Friday, November 09, 2007
I Think Tom Delay Believes in Unicorns.....
Speaking in the UK yesterday, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) predicted that if a Democrat is elected president in 2008, he or she would seek to install a universal health care, similar to the system in Britain. This possibility “received thunderous applause.” DeLay claimed that, under the U.S. system, “no American is denied health care”:
By the way, there’s no one denied health care in America. There are 47 million people who don’t have health insurance, but no American is denied health care in America.
The audience, understandably, greeted DeLay’s preposterous claims with “derisive laughter,” according to the AP. A recent report showed that for the sixth straight year, jobholders continued to see a decline in employer-provided health insurance, with 38 states seeing “significant” drops in benefits offered by employers.
Observers estimate that anywhere from one to 18 percent of Americans are denied health insurance because of pre-existing health conditions. These conditions can range from heart disease to high cholesterol to yeast infections to being too skinny. A few examples of Americans who were denied health care:
Texas resident Shirley Lowe was denied health care because her breast cancer was diagnosed at a medical center rather than a clinic receiving federal cancer-research funds.
New Orleans bus driver Emanuel Wilson was denied health care when the government refused to pay for his chemotherapy because he had had a job that had provided insurance — a job he lost after Hurricane Katrina.
Thousands of 9/11 workers who worked at Ground Zero were denied health care when the federal government approved woefully inadequate funds to address the permanent health problems, such as sinusitis and asthma, associated with work at the site.
The People vs. The Corporate Republic. It's starting to look like Hillary and Obama represent the latter. Edwards the former.
Edwards, Huckabee & The Rise of Iowa's Huey Longs
Posted November 9, 2007
There's something happening in Iowa - something that the media has not yet fully caught onto. Ever so quietly, economic populism may be trumping the importance of campaign bank accounts and celebrity in both parties. Ever so quietly, two candidates emulating the best of Huey Long's legacy are emerging as strong contenders in the quest for the presidential nomination, as my new nationally syndicated newspaper column out today details. And that is a good thing not just for those contenders - but for class-unifying progressive politics in general.
This story, which centers around former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (D), is only now starting to seep out.
On the Democratic side, this dynamic is probably the most intense. Reuters just today publishes a story headlined "Iowa Voters Take Democrats to Task Over Jobs," noting that trade and globalization are becoming more and more prevalent on the campaign trail. This is likely to be fueled by the fact that Sens. Hillary Clinton (D) and Barack Obama (D) have both come out for the Peru Free Trade Agreement - the controversial bill that expands the NAFTA trade model. It is also likely to be fueled by Clinton surrounding herself with more and more Wall Street titans.
This is truly a battle between what I have called the Money Party and People Party - and it is happening right within the Democratic Party. As the New York Times reports this morning, those inside the Democratic Party pushing this NAFTA-style trade policy are "getting sizable campaign contributions from the sectors that are benefiting the most from the global economy" including "financial services firms, computer chip makers and other high-tech manufacturers." Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY), who is the architect of this deal, basically admitted as much, telling CNN after the vote that if you are a worker who is struggling right now, "if you're hurting, then [the Peru agreement] is a bad deal."
Of course, Rangel should be thanked for his candor - at least he's being honest. The same can't be said for the invisible culture of corruption that I wrote about a few weeks ago and that continues to plague Democrats - the one where former Clinton administration officials who are now corporate lobbyists preen around (with significant media assistance) as supposedly disinterested statesmen as they push trade deals that benefit their business clients. Just today, corporate lawyer Stuart Eizenstat, a former Clinton official, is quoted in the New York Times essentially Wall Street that the next Democratic president will still be for NAFTA-style trade policy. "I think if a Democratic president comes in, Democrats will take a broader view of trade than Democrats can in Congress right now," he said, with the Times of course not mentioning that he has a financial stake in pushing these deals.
This is precisely what Edwards has been railing on, not only in his specific critique of NAFTA-style trade policies, but in his general critique of lobbyists and the status quo.
But this dynamic is also playing out on the Republican side as well, as evidenced by new polls out this week showing the populist Huckabee continuing to surge - a phenomenon that continues to frighten the corporate cronies who populate the Republican Party apparatus in Washington. You'll remember that the recent Wall Street Journal survey showed that Republican voters now strongly oppose America's lobbyist-written trade and globalization policies - and thus Huckabee's populist critique is gaining traction, as I warned just a few months ago. That goes not only for Republican presidential politics, but also for GOP congressional politics, too. Check out this story on the Peru Free Trade Agreement from the Cleveland Plain Dealer today:
"So why would [Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH)] oppose today's less controversial [Peru] agreement after supporting the more controversial one a few years ago? Some might think he's trying to boost his standing with the labor movement in Northeast Ohio as he approaches a potentially tough re-election challenge next year. But LaTourette put it this way: 'My fear is that this new agreement might actually weaken rather than strengthen enforcement of labor provisions, which was supposed to be the bill's big selling point,' he said through a spokesman."
LaTourette, of course, is correct - as a Columbia University study shows, the Peru pact and other NAFTA expansions like it could actually weaken protections for workers. But what's more politically interesting is that we now have at least some endangered Republicans actually voting more in defense of American workers than many Democrats. That signals that the issues of trade, corporate power and Washington corruption are truly transcending the parties as the 2008 presidential election heats up - especially true as plant closings continue to ravage Iowa and New Hampshire.
A year and a half ago, I wrote an article for In These Times predicting that trade, globalization and economic inequality would become some of the most important and decisive issues in the 2008 presidential primaries. Frankly, I had no idea the dynamics would be as intense as they are, what with two candidates campaigning so vigorously on working-class issues and with congressional votes to actually expand the NAFTA trade model. But the fact that these issues are becoming so important is really encouraging, regardless of which candidate you support. These are the issues that will determine the course of our country's economic future - and having them be debated in a presidential election setting is a good thing, indeed.
UPDATE: Under the headline "Edwards to Hit Rivals on Trade," ABC News is now reporting that "Edwards is set to pounce on his rivals' support of a free-trade deal with Peru, as he seeks to exploit an opening on an issue that speaks to growing concerns about the economy and the impact of globalization." Hang on tight, folks - the '08 ride is just about to begin.
Peru "Free Trade" is a Bad Idea. Too Bad Hillary and Obama think it's a good idea. John Edwards is Right.
Are Democrats Blowing A Chance In A Generation on Trade?
Posted November 9, 2007
It wasn't a surprise but it is still disappointing that the so-called "free trade" deal with Peru passed the House yesterday--and, unfortunately, with too many Democrats voting for the deal. We missed a teachable moment--a moment to reframe the debate on trade relations with other countries. Here's what the Democratic Party should be saying.
Actually, mainly in the House, we had been moving in the right direction on opposition to so-called "free trade." Fewer and fewer Democrats have been voting for these agreements (for example, the Central American Free Trade Agreement received only 15 Democratic votes in the House). And as Public Citizen's Lori Wallach points out, 117 Democrats voted against the Peru deal:
Despite intense pressure and lobbying from some Democratic leaders, a massive corporate coalition and the White House, a majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives today opposed Bush's Peru NAFTA expansion agreement, echoing the American public's widespread discontent with the status quo trade policy.
That a majority of Democrats opposed the Peru NAFTA expansion - theoretically the least controversial of Bush's remaining trade deals - will put the final nails in the coffins of any further Bush administration expansions of NAFTA to Panama, Colombia or South Korea.
In particular, freshman Democrats voted against the deal, having won their elections partly due to campaign messages that included opposition to so-called "free trade." A drum roll and applause for:
1. Arcuri (NY)
2. Altmire (PA)
3. Boyda (KS)
4. Carney (PA)
5. Cohen (TN)
6. Courtney (CT)
7. Donnelley (IN)
8. Ellison (MN)
9. Hall (NY)
10. Hare (IL)
11. Hirono (HI)
12. Hodes (NH)
13. Johnson, Hank (GA)
14. Kagen (WI)
15. Loebsack (IA)
16. McNerney (CA)
17. Murphy C. (CT)
18. Murphy P. (PA)
19. Richardson (CA)
20. Rodriguez (TX)
21. Sarbanes (MD)
22. Shea-Porter (NH)
23. Shuler (NC)
24. Space (OH)
25. Sutton (OH)
26. Tsongas (MA)
27. Walz (MN)
28. Welch (VT)
29. Wilson (OH)
30. Yarmouth (KY)
On the other hand, 11 freshman voted for the deal:
1. Castor (FL)
2. Clarke (NY)
3. Ellsworth (IN)
4. Gillibrand (NY)
5. Hill, B. (IN)
6. Klein (FL)
7. Lampson (TX)
8. Mahoney (FL)
9. Mitchell (AZ)
10. Perlmutter (CO)
11. Sestak (PA)
As a New Yorker, I can't resist one passing observation: why Yvette Clarke, who represents some of the poorest people in Brooklyn, would vote for this deal, which will do nothing for her constituents, is beyond me--unless this is some way of her catching some campaign cash down the road and/or currying favor with Speaker Pelosi, who also voted for this deal.
So, why should the so-called "free trade" deal with Peru have gone down to defeat and what should the party be saying about trade? The Democrats who voted for the deal are, in my humble opinion, buying a phony framework for trade. They are being told that the main problem with these deals is that they have not included provisions that address labor and environmental standards. If you look at the narrow frame of the deal--that is, is it good that there will be labor and environmental provisions in so-called "free trade" agreements--you can say, "sure, there is some progress." And since the Peru deal did include such provisions, well, then, some Democrats--and the pundit class--argue there is no reason to oppose such an agreement because we have to be open to the world trading system and not become...horror of all horrors...protectionists.
This is a false and politically idiotic frame to accept.
We are not debating "protectionism" versus "free trade." These are just marketing phrases. There is no such thing as so-called "free trade." Once you use that phrase and defend yourself as not being a "protectionist," you are just reinforcing that the debate is a struggle between two concepts, which are really figments of the imagination.
A secondary frame that is at play is the seductive notion that there is a totally new world out there thanks to technology and so-called "free trade" is an essential element of the new world--we hear that rap from the pundits, economists, and, unfortunately, even a labor leader or two.
This is also idiotic. There is nothing new about trade. We've traded around the globe for all of human history. Technology does allow information and capital to move more quickly around the world.
What we are debating are the RULES that will govern how goods and services are exchanged between people. The central problem of so-called "free trade" is this:
So-called "free trade" agreements start out from the wrong premise: that trade agreements should be primarily about protecting investment and capital and, then, only as an afterthought, do the agreements wrestle with how workers and the environment should be treated.
And what are the rules in the so-called "free trade" agreements?
The so-called "free trade" deal with Peru, like the other similar agreements still, include NAFTA-style Chapter 11 foreign investor rights. These rights encourage U.S. companies to move offshore, as well as open up basic U.S. environmental, health, zoning and other laws to attack (they allow a company to argue that a pro-labor or pro-consumer law constitute an unfair trade barrier and, therefore, needs to be eliminated).
These deals still allow companies to attack prevailing wage laws, recycled content and renewable energy policy remain.
These deals still contain agriculture rules that displace millions of peasant farmers increasing hunger,social unrest, and desperate migration.
These deals still allow food safety limits that require us to import meat not meeting our safety standards.
These deals still allow drug companies to extend patent rights that undermine affordable access to medicine.
These deals still let U.S. firms, such as Citibank, demand compensation if, for example, Peru tries to reverse course and end its awful social security privatization.
So, as you can see, the basic structure of the economic system stays in place. What Democrats are left to defend, then, is a vote that changes things around the edges. As I said before, it's not terrible that there are labor and environmental provisions slapped on to the so-called "free trade" deal with Peru. The problem is that, even if those provisions are enforced, they do not change the basic economic framework being imposed on our citizens and people around the world. And, then, Democrats are left promoting things like retraining--a failed policy--to make up for an economic system that is rapacious.
And, politically, this is just dumb. In the short term, I suppose party leaders see support for so-called "free trade" guaranteeing that campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists will still flow to Democrats. But, that is no guarantee for success.
In 1993, NAFTA passed with the enthusiastic support of Bill Clinton (and, I would point out, Robert Reich, his Secretary of Labor). A year later, Democrats lost the House. Much of the blame for that electoral defeat--which then lead to more than a decade of an unraveling of our basic social compact in America, not to mention the bludgeoning of hundreds of millions of people around the world--was laid at the feat of the failed health care proposal promoted by the Administration.
I would argue that the passage of NAFTA played a crucial role, as well. Many union members were disgusted by the specter of a Democratic president flogging a deeply flawed agreement--and it was known, then, that the deal was deeply flawed--and many of them stayed home in November 1994. A bunch voted for Republicans on non-economic issues. Many of the races lost by Democrats in 1994 were lost by slim margins.
Fast forward to today. Not only did Public Citizen document how many freshman Democrats were elected in 2006 because of their clear opposition to so-called "free trade," but we now know that a majority of REPUBLICANS oppose these bad trade deals.
It is simply insane, morally and politically, to continue to support any vestige of so-called "free trade."
So, to wrap up, what should the frame be? Here is a modest, short version:
Democrats believe that the First Principle of trade should be that it enhances the quality of life of communities here and around the world. Democrats believe that every American should have a job with decent wages and dignity at work. We also believe that our country's role in the world should be to promote strong partnerships with other countries so that we can exchange goods, services, and ideas that raise the living standards of people everywhere. When living standards for people around the globe allow them to provide for their families, then, they are not forced to become economic refugees and move to other countries to survive. Democrats also believe that economic progress is possible without poisoning our air, streams, lakes, food and the rest of our environment.
So, with that in mind, we, then, will work to create trade agreements that cherish those ideas and allow corporations to implement those principles.
It's not hard to figure this out. Do we have the will and the courage to reject corporate campaign cash to make this happen?
George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People.
By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff | November 6, 2007
WASHINGTON - The US Commission on Civil Rights, the nation's 50-year-old watchdog for racism and discrimination, has become a critic of school desegregation efforts and affirmative action ever since the Bush administration used a controversial maneuver to put the agency under conservative control.
Democrats say the move to create a conservative majority on the eight-member panel violated the spirit of a law requiring that no more than half the commission be of one party. Critics say Bush in effect installed a fifth and sixth Republican on the panel in December 2004, after two commissioners, both Republicans when appointed, reregistered as independents.
"I don't believe that [the law] was meant to be evaded by conveniently switching your voter registration," said Commissioner Michael Yaki, one of the two remaining Democrats.
The administration insists that Bush's appointments were consistent with the law because the two commissioners who reregistered as independents no longer counted as Republicans. The day before Bush made the appointments, the Department of Justice approved the move in a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales's office.
Other presidents have been able to create a majority of like-minded commissioners, but no president has done it this way. The unusual circumstances surrounding the appointments attracted little attention at the time. But they have had a sweeping effect, shifting the commission's emphasis from investigating claims of civil rights violations to questioning programs designed to offset the historic effects of discrimination.
Before the changes, the agency had planned to evaluate a White House budget request for civil rights enforcement, the adequacy of college financial aid for minorities, and whether the US Census Bureau undercounts minorities, keeping nonwhite areas from their fair share of political apportionment and spending. After the appointments, the commission canceled the projects.
Instead, the commission has put out a series of reports concluding that there is little educational benefit to integrating elementary and secondary schools, calling for closer scrutiny of programs that help minorities gain admission to top law schools, and urging the government to look for ways to replace policies that help minority-owned businesses win contracts with race-neutral alternatives.
The conservative bloc has also pushed through retroactive term limits for several of its state advisory committees. As a result, some longtime traditional civil rights activists have had to leave the advisory panels, and the commission replaced several of them with conservative activists.
The commission has also stopped issuing subpoenas and going on the road to hold lengthy fact-finding hearings, as it previously did about once a year. The commission had three planned hearings in the works when the conservative bloc took over and canceled them. Instead, the panel has held only shorter briefings, all but one of which was in Washington, from invited specialists.
Commissioner Abigail Thernstrom, who dropped her GOP registration six weeks before Bush's appointments, said the selection of conservatives to the state civil rights advisory committees provided "intellectual diversity." She also said the commission's recent briefings and reports have been rigorous.
"They are completely balanced in a way they haven't been for years," said Thernstrom, a former member of the Massachusetts Board of Education who until recently lived in Lexington.
A core mission of the Civil Rights Commission is to use its bipartisan fact-finding power in racial disputes to "gather facts instead of charges [and to] sift out the truth from the fancies," as Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson said in August 1957.
In its early days, the commission's work of collecting evidence of voter discrimination and police brutality laid the groundwork for major civil rights laws. But the panel has stayed on the sidelines in recent controversies with civil rights overtones.
For example, the panel did not investigate allegations that black neighborhoods in Ohio received too few voting machines in the 2004 election or the murky circumstances surrounding a racially charged assault case in Jena, La.
Kenneth Marcus, the commission's staff director, said the panel has not issued subpoenas because they are time-consuming and "disrupted" its relations with other government agencies.
Marcus also said that members of the panel considered investigating the 2004 Ohio election dispute, but decided it would not be "the best use of their resources." The commission staff, he added, was recently briefed by the Justice Department about the Jena case and is monitoring the situation.
Democrats say Bush's appointments threw the commission out of balance, violating the bipartisan intent of the law that forbids the panel from having more than four members of one party. Five commissioners must agree before the agency approves a report or recommendation.
But Marcus, a Bush appointee, said "it's not true" that the panel has become a party instrument.
"The commission is guided by four Republicans, two independents, and two Democrats, which is consistent with the statute governing the agency," Marcus said. "Certainly, we have a majority of conservatives right now, and that majority is taking the commission in a direction that is different than what we've seen in the past."
The commission - half appointed by the president and half by congressional leaders - has been under a 6-to-2 control by both liberals and conservatives before. Especially since the 1980s, presidents and lawmakers have tried to tilt the panel by appointing independents who shared their party's views on civil rights.
But until Bush's 2004 appointments, no president used reregistrations by sitting commissioners to satisfy the law that forbids presidents from appointing a fifth commissioner of the same party. Bush's move , represented an unprecedented "escalation" in hardball politics, said Peter Shane, Ohio State University law professor.
No court has ever ruled on the meaning of the political balance law, which does not say whether a commissioner's party identity is fixed at appointment, or whether a commissioner who reregisters no longer counts toward the party cap.
In a two-page memo Dec. 6, 2004, the day before Bush's appointments, the Justice Department said it was "clear" that it only matters what commissioners say their party identity is when a president makes appointments.
But Peter Strauss, an administrative law professor at Columbia University, said he believed a court would reject the administration's interpretation, especially if a judge decided that a commissioner reregistered "to manipulate the process" rather than because his or her ideology sincerely changed.
One of the extra Republican slots opened Oct. 27, 2004, when Thernstrom asked the town clerk of Lexington to change her voter registration to independent from GOP. Six weeks later, Bush promoted Thernstrom to be the commission's vice chairwoman.
Thernstrom acknowledged speaking with the White House about the impending vacancies.
"The discussion was who were the possible candidates and what did their [party] identification have to be," she said.
But Thernstrom said that no one asked her to reregister and that her decision had nothing to do with making space for another Republican. Instead, she said, she decided she would be "most comfortable" as an independent, having registered as a Democrat and as an independent in times past.
In more recent years, Thernstrom had been a consistent Republican. She voted in the March 2000 and March 2004 Republican primaries, gave $500 to the Bush-Cheney campaign in July 2004, and on Oct. 18, 2004, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling herself a Republican appointee - just nine days before she dropped her Republican registration.
The other GOP slot opened in 2003, when Republican Commissioner Russell Redenbaugh switched to independent. He had been an independent when Senate Republicans first appointed him to the commission in 1990, but registered GOP before being reappointed because, he said, "I felt it was dishonest to call myself an independent when I was so clearly a conservative."
Redenbaugh said he switched back to independent in 2003 because he leans libertarian, and the GOP's stance on social issues annoyed him. He called Bush's use of his switch to appoint a Republican "inappropriate" and "wrong."
Redenbaugh resigned in 2005, dropping the conservative majority to five. In early 2007, Senate Republicans restored the 6-to-2 bloc by appointing Gail Heriot, a member of the conservative Federalist Society who opposes affirmative action.
Heriot was an alternate delegate to the 2000 Republican National Convention and was a registered Republican until seven months before her appointment. In an interview, Heriot said her decision to reregister as an independent in August 2006, making her eligible to fill the vacancy, "had nothing to do with the commission."
"I have disagreements with the Republican Party," she said. Asked to name one, she declined.
Why So Many Product Recalls for Dangerous Toys? Where's the CPSC? Oh, they're being flown around by the companies they're supposed to regulate.
Jesus, I hate Republicans. Here's the story:
Industries Paid for Top Regulators' Travel
Two Heads of Product Safety Agency Accepted Trips From Manufacturer Groups
By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 2, 2007; A01
The chief of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and her predecessor have taken dozens of trips at the expense of the toy, appliance and children's furniture industries and others they regulate, according to internal records obtained by The Washington Post. Some of the trips were sponsored by lobbying groups and lawyers representing the makers of products linked to consumer hazards.
The records document nearly 30 trips since 2002 by the agency's acting chairman, Nancy Nord, and the previous chairman, Hal Stratton, that were paid for in full or in part by trade associations or manufacturers of products ranging from space heaters to disinfectants. The airfares, hotels and meals totaled nearly $60,000, and the destinations included China, Spain, San Francisco, New Orleans and a golf resort on Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Notable among the trips -- commonly described by officials as "gift travel" -- was an 11-day visit to China and Hong Kong in 2004 by Stratton, then chairman. The $11,000 trip was paid for by the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory, an industry group based in an office suite in Bethesda whose only laboratories are in Asia.
The CPSC says that at the time, the group had no pending regulatory requests. But since then the fireworks group has urged the commission to adopt its safety standards, an idea that is still pending, according to an organization newsletter.
Consumer groups and lawmakers intensified their criticism of the CPSC this summer after several highly publicized recalls of Chinese-made toys that contained hazardous levels of lead. Critics have long charged that the agency has become too close to regulated industries, opting for "voluntary" standards and repeatedly choosing not to take legal action against businesses that refuse to recall dangerous products.
Government-wide travel regulations state that officials from agencies such as the CPSC should not accept money for travel from nonfederal sources if the payments "would cause a reasonable person . . . to question the integrity of agency programs or operations."
But CPSC officials defend the industry-paid trips as a way for the agency to be in contact with manufacturing officials and hear their concerns despite a limited travel budget. Commission spokeswoman Julie Vallese said the agency's counsel and its ethics officers conducted "a full conflict-of-interest analysis" of the trips and stand behind their decisions.
"The mission of the agency and the benefits to consumer safety are two factors that are taken into consideration in approving gift travel," she said. Reports of the trips are submitted to the Office of Government Ethics, she added.
Several ethics experts and lawyers say the two administrators' travel records, some of which they reviewed at the request of The Post, suggest a conflict of interest.
"This is a blatant violation of the ethics code," said Craig Holman, an expert on governmental ethics law for the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. The rules allow nonfederal sources to pay for trips, "but not if you're a private party with business pending before the agency," he said.
The agency's travel patterns during the Bush administration, detailed in internal agency documents, differ from those of the Clinton era. Ann Brown, who served as chairman from 1994 to 2001, traveled only at the expense of the agency or of media organizations that sponsored appearances where she announced product recalls, according to the documents provided.
"We hated to have an industry pay for our staff for anything," said Pam Gilbert, a lawyer who was executive director of the agency under Brown.
The records show that Nord and Stratton repeatedly accepted gift travel for events from industries subject to CPSC enforcement. In February 2006, the Toy Industry Association provided Nord with rail fare, two nights in a hotel, meals -- and even $51 to pay her Union Station parking bill -- to attend the American International Toy Fair in New York, one of the industry's biggest product exhibitions.
Joan Lawrence, the association's vice president who oversees toy safety, said that "I have heard some enforcement officials say that they consider attending vital" because "they are able to see new products before they hit retail shelves" and suggest safety improvements. She added that "approximately 50 percent of the CPSC budget is used for children's products."
But Lawrence could not say why, given the importance of the event and the industry, the agency did not pay for its own travel. "If they came up with the money, that's okay," she said. "The educational component, of course, is our priority, and that's why we pay for the chairman."
Vallese, the CPSC spokeswoman, said Nord gave two speeches at the meeting, toured "new toy exhibits," watched "product demonstrations" and participated in "product safety discussions."
In a presentation to a trade group of product regulators and manufacturers last year, Nord said the agency was "working aggressively" to limit deaths from residential fires and carbon monoxide poisoning, according to an account published on the group's Web site. She noted that "fuel-fired heating equipment" is linked to more than 300 deaths a year.
Makers of that equipment are represented by the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association, for which Stratton, Nord's predecessor, was a guest speaker at two annual meetings. In 2003 Stratton spoke at the group's meeting on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. In 2005, he spoke at its annual meeting in Orlando.
The meetings drew more than 300 manufacturers' representatives and spouses for seminars, a dinner dance and golf. While the association's manufacturers are regulated by three other government agencies, its vice president, Joseph Mattingly, said he could not recall paying for any attendees from those agencies.
Stratton said: "My view was we needed to engage industries and not only tell them what we expected but also to learn what they were thinking. . . . You can't do that sitting in the ivory tower at the CPSC."
The records also detail several trips that were paid for by lawyers who represent manufacturers in product liability lawsuits.
In February, for example, Nord accepted more than $2,000 in travel and accommodations from the Defense Research Institute to attend its meeting in New Orleans on "product litigation trends," according to her report. The institute is made up of more than 20,000 corporate defense lawyers. In 2004, Stratton attended the group's meeting in Barcelona, at a cost to the group of $915 for his hotel room.
"They are the biggest government agency that would have impact on the stuff that we do," said Steve Coronado, a former chairman of the group's product liability committee, which has 3,000 members. "They've been very cordial and accommodating and gracious," he said of the agency's past three chiefs.
Coronado said that Nord was the group's main presenter in New Orleans and that she briefed 1,000 lawyers about "what their processes and procedures are, rules and regulations changes." He added: "I don't think it was a very politically oriented presentation." A CPSC spokesman did not respond to a request for direct comment by Nord on this trip and others.
Coronado said Brown, the Clinton-era agency chairman, also spoke to the group. But agency records of her non-CPSC-financed travel do not list that trip, suggesting that it was not paid for by the lawyers group. Gilbert, the former CPSC executive director, called DRI's contribution toward Stratton's hotel bill in Spain "amazing."
Stratton said the group "wanted to know where the CPSC was going on various product issues, and they wanted to know what the companies [the lawyers represented] could expect, what the government was thinking in regard to their issues." He said lawyers who sue companies over product-related injuries never invited him to speak.
Stratton gave a general defense of his more than 25 trips, which included a trip to China that the Toy Industry Association paid $8,000 to help finance. "Everybody wants to see the chairman," he said. The fireworks group that paid for a separate China trip did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment about its contacts with the CPSC.
Some say the commission's approach to gift travel points to a Bush administration philosophy that favors engaging corporations in policymaking that affects them. "This administration apparently has taken the position that speaking and appearing before the regulated community, even where there are enforcement matters pending, does not create the appearance of a conflict," said Kenneth Gross, an ethics lawyer at Skadden, Arps.
"These are difficult and subjective lines to be drawn," he said. "Prior administrations have drawn that line in a different place."
Nord was a corporate lawyer at Eastman Kodak before her appointment. Stratton led Lawyers for Bush in his home state of New Mexico during the president's 2000 campaign and co-founded the Rio Grande Foundation, which advocates limited government and supports free-market economic principles.
The CPSC did not immediately agree to a request to review copies of internal documents related to several trips or its internal gift-travel regulations. But the records document a pattern of travel that varies from the stated habits of top officials at four other regulatory agencies.
The Securities and Exchange Commission, for example, "does not accept host-paid travel reimbursements or in-kind payments from any organization regulated by the agency," said spokesman John Heine. Food and Drug Administration rules likewise do not permit outside travel payments from regulated companies, organizations "engaged in any lobbying activities" or those that receive "more than ten percent of their income from a corporate source," among other restrictions.
The Federal Communications Commission bans travel paid for by regulated companies or others with business before the agency, for officials from division heads upward, according to spokesman Clyde Ensslin.
F. Gary Davis, who helped establish the Office of Government Ethics in 1978 and served as its general counsel and deputy director until 2000, said the government-wide regulations were imposed "to ensure that there is no appearance of impropriety when you're dealing with a prohibited source." He said that it is conceivable that some of the CPSC's industry-sponsored trips were justified but that in those cases, the agency should be prepared to make its decision-making records available.
Republican Family Values: Your Kids as Test Bunnies, Part II.
WASHINGTON, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Marvel Toys recalled about 175,000 Curious George plush dolls because the surface paint on the toy's plastic face and hat contain excessive levels of lead, the U.S. Consumer Protection Agency said on Thursday.
Marvel Entertainment Inc (MVL.N: Quote, Profile, Research), which licenses comic-book characters, said earlier on Thursday that it was voluntarily recalling about 110,000 units. Those units are included in the CPSC's recall.
The CPSC recall involves 12-inch plush dolls with five themes: birthday, fireman, sweet dreams, tool time and tool time with a soft face.
The agency said consumers should immediately take away the recalled toysy from children and contact Marvel Toys at (800) 352-2064 to receive a full refund. (Reporting by Karey Wutkowski, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)
Republican Philosophy of Family Values: If a dangerous product kills your kid, the market can regulate itself.
Strengthening of Consumer Agency Opposed by Its Boss
By STEPHEN LABATON
October 30, 2007
WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 — The top official for consumer product safety has asked Congress in recent days to reject legislation that would strengthen the agency that polices thousands of consumer goods, from toys to tools.
On the eve of an important Senate committee meeting to consider the legislation, Nancy A. Nord, the acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, has asked lawmakers in two letters not to approve the bulk of legislation that would increase the agency’s authority, double its budget and sharply increase its dwindling staff.
Ms. Nord opposes provisions that would increase the maximum penalties for safety violations and make it easier for the government to make public reports of faulty products, protect industry whistleblowers and prosecute executives of companies that willfully violate laws.
The measure is an effort to buttress an agency that has been under siege because of a raft of tainted and dangerous products manufactured both domestically and abroad. In the last two months alone, more than 13 million toys have been recalled after tests indicated lead levels of almost 200 times the safety ceiling.
Ms. Nord’s opposition to key elements of the legislation is consistent with the broadly deregulatory approach of the Bush administration. In a variety of areas, from antitrust to trucking and worker safety, officials appointed by President Bush have sought to reduce the role of regulation and government in the marketplace.
Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said that Ms. Nord had not coordinated with the administration to kill the legislation. But he said that the White House shared many of her concerns and that Allan Hubbard, President Bush’s top economic adviser at the White House, was preparing to send a letter to Congress “that is probably even more forceful than Ms. Nord’s.”
The Senate Commerce Committee is set to vote on Tuesday on the legislation, which is sponsored by Senator Daniel K. Inouye, the Hawaii Democrat who heads the committee, and Senator Mark Pryor, the Arkansas Democrat who heads the consumer affairs subcommittee.
It would more than double the agency’s budget, to $141 million, over the next seven years, raise staffing levels by about 20 percent, and give the commission broad new powers to police the marketplace. It would raise the cap on the maximum penalties, to $100 million, from $1.8 million.
Ms. Nord, who before joining the agency had been a lawyer at Eastman Kodak and an official at the United States Chamber of Commerce, criticized the measure in letters sent late last week and this afternoon to the Democratic leaders of the committee. She was critical, for instance, of a provision to ban lead from all toys. She said that the proposal to raise the potential penalty to $100 million “may have the undesired consequence of firms, as a precautionary measure, flooding the agency with virtually every consumer complaint and incident.”
She opposed making it easier to bring criminal prosecutions of companies that knowingly sell defective products and also criticized a measure that would make it easier for the commission to publicly disclose reports of faulty products.
While manufacturers had agreed on another provision that would give independent company laboratories the authority to test products and certify their safety, Ms. Nord said she objected to the provision and preferred that the legislation give the commission the authority to defer to the work of the laboratories, should it choose to.
Some of Ms. Nord’s complaints were similar to the ones that business groups and manufacturers have raised, including that the legislation would be unnecessarily burdensome. But in other areas, such as whistleblower protection for company employees, her complaints went beyond those of industry.
While companies generally have not objected to giving protection to whistleblowers in the industries regulated by the commission, for example, she said it would “dramatically drain the limited resources of the commission, to the direct detriment of public safety.”
While Ms. Nord said she supports the committee’s efforts in general, she issued a more modest proposal than the one under consideration in the Senate. It would, among other things, increase the maximum amount of civil penalties to $10 million, create incentives for companies to quickly halt sales of recalled products, and give the government the authority to seize assets of a company found to have violated criminal safety laws.
Senator Pryor said Ms. Nord’s objections to the measure surprised him.
“It’s hard for me to know if it’s just ideological or she is just expressing the wishes of the administration,” Mr. Pryor said. “Either way it comes to the same conclusion and that is that they say they want more resources, but they are very reluctant to accept those resources.”
Consumer advocates also said they were stunned by Ms. Nord’s letter.
“It was remarkable to send a letter like that to a committee, when you’re in dire straits and you need increased funding and you’ve acknowledged that,” said Ellen Bloom, director of federal policy at Consumers Union.
The agency has suffered from a steady decline in its budget and staffing in recent years. Its staff is about 420, about half its size in the 1980s. It has only one fulltime employee to test toys. And 15 inspectors are assigned to police all foreign imports of consumer products under the agency’s supervision, a marketplace that last year was valued at $614 billion.
Through an agency spokesman, Ms. Nord declined to discuss her opposition to the legislation.
Ms. Nord’s letter was challenged by the sole Democrat at the commission, Thomas H. Moore. In a letter last week, Mr. Moore told the lawmakers that he generally supported the legislation for being “strongly pro-consumer.”
Toys Recalled because they contain Date Rape Drug. More Republican Family Values?
Toys linked to a date-rape drug recalled
Mom describes 48 hours of 'horror' after her toddler ingested Aqua Dots
The Associated Press
updated 1:25 p.m. ET, Thurs., Nov. 8, 2007
WASHINGTON - A mother said Thursday she knew something was terribly wrong when her 20-month-old son began to stumble and started vomiting. He had just ingested a popular toy that contains a chemical that turns into a powerful “date rape” drug when eaten.
It was the latest Chinese-made toy pulled from shelves in North America.
Shelby Esses, 30, said her son Jacob fell and went limp after getting into his older sister’s Aqua Dots set, which was recalled Wednesday by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
“That’s when we knew what he had eaten and that things were pretty bad,” she told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Aqua Dots, a highly popular holiday toy sold by Australia-based Moose Enterprises, are beads that can be arranged into designs and fused when sprayed with water. The toy was pulled from shelves in North American and Australia after scientists found they contain a chemical that converts into the so-called date rape drug when eaten. Two children in the U.S. and three in Australia were hospitalized after swallowing the beads.
Scientists say a chemical coating on the beads can metabolize into the drug gamma hydroxy butyrate. When eaten, the compound — made from common and easily available ingredients — can induce unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and death.
Dr. Matt Jaeger, of Arkansas Children’s Hospital, treated Jacob and said he was very worried when he saw him.
“It was pretty dramatic,” he told ABC. “He was unconscious in this coma for about six hours. And then over the course of just a few minutes, went from being completely asleep to wide awake and playing like nothing ever happened.”
Before the toddler was released from the hospital, his military pilot father crawled around his Jacksonville home, near Little Rock, making sure every Aqua Dot was gone. Buying the toy, popular this Christmas season, turned into a 48-hour “horror” for the toddler and his family, they said.
Meanwhile, toy sets seized in Hong Kong were being tested Thursday, a customs official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of policy. If the tests come back positive for the chemical, suppliers in Hong Kong could face a year in jail and fines of $12,877, she said.
A spokeswoman for the CPSC said Thursday that parents should keep the toy out of children’s’ hands.
“If a child ingests them the glue turns into a toxic substance and it’s very serious,” Julie Vallese, a spokeswoman for the CPSC, said on CBS’ “Early Show.” “We want parents very much to heed this warning.”
Vallese said two U.S. children had fallen into “comatose” conditions from the Aqua Dots. The children have since recovered, she said.
In Australia, the toys were ordered off store shelves Tuesday when officials learned that a 2-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl were hospitalized after swallowing the beads. A 19-month-old toddler also was being treated.
China’s toy industry came under closer scrutiny earlier this year when Mattel Inc. recalled more than 21 million Chinese-made toys worldwide. Products including Barbie doll accessories and toy cars were pulled off shelves because of concerns about lead paint or tiny detachable magnets that could be swallowed.
Aqua Dots, which are called Bindeez in Australia, were named toy of the year at an industry function in that country.
Retailer Toys “R” Us Inc. said it issued a “stop sale” on the entire Spin Master Aqua Dots product line Tuesday in its North American stores and on its Web site. “We understand that Spin Master and U.S. regulatory authorities are investigating this product and we have asked Spin Master to fully explain what it believes happened,” it said.
Toys “R” Us also pulled the toys in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia after officials in Australia ordered them off shelves.
A company spokeswoman for Moose Enterprises’ Hong Kong office said the production of the toy was outsourced to a mainland Chinese factory. She refused to elaborate and referred all further requests for comment to the company’s head office in Australia.
“Our Hong Kong office is only responsible for operations such as logistics and shipping arrangements, we don’t have any firsthand information,” the employee, who would only give her surname, Lo, told The Associated Press.
Moose Enterprises said Bindeez and Aqua Dots are made at the same factory, which is in Shenzhen in southern Guangdong province. Last week, the government announced an export ban on more than 700 toy factories in the region because of shoddy products.
The company said the product is distributed in 40 countries.
The toys were supposed to use 1,5-pentanediol, a nontoxic compound found in glue, but instead contained the harmful 1,4-butanediol, which is widely used in cleaners and plastics.
The Food and Drug Administration in 1999 declared the chemical a Class I Health Hazard, meaning it can cause life-threatening harm.
Both chemicals are manufactured in China and elsewhere, including by major multinational companies, and are also marketed over the Internet.
It’s not clear why 1,4-butanediol was substituted. However, there is a significant difference in price between the two chemicals. The Chinese online trading platform ChemNet China lists the price of 1,4 butanediol at between about $1,350-$2,800 per metric ton, while the price for 1,5-pentanediol is about $9,700 per metric ton.
Labels: Corporate Malfeasance.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran has been held up for more than a year in an effort to force the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on the Iranian nuclear program, and thus make the document more supportive of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s militarily aggressive policy toward Iran, according to accounts of the process provided by participants to two former Central Intelligence Agency officers.
The current dispute over the Iran NIE bears striking resemblance to the controversies that played out over pre-war Iraq intelligence in at least two important ways:
1) Administration Stifling Dissent
NOW: According to IPS, the draft Iran NIE was reportedly completed a year ago, but the White House rejected it because it contained dissenting views. A former intelligence officer said, “They refused to come out with a version that had dissenting views in it.”
THEN: Prior to the Iraq war, the Air Force, Energy Department, and State Department all issued dissenting views on the state of Iraq’s progress towards a nuclear program. Those dissenting views later turned out to be correct, and in the process, greatly undermined the administration’s credibility. The lesson learned by the White House apparently is that this time they need to demolish dissent.
2) Administration Pressuring Analysts
NOW: Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi told IPS that “intelligence analysts have had to review and rewrite their findings three times, because of pressure from the White House.” The draft Iran NIE, for example, did not conclude that there was confirming evidence that Iran was arming the Shiite insurgents in Iraq, according to Giraldi.
THEN: Prior to the Iraq war, Cheney and his chief of staff Scooter Libby visited the CIA headquarters approximately a dozen times to engage the CIA analysts directly on the issue of Iraq’s nuclear development, “creating an environment in which some analysts felt they were being pressured to make their assessments fit with the Bush administration’s policy objectives.”
The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh has reported that, despite there being very little evidence that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb, the White House is “stovepiping” intelligence and hiding information from the CIA that makes a case for war.
In February, the intelligence community released a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that reported Iran was not “a major driver of violence” inside Iraq, disputing administration claims to the contrary. Former CIA officer Giraldi says the the White House is looking for “a document that it can use as evidence for its Iran policy.” Fortunately, not all analysts are willing to “fix the facts around the policy.”
Yesterday, however, [Couch] was advised by email that the Pentagon general counsel, William J. Haynes II, “has determined that as a sitting judge and former prosecutor, it is improper for you to testify about matters still pending in the military court system, and you are not to appear before the Committee to testify tomorrow.“
Haynes has been a forceful advocate and key architect for the administration’s harsh interrogation techniques. Couch’s potential testimony posed a serious danger to Haynes’ work.
As a Gitmo prosecutor, Couch had been assigned to prosecute accused al Qaeda operative Mohamedou Ould Slahi, one of fourteen “high value” prisoners. “Of the cases I had seen, he was the one with the most blood on his hands,” Couch said of Slahi. Yet Couch determined he could not prosecute Slahi because his incriminating statements “had been taken through torture, rendering them inadmissible under U.S. and international law.”
In a lengthy Wall Street Journal profile published in March, Couch revealed evidence of torture he witnessed at Guantanamo Bay — images that captured his conscience and forced him to become a critic of the administration’s interrogation system. Couch reported that Slahi “had been beaten and exposed to psychological torture, including death threats and intimations that his mother would be raped in custody unless he cooperated.” Here’s what happened when Couch announced his decision not to prosecute:
In May 2004, at a meeting with the then-chief prosecutor, Army Col. Bob Swann, Col. Couch dropped his bombshell. He told Col. Swann that in addition to legal reasons, he was “morally opposed” to the interrogation techniques “and for that reason alone refused to participate in [the Slahi] prosecution in any manner.”
Col. Swann was indignant, Col. Couch says, replying: “What makes you think you’re so much better than the rest of us around here?”
Col. Couch says he slammed his hand on Col. Swann’s desk and replied: “That’s not the issue at all, that’s not the point!”
An impassioned debate followed, the prosecutor recalls. Col. Swann said the Torture Convention didn’t apply to military commissions. Col. Couch asked his superior to cite legal precedent that would allow the president to disregard a treaty.
On his first day in Guantanamo, Couch said he saw treatment of a prisoner that “resembled the abuse he had been trained to resist if captured.” Couch’s willingness to tell the truth posed such a threat to the administration that they have prevented him from speaking to Congress. The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), said he would consider seeking a subpoena for Couch if the Pentagon maintained its stand.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
In one such six-foot-by-10-foot cell in February 2004, equipped with a low mattress and a bucket as a toilet, sat a man in shackles named Ibn al Sheikh al Libi, the former al Qaeda camp commander described by former CIA director George Tenet in his autobiography last year as "the highest ranking al-Qa'ida member in U.S. custody" just after 9/11.
In this secret facility known to prisoners as "The Hangar" and believed to be at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, al Libi told fellow "ghost prisoners," one recalled to me for a PBS "Frontline" to be broadcast tonight, an incredible story of his treatment over the previous two years: of how questioned at first by Americans, by the FBI and then CIA, of how he was threatened with torture. And then how he was rendered to a jail cell in Egypt where the threats became a reality.
In his book, officially cleared for publication, Tenet confirms how the CIA outsourced al Libi's interrogation. He said he was sent to a third country (inadvertently named in another part of the book as Egypt) for "further debriefing."
The Bush administration has said that terrorists are trained to invent tales of torture.
Yet, on this occasion, the CIA believed al Libi's tales of torture -- an account that has proved to be one of the most serious indictments of the agency's practice of extraordinary rendition: sending suspected Islamic terrorists into the hands of foreign jailers without legal process.
In a CIA sub-station close to al Libi's jail cell, the CIA's "debriefers," who had been talking to al Libi for days after his return from Cairo, were typing out a series of operational cables to be sent Feb. 4 and Feb. 5 to the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Va. In the view of some insiders, these cables provide the "smoking gun" on the whole rendition program -- a convincing account of how the rendition program was, they say, illegally sending prisoners into the hands of torturers.
Under torture after his rendition to Egypt, al Libi had provided a confession of how Saddam Hussein had been training al Qaeda in chemical weapons. This evidence was used by Colin Powell at the United Nations a year earlier (February 2003) to justify the war in Iraq. ("I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al Qaeda," Powell said. "Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.")
But now, hearing how the information was obtained, the CIA was soon to retract all this intelligence. A Feb. 5 cable records that al Libi was told by a "foreign government service" (Egypt) that: "the next topic was al-Qa'ida's connections with Iraq...This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story."
Al Libi indicated that his interrogators did not like his responses and then "placed him in a small box approximately 50cm X 50cm [20 inches x 20 inches]." He claimed he was held in the box for approximately 17 hours. When he was let out of the box, al Libi claims that he was given a last opportunity to "tell the truth." When al Libi did not satisfy the interrogator, al Libi claimed that "he was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and he fell on his back." Al Libi told CIA debriefers that he then "was punched for 15 minutes." (Sourced to CIA cable, Feb. 5, 2004).
Here was a cable then that informed Washington that one of the key pieces of evidence for the Iraq war -- the al Qaeda/Iraq link -- was not only false but extracted by effectively burying a prisoner alive.
Although there have been claims about torture inflicted on those rendered by the CIA to countries like Egypt, Syria, Morocco and Uzbekistan, this is the first clear example of such torture detailed in an official government document.
The information came almost one year before the president and other administration members first began to confirm the existence of the CIA rendition program, assuring the nation that "torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture." (New York Times, Jan. 28, 2005)
Last September, these red-hot CIA cables were declassified and published by the Senate Intelligence Committee, but in, a welter of other news, one of the most important documents in the history of rendition had passed almost without notice by the media. As far as I can tell, not a single newspaper reported details of the cable. (Senate Intelligence Committee, page 81, paragraph 2)
A spokesman of the intelligence committee told me last month: "We were not able to establish definitively who was told about the cable or its contents or who read it." Other members of Congress may soon be taking up this story to find out just who at the White House was told about the cable.
Meanwhile, al Libi, who told fellow prisoners in Bagram he was returned to U.S. custody from Egypt on Nov. 22, 2003, has disappeared. He was not among the "high-value prisoners" transferred to Guantanamo last year.
*Stephen Grey is the reporter for the documentary "Extraordinary Rendition" that was broadcast on Frontline/World, Tuesday, Nov. 6 on PBS. He is the author of "Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA's Rendition and Torture Program" (St Martin's Press). He is an award-winning investigative reporter who has contributed to the New York Times, BBC, PBS and ABC News among others.
Come to the Julie Meyers Costume Party! Here's some ideas for "Original" Costumes!
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
During today’s White House press briefing, spokeswoman Dana Perino condemned Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of “emergency rule” in Pakistan. She said that the administration is “deeply disappointed” by the measure, which suspends the country’s constitution, and believes it is never “reasonable” to “restrict constitutional freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism”:
Q: Is it ever reasonable to restrict constitutional freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism?
MS. PERINO: In our opinion, no.
The Bush administration never suspended the U.S. Constitution; instead, it interpreted the document so broadly as to provide all the powers they desired. A look at some of the ways the White House has overstepped its constitutional powers in the name of national security:
First Amendment: In September, a federal judge ruled that the FBI’s use of secret “national security letters” to obtain citizens’ personal data from private companies for counterterrorism investigations “violate[d] the First Amendment and constitutional provisions on the separation of powers.”
First Amendment, Fourth Amendment: In Aug. 2006, a federal district court in Detroit ruled that the Bush administration’ss NSA warrantless wiretapping program was unconstitutional, violating the “separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA and Title III.”
Article I: Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in June, then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales attempted to justify the administration’s detainee policy by claiming, “There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution.” (Article I, Section 9, Clause 2 of the Contitution reads: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”)
Article II: In June, House investigators revealed that Vice President Dick Cheney had exempted his office from an executive order order designed to safeguard classified national security information by claiming that he was not an “entity within the executive branch.” (Read the duties of the Vice President, outlined in Article II of the Constitution HERE.)
I must apologize to the NeoCons and the Bush Administration. Obviously, I was wrong. The Surge is Working.
BAGHDAD - Five more U.S. troops and a sailor were killed in Iraq, the military said Tuesday — making 2007 the deadliest year for American forces in Iraq, according to an Associated Press count.
At least 853 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq so far this year — the highest annual toll since the war began in March 2003, according to AP figures. Some 850 troops died in 2004.
The grim milestone passed despite a sharp drop in U.S. and Iraqi deaths here in recent months, after a 30,000-strong U.S. force buildup.
The five U.S. soldiers died Monday in two separate attacks, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, director of the Multi-National Force-Iraq's communications division, told reporters Tuesday. "We lost five soldiers yesterday in two unfortunate incidents, both involving IEDs," he said, using the military's shorthand for improvised explosive devices — roadside bombs.
In another statement, American forces said a sailor died of injuries from an explosion Monday in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad.
Their deaths brought to at least 3,855 the number of U.S. troops who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war, according to an AP count. The figure includes eight civilians working for the military.
At least 852 American military members died in Iraq in 2007, compared with 850 troops in 2004. That year saw mostly larger, more conventional battles like the campaign to cleanse Fallujah of Sunni militants in November, and U.S. clashes with Shiite militiamen in the sect's holy city of Najaf in August.
Widening reach of U.S. military
But the American military in Iraq reached its highest troop levels in Iraq this year — 165,000. Moreover, the military's decision to send soldiers out of large bases and into Iraqi communities means more troops have seen more "contact with enemy forces" than ever before, said Maj. Winfield Danielson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.
"It's due to the troop surge, which allowed us to go into areas that were previously safe havens for insurgents," Danielson told the AP on Sunday. "Having more soldiers, and having them out in the communities, certainly contributes to our casualties."
Last spring, U.S. platoons took up positions — often in abandoned houses or in muddy, half-collapsed police stations — at the heart of neighborhoods across Baghdad and nearby communities.
The move was part of President Bush's new strategy to drive al-Qaida from the capital.
It was the first time many residents had seen U.S. troops up close, rather than whizzing by in armored convoys en route to huge bases that house thousands of troops. And it was the first time many U.S. troops went to bed each night outside those fortresses, to the sounds of Iraqi life: gunfire, the roar of helicopters overhead and an occasional explosion.
The move has worked, U.S. officials say. Increasingly, the sounds of Baghdad include children playing on the streets.
"It's allowed Iraqi civilians to get more comfortable with U.S. forces — increasing the number of tips we get from Iraqi citizens," Danielson said. "That leads us to insurgent leaders and cells, and cleaning those up has led to a decline in violence over the past couple months."
Death tolls for Americans and Iraqis have fallen dramatically in recent months, as have the number of bombings, shootings and other violence.
At least 1,023 Iraqi civilians died in September; in October, that figure was just 875. The number of U.S. troop deaths dropped from 65 to 36 in the same period, according to statistics kept by the AP. That's the lowest monthly toll of American deaths this year.
On average, 56 Iraqis — civilians and security forces — have died each day so far in 2007, according to the AP count.
Mass grave located
Meantime, Iraqi troops discovered 22 bodies in a mass grave in the Lake Tharthar area northwest of Baghdad, the U.S. military also said Tuesday. The bodies were found during a joint operation Saturday.
It was the second mass grave found in the area in less than a month.
Meanwhile, the United States said it planned to release nine Iranian prisoners in the coming days, including two captured when U.S. troops stormed an Iranian government office in Irbil last January. The office was shut after the raid, but it reopened as an Iranian consulate on Tuesday, Iraqi and Iranian officials said.
Gates says Iran fulfills pledge
A military spokesman said Iran appears to have kept its promise to stop the flow into Iraq of bomb-making materials and other weaponry that Washington says has inflamed insurgent violence and caused many American troop casualties.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week that Iran had made such assurances to the Iraqi government.
"It's our best judgment that these particular EFPs ... in recent large cache finds do not appear to have arrived here in Iraq after those pledges were made," Smith said.
Among the weapons Washington has accused Iran of supplying to Iraqi insurgents are EFPs, or explosively formed projectiles. They fire a slug of molten metal capable of penetrating even the most heavily armored military vehicles, and thus are more deadly than other roadside bombs.
The No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, said last week that there had been a sharp decline in the number of EFPs found in Iraq in the last three months. At the time, he and Gates both said it was too early to tell whether the trend would hold, and whether it could be attributed to action by Iranian authorities. Iran publicly denies that it has sent weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq.
Olbermann on Torture. "Bush Administration has now become a Criminal Conspiracy"
Labels: War Criminals
Obama Campaign opposed having Stephen Colbert's Joke Campaign on the Ballot. Now the only Joke Campaign in S.C. is Obama's.
Prominent Obama supporters in South Carolina pressed Democratic party officials to keep Stephen Colbert off the primary ballot.
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) — Two prominent supporters of Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign in South Carolina called state Democratic Party officials urging them to oppose putting comedian Stephen Colbert's name on the primary ballot, according to party officials and Obama supporters with knowledge of the calls.
Colbert, the host of Comedy Central's "Colbert Report," saw his hopes to be placed on the primary ballot ended last week when the South Carolina Democratic Party executive council voted 13-3 to block his bid, with the majority of voters saying he was not a viable enough candidate to be included in the primary.
At least one member of the executive council, who requested anonymity, told CNN he felt "pressured" by former State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum to oppose Colbert from being placed on the ballot.
Tenenbaum is a high-profile supporter of Obama. Her endorsement of Obama in April was touted by the campaign, and she has appeared at several Obama campaign events, including the opening of one of their campaign headquarters this summer. Obama campaigned for Tenenbaum in South Carolina when she ran for Senate in 2004.
"She said it wouldn't be fair to the other candidates. That he [Colbert] wouldn't be sincere. That he was only running in one state," said the executive council official.
The official added: "The Obama people, they just didn't want him at all."
Tenenbaum disagreed with the characterization that she lobbied to keep Colbert off the ballot for political reasons.
"I think lobbying was too strong a word," she said in an interview with CNN. "I called them to see what they were thinking, and if they had made up their mind. I am a volunteer in that campaign, and so I am not a staffer. And I thought it could have taken votes away from a lot of people."
Another Obama endorser who regularly appears at campaign events, state Rep. Bakari Sellers, also made phone calls to members of the party's executive council about Colbert, according to Sellers.
"I placed the calls as a concerned Democrat, realizing that we are a country in despair," Sellers told CNN. "It is not a time for games or to make a mockery of the process."
Given the lopsided vote of the executive council against Colbert, it's unclear if the calls had significant bearing on Colbert's fate as a bona fide presidential candidate.
But the calls raise questions about the Obama supporters' motives, given their close ties to the campaign and the fact that Colbert and Obama both draw support from a similar demographic.
"A lot of Obama's support is among younger, college-educated folks, and a lot of Colbert's watchers are younger, college-educated folks," said Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Winthrop University.
"I understand that Obama might potentially lose some voters," said Huffmon, who also noted that having Colbert on the ballot would likely bring in new primary voters rather than take them from other candidates. "But in a race where every vote counts it's a valid concern."
The Obama campaign denied any connection to the phone calls.
"Democrats in South Carolina, including supporters of ours, had strong feelings on both sides of the ballot issue and ultimately it was South Carolina Democrats who made this decision," said Obama's South Carolina communications director Kevin Griffis.
According to members of the executive council, Tenenbaum also called council member Jim Lander, the former South Carolina Comptroller General, as well as another member of the executive council who refused to be identified but said he was confident Tenenbaum was not calling on behalf of Obama's campaign.
The party officials called by Sellers did not return calls from CNN.
Tenenbaum said her quarrel with having Colbert's name on the ballot was pragmatic rather than political. In deciding which candidates to allow in the primary, the state Democratic Party also had to consider that for every name on the ballot, they would have to pay $20,000 to the state election commission.
"The whole thing is just the money," said Tenenbaum, who said she is currently fundraising for the party. "He did not meet the criteria … It's all in fun and let's just leave it at that."
According to state party rules, for a candidate to be placed on the ballot, he or she must demonstrate national viability as well as spend time campaigning in the state.
The three members of the executive council who voted in favor of putting Colbert on the ballot were state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg; Charles Hamby, former chairman of the Oconee County Democratic Party; and Lumus Byrd of Laurens County.
The Columbia-based lawyer who represented Colbert in his bid to be placed on the ballot, Dwight Drake, is a supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton. Drake has told CNN in the past he was initially contacted directly by Colbert's surrogates to assist in the comedian’s bid.
As for Colbert, he issued a statement late Monday declaring that his campaign is officially over.
"I am shocked and saddened by the South Carolina Democratic Executive Council's 13-to-3 vote to keep me off their presidential primary ballot," Colbert said. "Although I lost by the slimmest margin in presidential election history–only ten votes–I have chosen not to put the country through another agonizing Supreme Court battle. It is time for this nation to heal.
"I want say to my supporters, this is not over. While I may accept the decision of the Council, the fight goes on! The dream endures! … And I am going off the air until I can talk about this without weeping."
– CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby
This Democratic Congress Has Become a Fucking Joke.
Posted November 5, 2007
Late last week, the Democratic controlled Labor HHS Appropriations Conference Committee endorsed a record $141 million dollar budget for community-based abstinence-only-until-marriage programs which prohibit information about condoms and birth control.
The record-level increase, pushed by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI), flies in the face of a congressionally mandated evaluation showing that abstinence-only programs have "no impact on adolescent behavior." Astonishingly, the windfall was larger than what President Bush had been able to obtain from the prior conservative, Republican-controlled Congress!
In one outrageous move, the Democrats managed to put the health and safety of millions of young people at risk, promote programs that spread ignorance in the era of AIDS, and slap their party's brand on one of the biggest ideological boondoggles in recent congressional history. Over $1.5 billion dollars have been spent over the last decade on programs that simply do not work!
The architect of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, must be pinching himself to make sure he isn't dreaming. When these programs were created as a beneath-the-radar amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill in 1996, ultra-conservative opponents of sex education knew they had launched a major strategic initiative with the potential to achieve many of their goals relating to sexual health in America.
By censoring health-saving information about condoms and birth control and stressing only "failure rates," they seriously undercut the credibility of contraception with America's youth. By placing sexual health information in an ideological, rather than a public health frame, they were also able to promote their own narrow views on topics like abortion, sexual orientation, and gender roles.
Many of the abstinence-only curricula strayed far from the facts. This was documented by Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) in a 2004 government oversight committee report showing that over 80% of programs contained "false or misleading information." The medical and ethical implications of this disinformation campaign were so significant that in 2006 the Society of Adolescent Medicine warned that abstinence-only programs "threaten fundamental human rights to health, information and life."
Once upon a time the Democrats were vocal in their opposition to abstinence-only programs. Citing the enormous volume of evidence against the programs and the fact that virtually all mainstream medical and public health organizations were in opposition, Democrats used abstinence-only policy as a case study to support their claim that the Bush administration promoted "ideology over science" in public health policy. When former Bush administration Surgeon General, Richard Carmona, was called to testify before Congress recently, he cited abstinence-only as one of the prime examples of the Administration's political interference during his tenure.
So why are the Democrats, now in power, embracing the same programs they denigrated in opposition?
Representative David Obey's barely concealed antipathy towards sex education and other reproductive health issues is well-known to those who lobby his committee on the Hill. But how has one recalcitrant committee chairman managed to hijack the Democratic policy on sex education?
Apparently, he had help. Sex education supporters recently learned that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) signed off on the funding increase. In addition, none of the erstwhile supporters of sex education on the House appropriations committee -- Nita Lowey (D-NY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jesse Jackson (D-IL), Betty McCollum (D-MN) -- offered a single amendment to slow Obey's effort to raise abstinence-only funding to record levels. Congressman Waxman, once a vocal opponent of these programs, has gone silent.
So, clearly, there is more to this abstinence-only funding debacle than the "Obey being Obey" excuse being offered up by many of the insiders.
Of course, other excuses have been put forth. The abstinence-only provisions were intended to obtain Republican votes sufficient to overturn a presidential veto. That excuse went up in smoke when Republicans made clear that while they praised the Chairman's efforts to increase funding for abstinence-only programs, they would not give him the votes to override a veto on legislation that included other programs they opposed.
Another popular excuse is that ending funding for failed abstinence-only programs would be too "controversial." This excuse also rings hollow in light of public opinion research, much of it conducted by pollsters who work with the Democrats, showing that the vast majority of Americans, parents included, support a comprehensive rather than an abstinence-only approach to sex education.
I fear that the real answer to the question "why did this happen?" is the obvious one. It happened because nobody stood up to stop it. We suffered a stunning failure of congressional leadership, pure and simple.
So, where do we go from here? The blame for this failure goes well beyond Chairman Obey. It is high time we stopped buying into the "dog ate my homework" excuses of Members who claim to be sex education advocates, but refuse to stand up for young people when it really counts We make a big mistake when we don't hold our allies and friends accountable when they desert core principles without a fight.
In addition to using our grassroots networks -- blogs, letters, phone calls, and contributions -- to hold members accountable, we have to focus their attention on the principles and the politics at play with this issue. It is immoral to fund programs that deprive young people of sexual health information in a country with 27 million sexually active young people under the age of 25.
It is smart politics to support comprehensive sex education, which includes information about abstinence and contraception, because that's what the research says works and that's what parents support.
Comprehensive sex education is included in the Democratic leadership bills in both the House and the Senate. The time has come to move these bills and to find leaders who will stand up to Mr. Obey during the next appropriations cycle. Only then will we be able to turn off the funding spigot for ideological programs that don't work and threaten the health and lives of young people.