Thursday, April 30, 2009

Torture is illegal.

Rice Channels Nixon: Since the President Authorized Torture, That Makes It Legal

Watch Rice attempt to hide her central role in approving torture.

Rice: Nazis were less of a threat to the U.S. than al Qaeda; SCOTUS wouldn’t let us try detainees.
Of course, the Supreme Court "stayed" the Bush administration's military commissions because they were woefully inadequate. The Court -- three separate times -- required the administration to come up with meaningful judicial review of suspects' detentions. Indeed, last June the court held that military commissions "are not an adequate and effective substitute for habeas corpus" and thus "operates as an unconstitutional suspension of the writ."

Obama Calls It "Torture" on Prime Time
Barack Obama says torture "corrodes the character of a country."

Obama Hits Back Against Bybee’s Defense: ‘Legal Rationales’ For Torture Memos Were ‘A Mistake’
...ABC's Jake Tapper asked President Obama if he believes "that the previous administration sanctioned torture," in light of Obama's recent release of Bush-era torture memos. Obama refrained from saying the Bush administration committed criminal acts, but he said, "I do believe that it [waterboarding] is torture."

President Obama, We Want the Truth About the Bush Administration
Confronting our own misdeeds is a measure of our character. And yes, the whole world is watching.

Spanish Torture Inquiry is Back On
In some countries, they apparently take this sort of thing seriously:
In a ruling in Madrid today, Judge Baltasar Garzón has announced that an inquiry into the Bush administration’s torture policy makers now will proceed into a formal criminal investigation. The ruling came as a jolt following the recommendation of Spanish Attorney General Cándido Conde-Pumpido against proceeding with a criminal inquiry, reported in The Daily Beast on April 16. [...]

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Linky Day 4.29.09

Should we be happy that Specter is now a Democrat? The question has two answers.

Today, we're not celebrating Specter. But, if we look at his move solely through a political prism, this decision is seismic. And, it's just so fun to watch Republicans squirm.

The political optics just couldn't be better. The DC pundits and talking heads love Arlen Specter (kinda the way they love Lieberman.) That crowd believes the hype that Specter is a moderate -- and compared to the rest of the GOP, Specter is definitely more moderate. So, we'll hear endless chatter about how the GOP has become a shrinking party. That means the talking heads will finally get something right.

Divided Republicans grapple with Arlen Specter's defection

Specter: "Now I Can Say It: What a Bunch of F*cking A**holes!"

Republican leaders "shocked" over Specter switch

Specter Round-Up: From The Diaries

Get ready for the GOP to go all out on Franken

Specter Promises Obama To ‘Support Your Agenda,’ Hours Later Restates Opposition To OLC Pick

Lugar Will Support Dawn Johnsen Nomination

"We Don't Torture" and other Laughable Claims

In George W. Bush's own words, we should investigate and prosecute all acts of torture

Bush Flashback: “War Crimes Will Be Prosecuted… It Will Be No Defense To Say, ‘I Was Just Following Orders’”

Tell Congress To Open Impeachment Inquiry Into Jay Bybee

Bybee defends his torture memos as ‘legally correct’ and ‘a good-faith analysis of the law.’

DOJ’s Hinnen: ‘A Lawless Response To Terrorism’ Undermines Our Nat’l Security

Conyers And Nadler To Holder: We Need Special Torture Prosecutor

Court Rejects Obama Admin's State Secrets Claim

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Rejects State Secrets Overreach

Washington Post Uses Front Page To Fearmonger Against Obama’s Tax Policy

CPR Releases New Fearmongering Health Care Ad Comparing American Reform To Britain And Canada

Republicans Falsely Complain That Democrats Aren’t Consulting Them On Health Care

Reid To McConnell On Health Care: ‘This Issue Is Too Important To Be Manipulated For Political Purposes’

McConnell's Response: It's Not Our Fault

Sanchez baffled by GOP spin: "What the hell?"

GOP party chair Michael Steele just accused Democrats of pushing "socialism"

Michael Steele's 100-day litany of failure - an unmitigated disaster for his party.

GOP: Even more of a rump regional southern party

Senate Confirms Health Secretary Nominee

Kathleen Sebelius Confirmed

Arctic CO2 levels growing at an 'unprecedented rate', say scientists

New York City-sized ice collapses off Antarctica

The Earth Is a Ponzi Scheme on the Verge of Collapse

Kos here.
My five-year-old son and I were out for a drive yesterday doing errands, when he noticed trees swaying strongly in gusty wind. He pointed at one and said, "The trees are dancing!" I laughed quietly, and said, "No, it's the wind blowing them around."

He pondered that for a second or two, then said, "So the wind is like music to the trees, right?"

I'm still pondering that.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

By Any Other Name?

Joan Walsh: Torture is Illegal Whether it Works or Not. (VideoCafe, with transcript)

WALSH: You know, I couldn't disagree more with my friend Chris. This is not a "he said/she said" situation. This is torture. Torture is illegal. We don't sit here, Howie, and say he said murder is illegal, but she said, well, sometimes murder's not so bad. These are clear matters of law.

Ronald Reagan signed the 1988 U.N. Convention Against Torture where we committed ourselves to prosecuting people who torture. It's the law. It's super clear. It's not a partisan witch hunt or a "she said/he said" situation.

- - - - -

WALSH: No, it's illegal, whether it works or not. It's illegal whether it works or not, David.

International human rights instruments

Convention Against Torture

International Committee of the Red Cross: International Humanitarian Law - Treaties & Documents
Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nüremberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal, 1950.

The United States is a Signatory to the Convention Against Torture
A Summary of United Nations Agreements on Human Rights:

This convention bans torture under all circumstances and establishes the UN Committee against Torture. In particular, it defines torture, requires states to take effective legal and other measures to prevent torture, declares that no state of emergency, other external threats, nor orders from a superior officer or authority may be invoked to justify torture. It forbids countries to return a refugee to his country if there is reason to believe he/she will be tortured, and requires host countries to consider the human rights record of the person's native country in making this decision.

The CAT requires states to make torture illegal and provide appropriate punishment for those who commit torture. It requires states to assert jurisdiction when torture is committed within their jurisdiction, either investigate and prosecute themselves, or upon proper request extradite suspects to face trial before another competent court. It also requires states to cooperate with any civil proceedings against accused torturers.

United Nations, Human Rights - Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights:
Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

The War Crimes Act of 1996, a federal statute set forth at 18 U.S.C., makes it a federal crime for any U.S. national, whether military or civilian, to violate the Geneva Convention by engaging in murder, torture, or inhuman treatment:
Laws : Cases and Codes

U.S. Code : Title 18 : Section 2340A. Torture

U.S. Code : Title 18 : Section 2441. War crimes

Finding Justice
18 U.S.C. 2340-2340A:

"Torture" means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;...


...The requirement to obtain information from an uncooperative source as quickly as possible - in time to prevent, for example, an impending terrorist attack that could result in loss of life - has been forwarded as a compelling argument for the use of torture. Conceptually, proponents envision the application of torture as a means to expedite the exploitation process. In essence, physical and/or psychological duress are viewed as an alternative to the more time-consuming conventional interrogation process. The error inherent in this line of thinking is the assumption that, through torture, the interrogator can extract reliable and accurate intelligence. History and a consideration of human behavior would appear to refute this assumption....

CONCLUSION: The application of extreme physical and/or psychological duress (torture) has some serious operational deficits, most notably, the potential to result in unreliable information....

Here's what we know, based on the public record as represented above. A) Torture is illegal. B) The architects of the torture regime were informed that the "harsh interrogation techniques" they intended to use were torture, and that those methods were unreliable. C) Against that counsel from a military agency, torture was deployed--excessively, and it was used in part to extract information from detainees about ties between al Qaeda and Iraq, ties that the best intelligence the administration had access to had already deemed nonexistent, in order to justify the planned invasion--the chosen war--in Iraq.

We've known much of this for years, actually, and that the moment for deciding on how to reckon for it was coming.

Arriving at both accountability and light in this toxic political environment will be a massive challenge, but one from which our leaders shouldn't shirk. [...]

The damage of doing nothing is hard to calculate, but I think there are a few guarantees of what will happen. More and more information will continue to come out about what America did. There are a handful of official accountings still expected, but once those have all been released, we'll start seeing the product of the people who were tortured, and of those who did the torturing. There are more photos coming, as many as 2,000, but there could be more that the government doesn't know about. There will be more interviews and exposes from former detainees, and possibly guards. There will undoubtedly be memoirs from the tortured and the torturers. There is the possibility of indictments of Americans in foreign countries.

In short, it's a book that likely won't end for at least another generation. When we turn a page, there will be another page after it, and another after that. It won't really end. It will fester. It will add to the cynicism many in our country feel toward their government, will add to the disconnect, will cement the knowledge that there are two kinds of justice in our country, and that the Donald Rumsfelds go free, while the Lynndie Englands and Charles Grangers rot in prison.

Our standing will be diminished among our friends in the rest of the world, and among civilized nations who would be our friends. It will be much easier for those who might not otherwise be our enemies to find justification to turn against us. The effect of the United States getting away with torture would mean other nations would feel unrestricted in using it. The countries that abide by their treaty obligations--and their soldiers--would be at a disadvantage. And everybody's soldiers--America's included--would be more likely to face torture if captured.

It will have made torture a policy choice that future presidents will feel justified in turning to. Finally, it will mean that we're a country governed by the rule of law only when the people making and wielding the laws feel like following them.

Torture by any other description
Several years ago, I asked a veteran journalist for advice.

"I'm trying to figure out if I have an ethical conflict," I began.

"If you have to ask, you do," he said. [...]

It comes down to that. We're either a rule-of-law nation -- or we're not. We can't invent definitions of torture for one type of person that wouldn't be acceptable for another, no matter how much we may despise or distrust him. As Graham put it: "I don't love the terrorists, I just love what Americans stand for."

Meanwhile, how trustworthy are the confessions of the tortured? Not very, according to those who know.

Most important, we can hardly present ourselves as arbiters and protectors of human rights when we selectively abuse those in our custody, no matter how compelling our cause. When we parse definitions of "mental pain" and "suffering," we begin to slip down the slope of moral ambiguity where deceit finds company among the dead. [snip]

It is by the cool light of day that we devise our laws. And it is by that same light that we judge our actions.

Simple as that. In posing a question, we often reveal the answer.

Apply the same construct to torture. If we have to ask, it probably is.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sighs Of Spring

"What delights us in the spring is more a sensation than an appearance, more a hope than any visible reality. There is something in the softness of the air, in the lengthening of the days, in the very sounds and odors of the sweet time, that caresses us and consoles us after the rigorous weeks of winter."

~Philip Gilbert Hamerton
"The green eyes of Springtime,
Charming, as ever,
Flirting, again."

~Michael Garofalo, Cuttings


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Credit Card Clash?

Credit card relief could be coming, but it likely won't be enough

The battle over credit isn't just between large banks and large companies. The clashes behind the headlines are getting ugly. Credit card companies jacking up interest rates and fees, not always for a specific reason.

CBS News Online [ 2:12 ]

Many banks are starting to take aim at customers who are falling behind on payments by increasing fees and credit card rates, much to the chagrin of the White House. Kimberly Dozier reports.

BuzzFlash News Alert:

There is some help coming from Washington, but the major issue is whether that assistance will be in the form of a 6-foot rope to a drowning man 18 feet from shore.

The House Financial Services Committee is all set to approve legislation going after "unfair and deceptive" practices by credit card companies.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), would according to CQ Politics, "restrict card companies from computing interest charges on balances from more than one billing cycle; prevent card issuers from suddenly raising rates without advance notice except in specific cases; and allow card companies to decide whether to apply payments in excess of the minimum to the highest interest rate debt, or apportion it equally between all of a cardholder's debts."

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Monday, April 20, 2009

It's Called Usury

Usury: an exorbitant rate of interest

Obama to take aim at credit card abuses


President Barack Obama plans to crack down on deceptive credit-card industry practices that have saddled U.S. consumers with huge debts and soaring interest rates, U.S. officials said on Sunday.

Top White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers said Obama would be "very focused in the very near term on a whole set of issues having to do with credit card abuses."[...]

Summers and other officials are scheduled to meet on Thursday at the White House with top executives of credit card companies.

The meeting comes as lawmakers in the Democratic-led Congress have vented anger that banks with big credit card operations charging high interest rates and fees are the same institutions getting government bailouts from U.S. taxpayers who use these credit cards.

The House of Representatives and Senate are considering a credit card "bill of rights" that would limit the ability of credit card companies to raise interest rates on existing balances and require greater disclosure of terms.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has spoken out against complexity in consumer lending practices that is designed to confuse customers and drive up lending fees.

The Fed tightened rules on credit-card practices in December, but the proposed legislation would take that further.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Alaska Offshore Drilling Blocked

Court Blocks Alaska Offshore Drilling on Environmental Grounds

Environment News Service

Three conservation groups and a native village in Alaska declared victory today as the federal government's attempt to expand oil and gas drilling off the Alaska coast was vacated by a U.S. appeals court in Washington, DC.

The three judge panel ruled that the Bush-era Department of the Interior failed to consider the impact of drilling on the ocean and on marine life before it began the process in August 2005 of expanding an oil and gas leasing program in the Beaufort, Bering, and Chukchi seas.

The court ordered the Interior Department, headed currently by Secretary Ken Salazar, to analyze the proposed leasing areas to determine the risk of environmental damage before moving ahead with lease sales.

The judges sided with the Center for Biological Diversity, Alaska Wilderness League, Pacific Environment and the Native Village of Point Hope, who argued that the 2007-2012 Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Program would turn sensitive areas into polluted industrial zones.

Native Village of Point Hope President Caroline Cannon told ENS, "It's a victory and we thank God that we're able to see this day come."

Calling the decision "an historical event for the tribe and our tribal members," Cannon said, "Drilling will cause irreversible damage to our ocean and sea animals and would severely impact our cultural traditions. It would be committing cultural genocide. Drilling would pose an intimate threat to our existence."

Cannon said the tribe looks forward to working with Secretary Salazar "to protect our waters."

"Our culture and traditions give us our identify and pride as Inupiaqs," she said. "We are standing on the graves of our ancestors who fought for our way of life. We hope our children and grandchildren do not have to fight the same issues."

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

'Tea Parties' turn ugly

I've been looking on the internet for 'tea party' coverage today, and the organized protest that appears to have been put together by the GOP doesn't seem to have nearly as much pop as, for example, the antiwar protests of a couple of years ago.

It started with FOX News blaring about 'hundreds of people in Boston.'

Yeah. A few hundred in one of the countries' major metropolitan areas. That was with great weather, free finger food and a chance get their face on TV. I think more people than that show up every night and pay to watch a double-A baseball game just about anyplace in the country. Remember that over two million people came to the Obama inauguration, on a very cold day when they had to stand in line for hours and not only was no food provided but there was a shortage of porta-potties.

However this has shown a lot of what the right wing and their following is really about.

On CNN (courtesy of blog for Arizona), reporter Susan Roesgen interviews a couple of people who appear to actually know as much as the typical 'idiot-on-the-street' that Jay Leno likes to interview when he goes walking. One guy keeps saying Obama is a fascist and apparently has no idea what that means. He just keeps repeating that Obama is a fascist.

Ignoring the fact that the crowd shots they've shown (if you could call it a 'crowd') are pretty much all white, two incidents really highlight what this is about.

1. They had one in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. Someone threw a box over the fence. Security had to clear Pennsylvania Avenue and call in the bomb squad who sent a robot over to examine the box. Luckily it turned out only to be a box of tea but the threat was unequivocable.

2. Joe Wurzelbacher (also known as 'Joe the Plumber') in stretching his fifteen minutes of fame into what is becoming really annoying hours and days and weeks, was hosting a rally and on Pajamas Media TV a protester asked him if he'd like to waterboard President Obama.

So in other words, it's not about taxes at all (especially since not only are the Bush tax cuts still in force but this year in the stimulus package the Obama administration gave them another tax cut that is already showing up in paychecks.) It's not even about spending and government programs (though that is the ultimate goal of many of the GOP operatives who have been organizing this-- they don't want national health care or any other new programs.) These two incidents make it very clear that the one thing that is tying many of these people together is raw hatred of the President.

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Spanish Indictment of "The Bush 6"

Spanish prosecutors are seeking criminal charges against Alberto Gonzales, Jay Bybee, John Yoo, William J. Haynes II, David Addington and Douglas J. Feith for authorizing the torture of Spanish prisoners at Guantanamo:

Scott Horton via the Daily Beast:

Spanish prosecutors will seek criminal charges against Alberto Gonzales and five high-ranking Bush administration officials for sanctioning torture at Guantánamo.
The six defendants — in addition to Gonzales, Federal Appeals Court Judge and former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, University of California law professor and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, former Defense Department general counsel and current Chevron lawyer William J. Haynes II, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff David Addington, and former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith — are accused of having given the green light to the torture and mistreatment of prisoners held in U.S. detention in “the war on terror.” The case arises in the context of a pending proceeding before the court involving terrorism charges against five Spaniards formerly held at Guantánamo.

Marjorie Cohn via Alternet:

Why Spain Can Actually Prosecute Bush and Co. for Their Crimes
Does Spain have the authority to prosecute Americans for crimes that didn't take place on Spanish soil?

The answer is yes. It's called "universal jurisdiction." Universal jurisdiction is a well-established theory that countries, including the United States, have used for many years to investigate and prosecute foreign nationals for crimes that shock the conscience of the global community. It provides a critical legal tool to hold accountable those who commit crimes against the law of nations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Without universal jurisdiction, many of the most notorious criminals would go free. Countries that have used this as a basis to prosecute the most serious of crimes should be commended for their courage. They help to create a just world in which we all seek to live. [...]

Universal jurisdiction complements, but doesn't supersede, national prosecutions. So if the United States were investigating the Bush officials, other countries would refrain from doing so.

When the United States ratified the Convention Against Torture, it promised to extradite or prosecute those who commit, or are complicit in, the commission of torture.

Thom Hartman via HuffPo:
Scott Horton and Thom Hartmann talk about the Spanish court indictment of "The Bush 6":


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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

President handles his first crisis perfectly.

So much for the naysayers.

The far right was wondering, even salivating over the day when President Obama would face a significant international crisis. They were excited about having an opportunity to paint him as 'weak' or a 'wimp' (the kind of language you hear bandied about if you have the stomach to listen to right wing radio or read righty blogs, which I sometimes do so I can chuckle at the idiocy.) They even ginned up the non-crisis of the recent North Korean missile launch (which we've known was going to happen for months) as proof that the President wasn't up to the task of protecting the American people (apparently thinking that if he'd just shot the thing down then we'd all be much safer-- of course if he had they'd say that was still too tepid and yell that he should have ordered an all out attack on North Korea.)

Well, there isn't much they can say right now. The President did face an international challenge, received regular briefings on it, tried as hard as he could to defuse the situation diplomatically (though without budging on American policy to never pay ransom-- although some righties were taking guesses on how much ransom he would pay and how soon) and then when the time came to use force he gave the commanders on the scene (because they can see all that is happening much better than he can from Washington) authorization to use lethal force against the Somali pirates if the hostage was in 'imminent danger.' The commander of the SEAL team stationed on the rear of the U.S.S. Bainbridge concluded that he was and used lethal force. Against the three pirates who were constituting the imminent danger, and not against anyone else. Granted no one else was around but this stands in sharp contrast to the testosterone soaked trail of bodies that the right defines as 'foreign policy success.'

The final moment was handled perfectly by the military, but the whole crisis leading up to that conclusion was handled perfectly by the President of the United States.

However, in another stark contrast with his predecessor, this President didn't try to hog the glory. He praised the navy SEAL team that carried out the assault, but didn't try to play it up. In fact, there are five men who deserve the 'hero' label for this (Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, Bainbridge commander Frank Costellano who made the call at the scene, and the three team members who each made a perfect shot in rolling seas in a situation where a miss of even a fraction of an inch could have resulted in a much different outcome) and the President isn't pretending to be one of them.

As Gloria Borger succinctly noted,

Obama "didn't wrap himself around the bravery of those military seals."

Indeed, he commended the captain, the SEALs, called for multilateral efforts to stop piracy -- and went on the next day to give an economic speech. Indeed, this aide adds, "He's not about to put on a flight suit on an aircraft carrier and declare mission accomplished."

Message accomplished.

Borger then goes on to contrast this with a typical 'leader' of the right:

But what about the style of say, Newt Gingrich? The former House Speaker -- often mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2012 -- decided to Twitter his inner thoughts on the pirates in real-time.

Last Saturday: "Obama is making a major mistake in not forcefully outlining the rules of civilization for dealing with pirates. We look weak."

By Monday, after the safe rescue of the captain, Gingrich was, er, a tad more laudatory: "The Navy seals did exactly the right thing in rescuing the American captain. President Obama did the right thing in allowing the Navy to act."

A grudging kudo, if there ever was one.

I guess Newt would have rushed in on Saturday when the mission would likely have been much riskier because there were still four, rather than three pirates on the boat and when the ideal moment when all the pirates and the hostage (Phillips) were all in plain sight had not yet come. I'm glad he's not the President in that case.

The message is clear. Unlike his predecessor this is not a President who goes looking for a fight. But if someone picks a fight with the U.S.A. while he is the President then he won't shirk from the need to do what is necessary to protect American lives.

OK, the right got their wish. President Obama was challenged with an international crisis. Adage to think about-- be careful what you wish for, you might get it.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Two Promises To Vets Fulfilled

Obama announces new record system for vets

Kimberly Hefling, TPM:

Recounting the hundreds of stories he said he heard from frustrated veterans unable to receive needed treatment, Obama said: "It's time to change all that, it's time to give our veterans a 21st century VA."

He said his new military and veterans affairs budget focuses heavily on more spending for diagnosing brain injuries and psychological disabilities that have gone untreated.

"We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America, a commitment that begins with enlistment and must never end. But we know that for too long we've fallen short of meeting that commitment. Too many wounded warriors go without the care that they need," Obama said.

President Obama Fulfills Two Critical Campaign Promises to Vets

Paul Rieckhoff, TPMCafe:

President Obama has announced an overhaul of military and VA recordkeeping that will help ease the transition home for our veterans. IAVA was there at the White House for this historic announcement along with every major veterans' group.

This announcement marks the beginning of a new era of collaboration and cooperation between the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. [...]

President Obama has taken action on two key campaign promises to America's veterans--and two of IAVA's top legislative priorities for 2009. Advance funding VA healthcare and an overhaul of military and VA recordkeeping will eliminate two of the most significant bureaucratic hurdles that keep veterans from the healthcare and benefits they have earned. Veterans nationwide applaud the Administration for making veterans and their families a priority. And we look forward to continuing to work together on the many other issues facing today's veterans, including psychological injuries, unemployment and homelessness.

Vets make a deal

The Rachel Maddow Show:

April 9: President Obama announced a new plan to digitize veteran health records, which should help veterans waiting for medical benefits. What else did he say about veterans affairs? Rachel Maddow is joined by Paul Reickhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.


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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Olbermann On Wiretapping

Keith Olbermann's scathing criticism of Obama's secrecy/immunity claims

Glen Greenwald:

The fact that Keith Olbermann, an intense Obama supporter, spent the first ten minutes of his show attacking Obama for replicating (and, in this instance, actually surpassing) some of the worst Bush/Cheney abuses of executive power and secrecy claims reflects just how extreme is the conduct of the Obama DOJ here. Just as revealingly, the top recommended Kos diary today (voted by the compulsively pro-Obama Kos readership) is one devoted to attacking Obama for his embrace of Bush/Cheney secrecy and immunity doctrines. Also, a front page Daily Kos post yesterday by McJoan vehemently criticizing Obama (and quoting my criticisms at length) sparked near universal condemnation of Obama in the hundreds of comments that followed. Additionally, my post on Monday spawned vehement objections to what Obama is doing in this area from the largest tech/privacy sites, such as Boing Boing and Slashdot.

Countdown Video:

Obama sides with Bush on wiretaps

April 7: Newsweek’s Howard Fineman talks about the Obama administration’s decision that victim’s of “illegal government surveillance” cannot sue “unless there is ‘willful disclosure’ of the illegally intercepted communications.”


What’s a freedom-loving American do to?

April 7: Constitutional law Prof. Jonathan Turley discusses the legal ramifications of the Obama administration’s defense of former President George Bush’s wiretapping policy.


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Monday, April 06, 2009

Senate Republicans try to make President keep Americans in the dark about torture memos. He should call their bluff.

According to Scott Horton at the Daily Beast, Senate Republicans have threatened to 'go nuclear' and block some of President Obama's judicial appointments in order to prevent him from releasing Bush administration memos involving torture.

Senate Republicans are now privately threatening to derail the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees for top legal positions by linking the votes to suppressing critical torture memos from the Bush era. A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to “go nuclear” over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public. The source says these threats are the principal reason for the Obama administration’s abrupt pullback last week from a commitment to release some of the documents. A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.

It is disappointing to me that the administration appears to be knuckling under to this particular blackmail. It is important that we as Americans know what exactly happened (or for that matter didn't happen) over the past several years.

Go ahead and release the memos. If Republicans want to be identified as willing to block the President's judicial counsels in order to stick up for the Bush policy of torturing prisoners then let them so be identified.

I'm not arguing that the position of legal counsel isn't important, either in the Deparments of State or of Justice. But how much we find out about what happened is critical if we want to decide publically and in a national debate about whether we are ever going to allow this stuff to happen again.

Besides, I've heard righty after righty after righty claim that Americans will support them and that nothing that bad was done to people who (they claim) were all known terrorists. OK, let's accept that at face value. If that is true, then why are the Senate Republicans going to the wall to try and prevent these memos from being released into the public domain? If there is really nothing more there beyond what is already known and if the public supports them on it, then wouldn't they welcome the disclosure? But obviously there is more there, and they are willing to as an entire Senate conference lay it on the line just to make sure that we never find out what has been done 'in our name.'

I say, call their bluff. Let the public decide who is right about this.

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Toxic Burn Pits Make Troops Sick

New Public Database Reveals First-Hand Accounts of How Toxic Burn Pits Are Making U.S. Troops Sick

Nora Eisenberg, AlterNet:

"Two months in, everyone was coughing up black stuff. Three months, in my black stuff started to include blood."

Cancer, pulmonary disease, multiple sclerosis, sleep apnea, heart disease: Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans have suffered all these and more from toxic fumes spewing from burn pits on American bases. The Disabled American Veterans now has information on 182 sick veterans in a database developed by Assistant National Legislative director, Kerry Baker. Forty-eight have developed lymphoma, leukemia or other cancers; and 16 veterans in the database have died. And on March 30th, a group of seven lawmakers asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to attend to these findings as well the findings from an independent scientific consultant, which found a serious danger that veterans may become ill from burn pit fumes.

As early as 2006, the DoD had been informed by Air Force Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight Commander Darrin Curtis that the pit was an acute health hazard. Though the Department of Defense has admitted that samples at the large burn pit at Balad contain Acetaldehyde, Acrolien, Arsenic, Benzene, Carbon Monoxide, Ethylbenzene, Formaldehyde, Hydrogen Cyanide, Hydrogen Fluoride, Phosgene, Sulfur Dioxide, Sulfuric Acid, Toluene, Trichloroethane, Xylene, and other chemicals, to date, it has insisted the pit presents no known dangers. The letter to Gates -- signed by Senators Russ Feingold, D-Wis.; Evan Bayh, D-Ind; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; and Representatives Tim Bishop, D-N.Y.; Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; John Hall, D-N.Y.; Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.; and Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H. -- urged vigilance, citing the protracted and painful lessons from Agent Orange.

Rep. Bishop's office has developed a website in which veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan can tell their stories. In just a few days, many stories of negligence and suffering have emerged, adding to a tragic saga. [snip]


More first-hand reports from veterans can be found on the online Military Times.

Veterans who are suffering health problems they believe are connected to burn pit fumes should report their condition to Kerry Baker at 202-314-5229, to add to the database.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

House And Senate Approve Budget

Late Thursday evening, the House and the Senate approved versions of the budget. The budget plans do not require Obama's signature, but the House and Senate will have to reconcile the two versions before they can move onto the next phase of the presidential agenda.

This evening, the House passed the FY 2010 Budget Resolution (H.Con.Res. 85) by a vote of 233-196. The 2010 Budget Resolution incorporates the four key priorities of the President’s budget. It makes strategic investments in education, health care reform, and energy independence that are necessary to restore our crumbling economy and put the country in a position to remain globally competitive. It also takes the needed steps to restore fiscal sustainability by cutting the deficit by nearly two-thirds by 2013. The budget provides the fiscal blueprint that will allow Congress to debate and adopt legislation that will reach these goals, but, by its nature, the Budget Resolution does not dictate the specifics of the legislation.

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Senate Roll Call 00154 02-Apr S.Con.Res. 13 On the Concurrent Resolution

Agreed to S. Con. Res. 13 as Amended; An original concurrent resolution setting forth the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2010, revising the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal year 2009, and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2011 through 2014.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Ed Show

Big Eddie Schultz goes to MSNBC on Monday:

Schultz to join MSNBC

April 1: Countdown’s Keith Olbermann talks with Ed Schultz about his new show which will premiere on MSNBC, Monday, April 6 at 6 p.m. EST.



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