, Shield Group Security Co.

“It was a Wal-Mart for guns,” he says. “It was all illegal and everyone knew it.”

So Vance says he blew the whistle, supplying photos and documents and other intelligence to an FBI agent in his hometown of Chicago because he didn’t know whom to trust in Iraq.

For his trouble, he says, he got 97 days in Camp Cropper, an American military prison outside Baghdad that once held Saddam Hussein, and he was classified a security detainee.

Also held was colleague Nathan Ertel, who helped Vance gather evidence documenting the sales, according to a federal lawsuit both have filed in Chicago, alleging they were illegally imprisoned and subjected to physical and mental interrogation tactics “reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants.”

No noble outcomes
Corruption has long plagued Iraq reconstruction. Hundreds of projects may never be finished, including repairs to the country’s oil pipelines and electricity system. Congress gave more than $30 billion to rebuild Iraq, and at least $8.8 billion of it has disappeared, according to a government reconstruction audit.

Despite this staggering mess, there are no noble outcomes for those who have blown the whistle, according to a review of such cases by The Associated Press.

“If you do it, you will be destroyed,” said William Weaver, professor of political science at the University of Texas-El Paso and senior advisor to the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.

“Reconstruction is so rife with corruption. Sometimes people ask me, ‘Should I do this?’ And my answer is no. If they’re married, they’ll lose their family. They will lose their jobs. They will lose everything,” Weaver said.

They have been fired or demoted, shunned by colleagues, and denied government support in whistleblower lawsuits filed against contracting firms.


“The only way we can find out what is going on is for someone to come forward and let us know,” said Beth Daley of the Project on Government Oversight, an independent, nonprofit group that investigates corruption. “But when they do, the weight of the government comes down on them. The message is, ’Don’t blow the whistle or we’ll make your life hell.’

“It’s heartbreaking,” Daley said. “There is an even greater need for whistleblowers now. But they are made into public martyrs. It’s a disgrace. Their lives get ruined.”


One whistleblower demoted
Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse knows this only too well. As the highest-ranking civilian contracting officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, she testified before a congressional committee in 2005 that she found widespread fraud in multibillion-dollar rebuilding contracts awarded to former Halliburton subsidiary KBR.

Soon after, Greenhouse was demoted. She now sits in a tiny cubicle in a different department with very little to do and no decision-making authority, at the end of an otherwise exemplary 20-year career.

People she has known for years no longer speak to her.

“It’s just amazing how we say we want to remove fraud from our government, then we gag people who are just trying to stand up and do the right thing,” she says.

In her demotion, her supervisors said she was performing poorly. “They just wanted to get rid of me,” she says softly. The Army Corps of Engineers denies her claims.

“You just don’t have happy endings,” said Weaver. “She was a wonderful example of a federal employee. They just completely creamed her. In the end, no one followed up, no one cared.”

No regrets
But Greenhouse regrets nothing. “I have the courage to say what needs to be said. I paid the price,” she says.

Then there is Robert Isakson, who filed a whistleblower suit against contractor Custer Battles in 2004, alleging the company — with which he was briefly associated — bilked the U.S. government out of tens of millions of dollars by filing fake invoices and padding other bills for reconstruction work.

He and his co-plaintiff, William Baldwin, a former employee fired by the firm, doggedly pursued the suit for two years, gathering evidence on their own and flying overseas to obtain more information from witnesses. Eventually, a federal jury agreed with them and awarded a $10 million judgment against the now-defunct firm, which had denied all wrongdoing.

It was the first civil verdict for Iraq reconstruction fraud.

But in 2006, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III overturned the jury award. He said Isakson and Baldwin failed to prove that the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-backed occupier of Iraq for 14 months, was part of the U.S. government.

Not a single Iraq whistleblower suit has gone to trial since.

“It’s a sad, heartbreaking comment on the system,” said Isakson, a former FBI agent who owns an international contracting company based in Alabama. “I tried to help the government, and the government didn’t seem to care.”

U.S. shows little support?
One way to blow the whistle is to file a “qui tam” lawsuit (taken from the Latin phrase “he who sues for the king, as well as for himself”) under the federal False Claims Act.

Signed by Abraham Lincoln in response to military contractors selling defective products to the Union Army, the act allows private citizens to sue on the government’s behalf.

The government has the option to sign on, with all plaintiffs receiving a percentage of monetary damages, which are tripled in these suits.


It can be a straightforward and effective way to recoup federal funds lost to fraud. In the past, the Justice Department has joined several such cases and won. They included instances of Medicare and Medicaid overbilling, and padded invoices from domestic contractors.

But the government has not joined a single quit tam suit alleging Iraq reconstruction abuse, estimated in the tens of millions. At least a dozen have been filed since 2004.

“It taints these cases,” said attorney Alan Grayson, who filed the Custer Battles suit and several others like it. “If the government won’t sign on, then it can’t be a very good case — that’s the effect it has on judges.”

The Justice Department declined comment.


Placed under guard, kept in seclusion
Most of the lawsuits are brought by former employees of giant firms. Some plaintiffs have testified before members of Congress, providing examples of fraud they say they witnessed and the retaliation they experienced after speaking up.

Julie McBride testified last year that as a “morale, welfare and recreation coordinator” at Camp Fallujah, she saw KBR exaggerate costs by double- and triple-counting the number of soldiers who used recreational facilities.

She also said the company took supplies destined for a Super Bowl party for U.S. troops and instead used them to stage a celebration for themselves.

“After I voiced my concerns about what I believed to be accounting fraud, Halliburton placed me under guard and kept me in seclusion,” she told the committee. “My property was searched, and I was specifically told that I was not allowed to speak to any member of the U.S. military. I remained under guard until I was flown out of the country.”

Halliburton and KBR denied her testimony.

She also has filed a whistleblower suit. The Justice Department has said it would not join the action. But last month, a federal judge refused a motion by KBR to dismiss the lawsuit.

'I thought I was among friends'
Donald Vance, the contractor and Navy veteran detained in Iraq after he blew the whistle on his company’s weapons sales, says he has stopped talking to the federal government.

Navy Capt. John Fleming, a spokesman for U.S. detention operations in Iraq, confirmed the detentions but said he could provide no further details because of the lawsuit.

According to their suit, Vance and Ertel gathered photographs and documents, which Vance fed to Chicago FBI agent Travis Carlisle for six months beginning in October 2005. Carlisle, reached by phone at Chicago’s FBI field office, declined comment. An agency spokesman also would not comment.

The Iraqi company has since disbanded, according the suit.

Vance said things went terribly wrong in April 2006, when he and Ertel were stripped of their security passes and confined to the company compound.

Panicking, Vance said, he called the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, where hostage experts got on the phone and told him “you’re about to be kidnapped. Lock yourself in a room with all the weapons you can get your hands on.”’

The military sent a Special Forces team to rescue them, Vance said, and the two men showed the soldiers where the weapons caches were stored. At the embassy, the men were debriefed and allowed to sleep for a few hours. “I thought I was among friends,” Vance said.

An unspoken Baghdad rule
The men said they were cuffed and hooded and driven to Camp Cropper, where Vance was held for nearly three months and his colleague for a little more than a month. Eventually, their jailers said they were being held as security internees because their employer was suspected of selling weapons to terrorists and insurgents, the lawsuit said.

The prisoners said they repeatedly told interrogators to contact Carlisle in Chicago. “One set of interrogators told us that Travis Carlisle doesn’t exist. Then some others would say, ’He says he doesn’t know who you are,”’ Vance said.


Released first was Ertel, who has returned to work in Iraq for a different company. Vance said he has never learned why he was held longer. His own interrogations, he said, seemed focused on why he reported his information to someone outside Iraq.

And then one day, without explanation, he was released.

“They drove me to Baghdad International Airport and dumped me,” he said.

When he got home, he decided to never call the FBI again. He called a lawyer, instead.

“There’s an unspoken rule in Baghdad,” he said. “Don’t snitch on people and don’t burn bridges.”

For doing both, Vance said, he paid with 97 days of his life.

Friday, August 24, 2007

NU Pre-View:NFL 2007

AFC EAST
Patriots
Jets
Bills
Dolphins

AFC NORTH
Ravens
Bengals
Steelers
Browns

AFC SOUTH
Colts
Jaguars
Texans
Titans

AFC WEST
Chargers
Broncos
Chiefs
Raiders

NFC EAST
Eagles
Cowboys
Redskins
Giants

NFC NORTH
Bears
Lions
Packers
Vikings

NFC SOUTH
Saints
Falcons
Panthers
Buccaneers

NFC WEST
Seahawks
Rams
49ers
Cardinals

AFC PLAYOFFS
Colts over Broncos
Ravens over Bengals

Patriots over Colts
Chargers over Ravens

Chargers over Patriots

NFC PLAYOFFS
Seahawks over Rams
Bears over Falcons

Eagles over Seahawks
Saints over Bears

Saints over Eagles

SUPER BOWL XLII
Chargers over Saints

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What he says, and what he does

Amazing. On the same day the current President is telling a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention that America needs to remember the history of our involvement in Korea and Vietnam as a reason to "stay the course," a story from Michael Ware and Thomas Evans on CNN.com (http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/08/22/iraq.democracy/index.html) recounts discussions from American military leaders about how the goal for Iraq now is security, not necessarily democracy.

Funny. That seems to be what they had before we invaded.

And, funny, wasn't it just this May that the current President was telling us that Iraq was not, in fact, Vietnam?

Now, I think Michael Ware is a breathless, camera-hogging blowhard, so I take stuff that he reports with more than a grain of salt. But, still, Jon Stewart and the folks at "The Daily Show" couldn't ask for better material than this.

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U.S. officials rethink hopes for Iraq democracy

From Michael Ware and Thomas Evans
CNN

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Nightmarish political realities in Baghdad are prompting American officials to curb their vision for democracy in Iraq. Instead, the officials now say they are willing to settle for a government that functions and can bring security.

But for the first time, exasperated front-line U.S. generals talk openly of non-democratic governmental alternatives, and while the two top U.S. officials in Iraq still talk about preserving the country's nascent democratic institutions, they say their ambitions aren't as "lofty" as they once had been.

"Democratic institutions are not necessarily the way ahead in the long-term future," said Brig. Gen. John "Mick" Bednarek, part of Task Force Lightning in Diyala province, one of the war's major battlegrounds.

The comments reflect a practicality common among Western diplomats and officials trying to win hearts and minds in the Middle East and other non-Western countries where democracy isn't a tradition.

The failure of Iraq to emerge from widespread instability is a bitter pill for the United States, which optimistically toppled the Saddam Hussein regime more than four years ago. Millions of Iraqis went to the polls to cast ballots, something that generated great promise for the establishment of a democratic system.

But Iraqi institutions, from the infrastructure to the national government, are widely regarded as ineffective in the fifth year of the war.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, declined to be interviewed for this story, but they issued a joint statement to CNN that reiterated that the country's "fundamental democratic framework is in place" and that "the development of democratic institutions is being encouraged."

And, they said, they are helping Iraqi political leaders find ways "to share power and achieve legislative progress."

But Crocker and Petraeus conceded they are "now engaged in pursuing less lofty and ambitious goals than was the case at the outset."

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of Task Force Lightning, also reflected a less lofty American goal for Iraq's future.

"I would describe it as leaving an effective government behind that can provide services to its people, and security. It needs to be an effective and functioning government that is really a partner with the United States and the rest of the world in this fight against the terrorists," said Mixon, who will not be perturbed if such goals are reached without democracy.

"Well, see that all over the Middle East," he said, stating that democracy is merely an option, that Iraqis are free to choose or reject.

"But that is the $50,000 question. ... What will this government look like? Will it be a democracy? Will it not?" he asked.

But security is far from complete in Iraq, where the government seems dysfunctional and paralyzed.

Seventeen of the 37 Iraqi Cabinet ministers either boycott or don't attend Cabinet meetings. Parliament, now on a much-criticized month-long summer break, has yet to pass key legislation in the areas of energy resource sharing and the future roles of former members of Hussein's Baath Party. U.S. officials, including President Bush, have said there is frustration with efforts by the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to promote political reconciliation.

The government is unable to supply regular electricity and at times running water in the capital. The health care system is run by one Iranian-backed militia and the national police are dominated by another. Death squads terrorize Sunni neighborhoods.

Sectarian cleansing is pushing people into segregated enclaves, protected by Shiite or U.S.-backed Sunni militias, and spurring the flight of thousands to neighboring countries.

Thousands of innocents are dying violently every month in cities and villages across the country.

Iraqi government officials concede things aren't working, but they say that's because the United States doesn't allow Iraq to really control its own destiny.

While the Iraqi government commands its own troops, it cannot send them into battle without U.S. agreement. Iraqi Special Forces answer only to U.S. officers.

"We don't have full sovereignty," said Hadi al-Amri, the chairman of parliament's Defense and Security Committee. "We don't have sovereignty over our troops, we don't have sovereignty over our provinces. We admit it."

And because of the very real prospect of Iranian infiltration, the government doesn't fund or control its own intelligence service. It's paid for and run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Abdul Qarim al-Enzi, director of the parliamentary ethics committee, asks whether it is "reasonable for a country given sovereignty by the international community to have a chief of intelligence appointed by another country."

One senior U.S. official in Baghdad told CNN that "any country with 160,000 foreigners fighting for it sacrifices some sovereignty."

The U.S. government has long cautioned that a fully functioning democracy would be slow to emerge in Iraq. But with key U.S. senators calling for al-Maliki's removal, some senior U.S. military commanders even suggest privately the entire Iraqi government must be removed by "constitutional or non-constitutional" means and replaced with a stable, secure, but not necessarily democratic entity

NU Pre-View:NCAA Top 25 2007

1) USC: Not a stretch, best talent in the country.
2) LSU: Only team that really competes with USC in talent.
3) Michigan: Now is the time for Carr to prove himself again.
4) West Virginia: Leadership and experience make 'Neers dangerous.
5) Oklahoma: Solid QB play = BCS title contention.
6) Wisconsin: Under the radar last year, dark horse to play for title
7) Florida: Can Tebow be the guy in Gainesville?
8) Louisville: Brohm & Co. can be dangerous.
9) Texas: Massive talent stockpile in Austin.
10) Virginia Tech: Sentimental pick, need good QB play.
11) Rutgers: Last year wasn't a fluke. Sleeping giant in the Northeast.
12) California: The main challenger to USC in the Pac-10.
13) UCLA: Not as good as Cal, but a legit challenger.
14) Ohio State: Tressel has to reload and regroup after title debacle.
15) Boise State: Johnson's return makes Broncos legit.
16) Auburn: Can the Tigers get over the big hump this year?
17) Nebraska: If Keller's the guy, NU could get good fast.
18) Penn State: JoePa keeps putting good teams on the field.
19) Georgia: Richt has things to prove in Athens.
20) Tennessee: Ditto for Fullmer in Knoxville.
21) TCU: Pesky Frogs still a threat to crack the BCS party.
22) Hawai'i: Brennan's great, but can anybody tell with their schedule?
23) Florida State: Has Bowden brought the 'Noles back enough?
24) Arkansas: Nutt has big problems, needs to deliver this year.
25) Oklahoma State: Up and coming Big XII power.

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: USC defeats Louisville.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Giuliani's "exaggerations"

As a life-long Yankees fan, I would never say spending time at Yankee Stadium is a bad thing. But in a phenomenal post from Adam Howard on AlterNet (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/60201/), he points out that while mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani spent more time at Yankee Stadium than at Ground Zero. I love this quote, taken from a Salon.com article, based on Giuliani saying that he spent so much time at Ground Zero that he was basically a worker there:

"By his own standard, Giuliani was one of the Yankees more than he was one of the rescue workers."

We'll see if this makes any difference to the voters, either in the primary or the general election. So far, none of this has really tarnished his "Saint Rudy of 9/11" halo as of yet.

------

Either the Republican base is blind, deaf and dumb (a real possiblity) or they are just so disenchanted with all their choices for '08 that nothing phases them. I think it's utterly bizarre how Giuliani has managed to stay on top of national GOP polls and many state primary polls in light of the revelations of recent weeks.

First, he claims he was basically a 9/11 worker himself because he spend just as much time at Ground Zero if not more than the average 9/11 worker.

The serial exaggerator was called out on his bullshit by the New York Times who revealed that he actually only spent 29 hours total at Ground Zero in the weeks and months after the September 11th attacks.

Now Salon.com has one-upped them by calculating the amount of time the former Mayor spent cheering his beloved New York Yankees (who were on a successful playoff run at the time and made it to the 2001 World Series) in comparison to the time he spent "working" at Ground Zero. Here's what they found:

The results were, considering the mayor's long-standing devotion to the Bronx Bombers, unsurprising. By our count, Giuliani spent about 58 hours at Yankees games or flying to them in the 40 days between Sept. 25 and Nov. 4, roughly twice as long as he spent at ground zero in the 60 days between Sept. 17 and Dec. 16. By his own standard, Giuliani was one of the Yankees more than he was one of the rescue workers.

During three postseason playoff series that began Oct. 10, 2001, and ended Nov. 4, 2001, Giuliani attended every one of the team's home games, with the possible exception of the third game of the American League Championship Series, for which Salon could not confirm his attendance. According to Salon's arithmetic, Giuliani spent about 33 hours in stadiums -- this includes two World Series games he watched in Phoenix -- during the Yankees' 2001 postseason run, four hours more than he spent at ground zero. (We do not know if he stayed for every pitch, but famed baseball writer Roger Angell described Giuliani in the the New Yorker as a "devout Yankee fan, a guy who stays on until the end of the game.")

Oh, but there's more. Giuliani's obsession with the Yankees goes deeper and becomes blatantly inappropriate in other situations. According to Miles Mogulescu from the Huffington Post:

...During his administration, Giuliani frequently used a police boat to haul himself and his guests to Yankee Games. The Yankees gave Giuliani diamond and gold Yankee World Series rings for 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000 worth a minimum of $200,000 for which he only paid $16,000, years after he left office. No mayor of any other American city in recent memory has received World Series Rings from their teams.

The rings may have been illegal gifts in conflict with New York Conflict of Interest Laws. Shortly before leaving office, Giuliani renegotiated the Yankee's lease on Yankee Stadium to allow the Yankees to break their lease on 60 days notice, instead of 5 years, if the they determined that the City was unlikely to proceed with a new stadium Giuliani had promised to build them with over $1 billion in taxpayer money. When Mayor Bloomberg took over from Giuliani, he quickly killed Giuliani's plans to subsidize a stadium for the Yankees as unaffordable in the post 9/ll era

Could this be the beginning of the end of Rudy Giuliani's campaign for the presidency? We can only hope...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Iraq - soldiers' perspective

A devastating piece from the International Times Herald (http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/08/19/opinion/ediraq.php?page=1) written by seven currently-serving American soldiers on what is happening in Iraq. It is a must-read, but it is summarized by these two paragraphs towards the end of the article.

"Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, 'We need security, not free food.'

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are - an army of occupation - and force our withdrawal."

It's amazing how one can feel both heartbroken and furious at the same time. Let us all pray for peace, and for an end to the monstrosity of this adventure in Iraq being prosecuted by the current President in our names.

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The Iraq war as we see it
Seven U.S. soldiers speak
Sunday, August 19, 2007

BAGHDAD: Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is surreal.

Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched.

As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the "battle space" remains the same, with changes only at the margins.

It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at U.S. taxpayers' expense.

A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: Had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.

As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.

Similarly, Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.

However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: One of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, a U.S. Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a "time-sensitive target acquisition mission" on August 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse - namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in flux.

The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the British and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.

Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington's insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made - de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government - places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party - as we do now - will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

The most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. "Lucky" Iraqis live in communities barricaded with concrete walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal. In an environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act.

Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, "We need security, not free food."

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are - an army of occupation - and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.

Buddhika Jayamaha is a U.S. Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A creative idea for Michael Vick's punishment

Maybe as an animal lover, I'm a sucker for this stuff, but an ESPN.com column be Gene Wojciechowski (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=wojciechowski_gene&id=2977604) on his idea for Michael Vick if he is found guilty of dogfighting is both moving and thought-provoking.

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A dogfighting sentence with an exclamation point

Her name is Little Mama. She's, oh, about 1½ years old. Just the sweetest pit bull you could ever pet. And then somebody stuck the blade of a 4-inch hunting knife into her skull.

"The worst case of animal abuse I've ever seen," says Carl Leveridge, president of the Atlanta Humane Society.

That's where they brought Little Mama, to the 58,000-square-foot nonprofit shelter and clinic in northwest Atlanta. She was terrified and in pain, yet Leveridge said Little Mama allowed one of the staff veterinarians to lift her lip and inspect her teeth. Like I said, a sweetie.

Surgery was needed to remove the knife blade, which had been pushed nearly 2 inches into her sinus cavity and lodged in bone. Miraculously, the stabbing missed her brain. And as of Thursday afternoon, the patient was in stable condition and showing signs of improvement.

"A half-hour ago I was over there petting her," said Leveridge, who has offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the creep who did this. "Her tail was wagging against the cage."

See, this is why prison is too good for people capable of this kind of cruelty. This is why Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, if he cops his own plea or is eventually found guilty of federal dogfighting conspiracy charges, should have to join the rest of his Bad Newz Kennels crew and do some hard time at the Atlanta Humane Society.

Just prison? Nuh-uh. Instead, doghouse during the day, then federal big house at night.

Maybe they'll make him work here a year. That would be good.

Carl Leveridge, president of the Atlanta Humane Society
"Do you think a judge might impose something like that?" asks Leveridge. "Maybe they'll make him work here a year. That would be good."

That would be justice. Or the beginnings of it.

Of course, if it were up to me, I'd also sentence all guilty parties of the Bad Newz group to work as Alaskan Husky No. 7 in next year's Iditarod. At the very least, I'd have them chase mechanical rabbits at Mile High Greyhound Park in Commerce City, Colo. Or have them fetch Joey Harrington's jockstrap -- post-practice -- with their teeth. And, sorry, no showers for the Bad Newz crew. Tongue baths only.

Yeah, I'm a dog person. I don't want to go all "Marley & Me" on you, but the night I brought my Cocker Spaniel puppy Elvis home, I slept next to him on the kitchen floor so he'd feel safe and wouldn't whimper so much. Twelve years later, I slept next to him on the living-room floor as his breathing became more shallow and his blood count worsened by the minute. He died later that day. But at least he didn't die alone.

We've got another pooch now -- a pain-in-the-butt, pig-in-a-dog-suit Cocker named Oskie. And even though he's been known to sneak on top of the Thanksgiving dinner table for a slice of just-carved turkey, I can't imagine a day without him.

So pit bull torture sessions? Drownings? Electrocutions? Hangings? Shootings? Rape stands? Fights to the death? There isn't an adjective in existence that describes my level of disgust, astonishment and sadness at the inhumanity of such acts.

Vick will get his day in court and, for his sake, I hope he's able to -- as he put it -- clear his "good name." But if there's a plea (and it appears such an option is being discussed), Vick and his accomplices deserve more than merely prison; they really should spend time working at the humane society.

Weird how this works out. Leveridge recently met with representatives of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. Blank happens to be the owner of the Falcons and has contributed to the Atlanta Humane Society for years. He has two old Labradors that he adores.

"He's a true animal-welfare advocate," says Leveridge. "For this to happen to him, I feel so bad for him."

If I'm the federal judge in charge of sentencing, I make Vick and the others report to the AHS Monday through Sunday at 8 a.m. sharp. There are about 100 cages that need to be cleaned twice each day. Sadly, there are few vacancies at the Humane Society.

Vick could walk dogs. He could help groom them. He could cut the grass and help maintain the grounds. He could stuff envelopes in the administrative offices. He could work with the on-site dog behavior expert. He could offer to work in the AHS wellness clinic, which provides free animal-health services for pets whose owners can't normally afford such care. He could attend the monthly support-group meeting, where animal owners who have lost their pets help each other through the hurt.

"It's a cliché term, but it is like losing a family member," says Leveridge. "If he went to some of these sessions, saw some of these people sobbing their eyes out ... and yet [Bad Newz allegedly] is killing them for sport."

Most of all, Vick could write a check. Something in the two commas, six-zero variety. It wouldn't bring back the dogs that were allegedly tortured and killed at Bad Newz, but it would save others.

The AHS has an annual operating budget of about $4.5 million. It cares for about 400 animals, including about 200 dogs. A Michael Vick Endowment Fund of, say, $5 million, would help bankroll the AHS for the next 20 years. Now that's a legacy.
The AHS has an annual operating budget of about $4.5 million. It cares for about 400 animals, including about 200 dogs. A Michael Vick Endowment Fund of, say, $5 million, would help bankroll the AHS for the next 20 years. Now that's a legacy.

"That would be the best way, giving money," says Leveridge. "People would say, 'He realized he did the wrong thing and he wants to help animals.'"

It beats what some of them are saying now. Angry Falcons fans have sent more than 100 Vick jerseys or T-shirts to the AHS, occasionally with a charity check attached. Just the other day a woman handed Leveridge a bag full of Vick T-shirts with his familiar No. 7 on them.

The jerseys and T-shirts don't go to waste, though. The nice ones are used as pillows for the animals. The others are used as rags to clean the kennels.

Including Little Mama's.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

Something to watch for in the September report

I've posted previously about some real credibility problems with the report the White House will be giving us in September about the status of the Surge. Note I did not say the report that General David Petraeus will be giving, as the report will be written by the White House, that bastion of credibility on all things Iraq.

But even beyond that, here's a fascinating article from the International Herald Tribune by James Dobbins (http://iht.com/articles/2007/08/16/opinion/eddobbinz.php?page=1) discussing the very complicated practical problems the United States faces.

My guess is that we're going to hear about how wonderful the Surge is going because the Sunnis are cooperating with us to fight al Qaeda. Which, taken by itself, is a good thing. But what happens long-term as a result? The article makes a compelling argument that the Sunnis working with the US is very unlikely to be a long-term proposition. Shi'ites are a majority in Iraq, and in all likelihood the current Shi'ite-Kurdish alliance will be the dominant political force in Iraq.

So, either the United States somehow gets the Sunnis to cooperate with the Shi'ites (a proposition that has shown exactly zero signs of progress), the US backs the minority in a civil war (a true losing proposition), or the US abandons the group that we will, in all likelihood, base our report of "progress" in September on. The final paragraph of the article really sums up the depth and complexity of the problem.

"Even as the Sunnis in Anbar enter an alliance of convenience with the United States, their representatives in Baghdad are distancing themselves further from the national government. The two developments are not necessarily connected, but to the extent they are, Sunni-American cooperation in Anbar may actually be working against Sunni-Shiite accommodation in Baghdad."

It just keeps getting deeper, and deeper, and deeper. I can only hope the Democrats are smart enough, and the American people are responsible enough, to look through the fear-mongering of the current President to see what's happening, and why a significant American military presence in Iraq can do nothing more than prolong their suffering and send more Americans home in body bags.

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Are the Sunnis changing sides
By James Dobbins
Thursday, August 16, 2007

WASHINGTON: The war in Iraq began as a Sunni-dominated resistance movement to the American occupation. With the transfer of sovereignty to a democratically elected and therefore Shiite-dominated government in 2005, the conflict began mutating into a true civil war. Today the warring parties are more interested in fighting each other than expelling the United States, although most of them also retain that as an ultimate goal.

The latest development, much commented upon in recent weeks, is that Sunni insurgents are increasingly coming to the view that they cannot successfully resist both the United States and the Shiite-dominated government at the same time. Increasing numbers of Sunni fighters in Anbar Province are therefore preparing for a tactical accommodation with the less dangerous enemy, the United States.

The immediate objective of the Sunnis reaching out to America is to suppress their heretofore Al Qaeda allies. Their secondary objective, in all likelihood, is to strengthen their ability to resist the Shiitedominated government. This is a positive development, but one that presents the United States with a difficult choice.

Do U.S. forces now position themselves equidistant between their new Sunni and their original Shiite allies in an effort to achieve a balance that will eventually convince both sides to give up the fight and find some accommodation? Or does the United States continue to help the Shiite-dominated government achieve effective control over the Sunni regions of the country?

This is a classic dilemma. Faced with civil war, any external power has three theoretical choices - stand aside, suppress the conflict altogether, or back one protagonist against the other.

American interests in Iraq are probably too engaged to simply step aside. Peace enforcement, however, is a very manpower-intensive mission, requiring numbers large enough to defeat or deter all sides to a conflict simultaneously. The United States does not currently have enough troops in Iraq to perform this mission successfully on more than a very localized basis, and the level of American forces there is much more likely to go down than up over the next year.

This leaves the United States stuck with the third option of picking the least bad side and helping it prevail. In this case, the least bad side is the Shiite-led government that America has created, composed mostly of Shiite and Kurdish political leaders. This government was popularly elected and does represent the majority of the Iraqi people.

Unfortunately, this government is also incompetent and heavily dependent upon Iranian as well as American support. Still, the United States cannot realistically ally itself with the Sunni, who have no chance of prevailing, even with American assistance, against the much more numerous Shiites backed by Iran.

Unless the United States wants to break Iraq into three independent (and in all likelihood warring) nations, it will be stuck with supporting the Shiite-Kurdish alliance it has fostered, and trying to both encourage and coerce more Sunni's into joining it.

Clearly the United States will want to use the influence of its military presence and support to ameliorate the worst abuses of its allies and promote accommodation among the warring factions. This effort will be complicated by the deep divisions within each of the factions. But U.S. leaders will not want to go so far in promoting reconciliation as to switch sides or cut off support for the efforts of the central government to extend some degree of control over the entire country.

Assuming this logic prevails, such a policy will impose limits upon the ability of General David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, to capitalize upon the recent shift in Sunni allegiances in Anbar. Recognizing that the United States will not support them against the Baghdad government, it seems likely that Sunni leaders will eventually shift back from fighting Al Qaeda to resisting the incursion of Shiite authority. At that point, the Sunnis will again find themselves at odds with American forces as well.

Perhaps this renewed U.S.-Sunni confrontation can be postponed long enough to see some reconciliation at the national level between Shiite and Sunni leaders. Unfortunately, there has been precious little evidence of movement in that direction of late. In fact, the movement is going the other way.

Even as the Sunnis in Anbar enter an alliance of convenience with the United States, their representatives in Baghdad are distancing themselves further from the national government. The two developments are not necessarily connected, but to the extent they are, Sunni-American cooperation in Anbar may actually be working against Sunni-Shiite accommodation in Baghdad.

James Dobbins, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state, is director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization.

More problems for Gonzales

Keeping track of all the problems with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' testimony before Congress is a bit like grasping at sand. Every time, it seems, something moves and something new comes out. Now, according to a Washington Post story by Dan Eggen (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/16/AR2007081601358.html?wpisrc=newsletter), FBI Director Robert Muller's notes of the evening "visit" between Gonzales and a hospitalized John Ashcroft describes Ashcroft's condition as "feeble" and "barely articulate."

This, of course, is in stark contrast to Gonzales' description of Ashcroft as "lucid" and perfectly able to carry on a conversation and make a decision about authorizing warrantless wiretapping. This is just another piece of the puzzle showing Gonzales to be at best misleading, and at worst lying, under oath to Congress about spying on Americans. (It is, of course, the supreme irony that the spying authority has recently been granted to the current President by Congress, in what has to be one of the most dizzying acts of political cowardice in years)

Of all the characters in the current President's administration, Gonzales may be the most contemptable. The mere fact that he had a large hand in the legal justification of torture by Americans is sufficient for that. But to now see his loyalty to the current President trump his duties as attorney general is loathsome.

While I think it's important to continue the investigation, let us have no illusions. Gonzales isn't going anywhere until the current President leaves office. Not only is the current President going to stick up for his lawyer in the AG's office, having a confirmation hearing for a new attorney general would bring all kinds of unpleasantness out that the current President's administration would rather keep locked away. Gonzales staying in his current position accomplishes that.

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FBI Director's Notes Contradict Gonzales's Version Of Ashcroft Visit

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 17, 2007; Page A01

Then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft was "feeble," "barely articulate" and "stressed" moments after a hospital room confrontation in March 2004 with Alberto R. Gonzales, who wanted Ashcroft to approve a warrantless wiretapping program over Justice Department objections, according to notes from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III that were released yesterday.

One of Mueller's entries in five pages of a daily log pertaining to the dispute also indicated that Ashcroft's deputy was so concerned about undue pressure by Gonzales and other White House aides for the attorney general to back the wiretapping program that the deputy asked Mueller to bar anyone other than relatives from later entering Ashcroft's hospital room.

Mueller's description of Ashcroft's physical condition that night contrasts with testimony last month from Gonzales, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Ashcroft was "lucid" and "did most of the talking" during the brief visit. It also confirms an account of the episode by former deputy attorney general James B. Comey, who said Ashcroft told the two men he was not well enough to make decisions in the hospital.

"Saw AG," Mueller writes in his notes for 8:10 p.m. on March 10, 2004, only minutes after Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. had visited Ashcroft. "Janet Ashcroft in the room. AG in chair; is feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed."

The typewritten notes, heavily censored before being turned over to the House Judiciary Committee, provide further insight into a tumultuous but secret legal battle that gripped the Justice Department and the White House in March 2004, after Justice lawyers determined that parts of the warrantless wiretapping program run by the National Security Agency were illegal.

Although Mueller did not directly witness the exchange between Ashcroft, Gonzales and Card, his notes recounted Comey's personal statement that Ashcroft at the outset said that "he was in no condition to decide issues." Ashcroft also told the two men he supported his deputy's position on the secret program, Mueller said Comey told him.

Comey had precipitated the confrontation by informing the White House days earlier that the Justice Department would not approve the wiretapping program's continuation in its present form. Gonzales and Card then decided to see if they could get Ashcroft to sign a certification that it was legal.

After the meeting concluded without success, the Bush administration decided to proceed with the program anyway. But Comey, Mueller and half a dozen or so other Justice Department officials threatened to resign if it was not changed. The standoff was averted after President Bush agreed to make changes, Mueller and others have testified, but the changes have never been described.

In his notes, Mueller recounts Comey's statement that Ashcroft complained to Gonzales and Card at the hospital about being "barred" from obtaining "the advice he needed" about the NSA program because of "strict compartmentalization rules" set by the White House. Although Ashcroft, as attorney general, had been fully briefed about the program, many of his senior legal advisers were not allowed to know about it, officials said.

Gonzales was White House counsel at the time of the hospital visit and replaced Ashcroft as attorney general in 2005. "We never had any intent to ask anything of him if we did not feel that he was competent," Gonzales testified, adding later: "Mr. Ashcroft talked about the legal issues in a lucid form, as I've heard him talk about legal issues in the White House."

But Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that Mueller's notes "confirm an attempt to goad a sick and heavily medicated Ashcroft to approve the warrantless surveillance program. Particularly disconcerting is the new revelation that the White House sought Mr. Ashcroft's authorization for the surveillance program, yet refused to let him seek the advice he needed on the program."

The White House and Justice officials declined to comment. Neither Ashcroft nor his former staffers have commented publicly on the episode.

Although the broad outlines of the hospital visit have been reported in media accounts dating to early 2006, the episode attracted fresh attention after Comey's Senate testimony in May. Comey described his rush to Ashcroft's bedside before the visit by Gonzales and Card, and said Ashcroft, who was under sedation after gallbladder surgery, was initially disoriented and "pretty bad off," though he did speak coherently to Gonzales and Card.

Mueller, who had been dining with his wife and daughter that evening, wrote that Comey told him Ashcroft had reviewed for Gonzales and Card "the legal concerns relating to the program." Throughout his notes, he makes consistent references to a single "program" as the object of the dispute. Gonzales, in congressional testimony that he later clarified, said the dispute was about "other intelligence activities," rather than the warrantless wiretapping effort that Bush described as his "Terrorist Surveillance Program."

The notes list a series of high-level meetings about the spying program before and after the hospital visit, including meetings with Card, Gonzales and Michael V. Hayden, then the NSA director. The notes confirm a previously disclosed meeting on March 12 between Mueller and Bush, but the page of text describing the meeting is almost entirely blacked out.

The records show that Mueller met with Vice President Cheney in connection with the dispute later in the month, on March 23. A paragraph describing that meeting is also censored.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) asked the Justice Department's inspector general yesterday to investigate whether Gonzales has misled lawmakers in those and other statements, including some related to last year's controversial firings of nine U.S. attorneys. Other Democrats have asked for a full perjury investigation.