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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 5/19/2007

Military Revolt?:  Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, appeared on NBC's Chris Matthew Show last Sunday. She said that sources within the military are warning of "a revolt from active-duty generals if September rolls around and the president is sticking with the surge into '08." (Watch the video at ThinkProgress) This may be a problem in the making. Gen. David Petraeus said that he probably won't have "anything definitive" to say about the war in his September review. (Iraq Slogger) And, there's trouble brewing with the troops, too. The Bush budget recommended a 3% pay increase for the military. The House Armed Services Committee recommended a 3.5% increase. Bush won't go for the extra money, calling it "unnecessary." (Army Times) I'm sure the troops are just delighted that the VA Performance Review Board awarded millions of dollars in bonuses that went to 21 of the 32 people on the board!! Yep. They voted huge raises for themselves. (USA Today) Bush didn't seem to have a problem with that!
 
War Czar:  President Bush finally found someone to agree to serve as "war czar." As I told you before, he's now outsourcing the position of Commander in Chief. (See The Weekly Wonk, A War Czar, 4/14/07.) Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the Pentagon's director of operations, has agreed to sit on the hot seat. Wonder what they offered him to get him to take it? This is a new position and Lute will "serve as an assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser, and would also maintain his military status and rank as a 3-star general, according to a Pentagon official." He has to be confirmed by the Senate. (CBS News) Critics of the war brought out an interview where Lute argued for a decrease in the number of troops in Iraq. "You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq," he said. Lute was apparently skeptical of the troop buildup and emphasized that any military escalation had to be matched with strong political and economic components. (NY Times) This could get interesting.
 
Iraq Black-Out:  I told you a couple of weeks ago that Iraq is refusing to disclose civilian casualties. (See The Issue Wonk, Iraqi Casualties, 4/28/07.) And we all know the U.S. has banned photographing caskets as they come back. (Washington Post) Now Iraq's interior ministry has "decided to bar news photographers and camera operators from the scenes of bomb attacks." This is "the latest in a series of attempts to curtail press coverage of the ongoing conflict, which has already attracted criticism from international human rights bodies." (ABCNewsOnline(That's Australia news, not the U.S. ABC network.)
 
The PSAs:  The Iraqi Oil bill, which includes Production Sharing Agreements, is in trouble. The Kurds and Sunnis object to the bill's profit-sharing provisions and distrust the Shi'ite-led government. Everyone distrusts the foreign companies seeking gain from Iraqi oil. (See The Issue Wonk, The Bill and Production Sharing Agreements, 5/5/07.) And there is plenty of good, old-fashioned America-hating, too. The LA Times speculated that the "problems of the oil bill bode poorly for the other so-called benchmarks that the Bush administration has been pressuring Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's government to meet."
 
Iran:  Inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran has figured out how to enrich large quantities of uranium. (For background, see The Issue Wonk, Iran's Nuclear Capabilities, 4/15/06; and The Fuss About Iran, 4/29/06.) They found that Iran's main nuclear facility had 1,300 centrifuges producing uranium that could be used for nuclear reactors, when only recently it seemed the Iranians didn't know how to get them to work properly. "The material produced so far would have to undergo further enrichment before it could be transformed into bomb-grade material, and to accomplish that Iran would probably have to evict the IAEA inspectors, as North Korea did 4 years ago." You have to scroll way down the article to get to the real info. The inspectors tested the output and concluded that it's only "reactor-grade uranium." That means it's enriched to a little less than 5% purity. It must be at least 90% purity to be used for a nuclear weapon. It could be done, but the IAEA inspectors have found no evidence that Iran is building a bomb capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. (NY Times) This doesn't mean there's nothing to be concerned about, but it should at least put pressure on European and American negotiators to rethink their strategy for dealing with Iran.
 
Do-Overs:  These are great when you're 10 years old and playing baseball. But the Pentagon is playing with people's lives. The new military system for determining whether detainees are being "properly" held at Gitmo (since they have no right of habeas corpus) includes "do-overs." (See The Betrayal of America.) If Pentagon officials disagree with the result of a hearing, they order another one. And if they disagree with that, they order another one. They keep on ordering hearings until they get a panel that approves of their findings. Geez. Anyway, this week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia began looking at the first of these cases. They expect to get "scores" of challenges "to the military panelsí decisions that detainees are enemy combatants and are properly held." (NY Times)
 
Paul McNulty:  The Deputy Attorney General resigned in the wake of the mess on firing federal attorneys. (AP) Gonzales said the whole firing thing was McNulty's fault. (CBS News)
 
Firing Federal Attorneys:  We know they fired 8. Another was added, bringing the total to 9. We know they discussed firing them all. (See Firing Federal Attorneys.) (For background see The Weekly Wonk, Firing Federal Attorneys, 1/20/07, 2/17/07, 3/3/07, 3/10/07.) Early in the week, it came out that there were at least 26 on the chopping block. (There are only a total of 93.) (Washington Post) When Gonzales testified before Congress he said they only looked at the 8 who were ultimately dismissed. By the end of the week the number had climbed to 30. (Washington Post) So, let's assume there were 30 on the list. Only 9 were fired. What did the other 21 do, or promise to do, that allowed them to keep their jobs?
 
James Comey:  Former deputy Attorney General James Comey appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week regarding the firing of the federal attorneys. (The video is about 20 minutes long, but well worth spending the time to watch.) He told about the efforts by Bush officials to reauthorize the National Security Agency's (NSA) warrantless surveillance program in early 2004. The story is detailed and he relays it in legal-speak. So, I'll translate it for you. The warrantless surveillance program was illegal but for 2-1/2 years Ashcroft signed off on the program every 45 days without any real knowledge of what it entailed. His advisors, who were supposed to review such things on his behalf, were denied access and he didn't press to get them access. When Comey came on board as his chief assistant, Comey insisted on being granted access and got the program reviewed by Jack Goldsmith, the Assistant AG for the Office of Legal Counsel. Goldsmith took John Yoo's former position. (See Unitary Executive Theory for info on Yoo.) Goldsmith and Comey found the program so repugnant that they had a sit-down with Ashcroft who, once he knew what was really going on, agreed with Comey that it shouldn't be approved. He told Comey he was willing to resign rather than sign off again. So, what did they find so repugnant? No one's saying, but the evidence suggests that the issue was over whether constitutional protections of civil liberties were binding on the president during a time of war. Given John Yoo's fingers in this pot, it all comes down to the Unitary Executive Theory. Well, duh! Anyway, Ashcroft got sick and ended up in the hospital. Comey refused to re-authorize the program. One night Comey got a call from Ashcroft's wife who had been advised that Andrew Card, then Bush's Chief of Staff, and Albert Gonzales, then Bush's legal counsel, were coming over to talk to Ashcroft. She was concerned. Comey knew they were going to try to get a very disoriented Ashcroft to reauthorize the program. Comey called FBI director Robert Mueller, who called his agents guarding Ashcroft and told them not to allow Gonzales and Card to throw Comey out of the room. Comey rushed to the hospital and attempted to explain to Ashcroft what was going on. Card and Gonzales showed up and tried to get Ashcroft to approve the program. He refused, saying that Comey was the Attorney General. Comey was later called to the White House by Card. Comey told Card that, after what he'd just seen, he wouldn't come without a witness. Card played stupid, saying they were just there to wish Ashcroft well. Comey then contacted Ted Olson, the Solicitor General, to accompany him as a witness. The stink was so big that Ashcroft, Mueller, Comey, and "other senior Justice Department aides" all threatened to quit if the illegal surveillance program was continued. Comey said that Bush "quelled the revolt over the programís legality by allowing it to continue without Justice Department approval" and directed DOJ officials "take the necessary steps to bring it into compliance with the law." Later, Comey said, the program was adjusted so that it became legal. So, it could have been legal all along, but it wasn't. I'll be waiting to see if any of these many people are asked to testify.
 
The Rush-to-the-Hospital Story:  Much of this story has been known for a long time. It's not new at all. What is new is the revelation of Bush's role in the whole thing and people are paying attention to it. (NY Times) A Washington Post editorial said the story is "so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source." Slate's Dahlia Lithwick gave a great rundown of everything. An interesting point: When Gonzales testified before the Senate last year regarding the warrantless surveillance program, he said that the program caused no controversy within the administration. (Washington Post) And the kicker? Neither ABC nor CBS, as of Friday, had reported on any of this. Not on their evening or morning news broadcasts. (Media Matters) That's says a lot.
 
Immigration Bill:  They've come to an agreement -- House, Senate, and Prez -- on an immigration bill. They haven't written it yet, so we only have media reports of what's in it, and it's very sketch and contradictory. But here's what the media is saying. The proposal is being touted as a "much-needed victory" for Bush. The Senate will start debate on the bill next week, but the House isn't going to start debate until July. Just to make this easier, I'll break it into sections. First, and the most contentious, is the so-called amnesty. The proposal would grant undocumented workers who came into the country before January 2007 a permit to remain. They could then apply for a new, 4-year "Z Visa," renewable indefinitely, as long as they pay a $5,000 fine, a $1,500 processing fee, show a clean work record and pass a criminal background check." (Washington Post) The NY Times added that "Heads of households would have to return to their home countries to apply for green cards if they wanted to become lawful permanent residents and then citizens." Are these the same people who get the amnesty? USA Today makes it a little more clear, saying that after the payment of the fine, back taxes, the background check, and demonstrating proficiency in English, they must return to their native countries and apply for legal entry. The AP stated this could take 8 to 13 years. Like I said, this isn't at all clear and I'll try to get things clarified over the next few weeks. A temporary worker program would allow as many as 400,000 migrants into the country each year, but they would have to leave after 2 years, with no chance to appeal for permanent residence. The current visa system, which stresses family ties, would be augmented by a complex point system that would favor skilled, educated workers. None of this, however, will happen until there are more stringent border security and employment measures implemented: "[T]he government must deploy 18,000 new Border Patrol agents and 4 unmanned aerial vehicles; build 200 miles of vehicle barriers, 370 miles of fencing, and 70 ground-based radar and camera towers; provide funds for the detention of 27,500 illegal immigrants a day; and complete new identification tools to help employers screen out illegal job applicants." USA Today adds that employers will have to check all new hires "against a government database to determine whether they can legally work in the USA." (I suppose this database, in order to be effective, will have to have every U.S. citizen in it.) Everybody hates the bill. "Labor unions say such a system would depress wages and create an underclass." Conservatives hate it, preferring the proposal from last year. (See Fixing Illegal Immigration.) Rep. Tom Tancredo (R, CO) said "The president is so desperate for a legacy and a domestic policy win that he is willing to sell out the American people and our national security." (Washington Post)
 
Border Patrol:  Is Bush serious about border patrol? Not according to Gov. Bill Richardson (D, NM) and Gov. Janet Napolitano (D, AZ), both border states. They wrote a letter to President Bush criticizing him for sending their Border Patrol agents to Iraq. (World Net Daily)
 
Immigration Detention:  "A United Nations human rights official said he was barred from visiting an immigration detention center in New Jersey yesterday. It was the 2nd time he was denied access to an American immigration jail on a weeklong monitoring tour." (NY Times) I wonder what they're hiding.
 
Health Care:  A report by the Commonwealth Fund says that Americans "get the poorest health care and yet pay the most compared to 5 other rich countries . . . Germany, Britain, Australia and Canada all provide better care for less money. . . Canada rates 2nd worst out of the 5 overall. Germany scored highest, followed by Britain, Australia and New Zealand."  (Reuters)
 
Gas Prices:  They hit a new record Monday, but futures prices, where the oil companies buy the crude (See The Price of Gas), fell due to "concerns that $3 gas will crimp demand. Oil prices, meanwhile, rose on reports of refinery problems in the U.S. and abroad." (AP) According to the Consumer Federation of America, "Households are spending about $1,000 more per year for gasoline than they were just 5 years ago, an 85% increase. . . In the past 5 years the oil industry has picked consumers pockets for $200 billion in excess profits." (Consumers Union
 
Paul Wolfowitz:  I've avoided covering this scandal, but now it seems that it's just another case of corruption at the highest levels. A World Bank committee has concluded that Paul Wolfowitz, its Bush-appointed head and one of the architects of the Iraq War, broke ethics and governance rules when he arranged a promotion and raise package for his companion, Shaha Ali Riza. The report, which was publicly released this week, also said that Wolfowitz tried to hide the package from bank officials and ultimately "saw himself as the outsider to whom the established rules and standards did not apply." (LA Times) And debate over whether Wolfowitz should stay or go has "ruptured the bank's governance system so deeply that finance officials in many countries worry that it may be irreparable whatever happens to Mr. Wolfowitz. If he refuses to resign, many said he might find it hard to travel or issue directives. If he leaves, a fight over choosing his successor is sure to erupt." (NY Times) The degree of Wolfowitz' arrogance was pushed home by The Guardian. It quoted Wolfie as saying, ""If they fuck with me or Shaha, I have enough on them to fuck them too." Nice guy, huh? The White House, of course, had been supporting him but finally said they'd be willing to replace him as long as the World Bank doesn't fire him. (Washington Post) On Thursday he resigned, effective June 30th. (ABC News) On June 1st he'll be given a $400,000 "performance bonus." (Boston Globe) Geez.
 
Wolfowitz & the World Bank:  Since we're on the subject of Wolfowitz' record while heading the World Bank, here's more cronyism at work. He appointed former-Spanish government official Ana Palacio as Bank General Counsel, one of the top positions in the organization. He claimed that he had appointed Palacio for her "legal skill and diplomacy" and her "exceptional leadership and management capabilities." (World Bank) However, it looks like he appointed her because she strongly supports the Iraq War. (IPS) She wasn't well liked and an anonymous bank employee said, "She is known to be overbearing and yell on a regular basis. . . She is known to intimidate people by mentioning her proximity to the President. . . Throughout the Bank, staff find her absent, incoherent, rude and simply not fitted for the job." (World Bank President) However, she is a personal friend of Wolfie's girlfriend, Shaha Riza, and, as the bank's general counsel, she attempted to stonewall the investigation from even occurring. According to a message posted by a bank staffer on an internal bulletin board, during a private board meeting, "Palacio barged into the board room and demanded to participate in the closed door session. . . The board was then forced to adjourn the meeting." (World Bank President) As the controversy began to gain attention, Palacio attempted to deflect attention to an unrelated investigation, announcing that she was looking into a leak of "confidential internal communications" to Fox News. (Washington Post) Clearly, Wolfie has acted just like Bush in loading the World Bank with unpopular political appointees who have no skills except their unfettered partisan loyalty.
 
Army Gag Rule:  Does this stuff ever stop? A couple of weeks I told you about the new Army rules that order soldiers to stop posting blogs or sending personal e-mail messages without first clearing the content with a superior officer? (See The Weekly Wonk, Army Gag Rule, 5/5/07.) Then last week I told you that I'd heard that this who issue was dropped. (See The Weekly Wonk, Army Gag Rule, 5/12/07.) Well, now it looks like they're at it again. The Pentagon announced that its computers will no longer be able to access popular sites such as YouTube, MySpace, Photobucket, and 10 others. Those blocked include some of the most popular sites for social networking, photo, and video which are widely used among soldiers and their families. The Pentagon insists these sites have slowed down the department's network. Say what? Service members can still access the sites, as long as it's not from a military computer. (Washington Post)
 
Michael Baroody:  This is the guy Bush picked to be the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He's a senior lobbyist at the National Association of Manufacturers, "a trade group that opposes aggressive product safety regulation"  (6ABC.com) and "has called for weakening the Consumer Product Safety Commission." (SF Gate) His nomination has come under fire since he'd have to regulate issues relating to members of the association. To top it off, he's going to get a $150,000 payment when he leaves. (NY Times)
 
Climate Change:  "Warm temperatures melted an area of western Antarctica that adds up to the size of California in January 2005, scientists report," noting "clear signs that melting had occurred in multiple distinct regions, including far inland and at high latitudes and elevations, where melt had been considered unlikely." (Live Science)
 
Shades of Nixon:  The New York Police Department targeted anti-Bush protestors during the 2004 Republican Convention. (The Weekly Wonk, The 1st Amendment, 3/31/07) However, there's litigation going that challenges the arrests of more than 1,800 people, mostly for "disorderly conduct," during the convention and a federal judge ordered police documents unsealed. "Once-confidential documents prepared as the NYPD readied for the convention cautioned the group (Billionaires for Bush) was 'forged as a mockery of the current presidency and political policies,' and they noted that 'preliminary intelligence indicates that this group is raising funds for expansion and support of anti-RNC organizations.'" New York attorneys argued that the arrests were justified "because of intelligence showing certain protesters were threats to the public." Civil rights activists argued that the internal documents, many marked "secret," show that "the nation's largest police department spent tremendous time and resources to conduct surveillance on people who were merely practicing free speech and displaying no sign of criminal intent." The documents also show that the NYPD "infiltrated protest groups by having undercover officers enter their Internet chat rooms and attend organizing meetings." (AP)
 
Plamegate:  Outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, as we all know, has brought a civil suit against Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and Richard Armitage. This week the defendants' attorneys presented a motion to dismiss the suit. They said "any conversations Cheney and the officials had about Plame with one another or with reporters were part of their normal duties because they were discussing foreign policy and engaging in an appropriate policy dispute." [Emphasis added.] Cheney's attorney even claims special privilege "arguing that Cheney is legally akin to the president because of his unique government role and has absolute immunity from any lawsuit." The Judge, John Bates, asked: "So you're arguing there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- these officials could have said to reporters that would have been beyond the scope of their employment," whether the statements were true or false? "That's true, Your Honor. Mr. Wilson was criticizing government policy. These officials were responding to that criticism." (Washington Post) Can you believe the arrogance of these people? What's worse, it is expected that the judge will dismiss the case because he is a Bush appointee and former aide to independent counsel Ken Starr. (NY Sun)
 
On the Light Side:  While moving around office furniture, Senator Jon Tester's (D, MT) staff found an "old document." The document, "a citizens' petition in favor of women's suffrage," dating back to 1910, was turned over to the National Archives. (Roll Call)
 
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