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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 4/5/2008

New Poll:  A New York Times/CBS News poll shows 81% believe the country has gone "off on the wrong track" which is an increase of 12% since last year. It is the highest level of dissatisfaction with the country's direction since these pollsters starting asking the question in the 1990s. Most believe the economy is in a recession and blame the government more than banks or borrowers for the current crisis.
 
Gitmo & the Elections:  Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, the attorney for Osama bin Laden's driver, has filed a motion with the Guantánamo military commission that challenges "the integrity of President Bush's war court." He said that "Pentagon officials are orchestrating war crimes prosecutions for the 2008 campaign." The motion "describes a Sept. 29, 2006, meeting at the Pentagon in which Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England . . . asked lawyers to consider Sept. 11, 2001 prosecutions in light of the campaign. 'We need to think about charging some of the high-value detainees because there could be strategic political value to charging some of these detainees before the election.'" The Pentagon wouldn't address it, saying the trial will take care of everything. (Miami Herald)
 
John Yoo:  This is the guy from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) who is considered the primary architect of the Unitary Executive Theory. He wrote the infamous 2003 memo to the Pentagon saying the president could torture. (The Weekly Wonk, Prosecuting the War, 11/11/06 & James Comey, 5/19/07) While the contents have been known for some time, it has been classified as "secret." But this week it was released in 2 parts. (part 1part 2) (Note: It has been classified as "secret," but has no redactions on it, meaning there was no reason to classify it as secret.) It was released pursuant to a FOIA request by the ACLU seeking hundreds of documents. (See Domestic Spying below.) According to the NY Times, "Some legal scholars said Tuesday that they were amazed at the scope of the memorandum. 'This is a monument to executive supremacy and the imperial presidency,' said Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School and the Washington College of Law at American University. 'It’s also a road map for the Pentagon for fending off any prosecutions.'" It is appalling. Read it for yourself. TPMMuckraker did a timeline of how the torture came to be and was used. The Washington Post said, "Federal laws prohibiting assault and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned al-Qaeda captives because the president's ultimate authority as commander-in-chief overrode such statutes." In other words, Bush is king.
 
More on TortureVanity Fair has done it again with another unbelievable piece of journalism, this time on torture. Philippe Sands, an international lawyer and professor of law at University College London, "conducted a forensic examination of the chain of command leading from the top of the administration to the camp at Guantánamo." He says that "Torture at Guantánamo was sanctioned by the most senior advisers to the president, the vice president, and the secretary of defense." Anyone surprised?
 
1st Amendment:  Carol Rosenberg, reporting for The Miami Herald from Guantánamo Naval Base, said that a defense lawyer let it slip "at the war court" that "a battlefield commander changed an Afghanistan firefight report in a way that seemed to help a U.S. government murder case." Reporters heard the field commander's name but were "forbidden to report it." It's hard to feel sorry for the press, though. Eric Lichtblau, one of The New York Times reporters who, in late 2005, broke the story of Bush's warrantless surveillance program, has a book coming out that says Bush "successfully persuaded The Times to suppress its expose [on warrantless surveillance] in the fall of 2004 - when it might have had a profound effect on President Bush's reelection hopes." (Washington Post)
 
Domestic Spying:  The Pentagon is expected to close its Counterintelligence Field Activity office which has been described as "part of an effort by the Defense Department to expand into domestic spying." In 2005 it was revealed that the office managed a database "that included information about antiwar protests planned at churches, schools and Quaker meeting halls." (NY Times) As a part of that FOIA request (see John Yoo above), the ACLU received information on the National Security Letters (NSLs) used by the FBI. (See USA Patriot Act) It has determined that the "military is using the FBI to skirt legal restrictions on domestic surveillance to obtain private records of Americans' Internet service providers, financial institutions and telephone companies." In a nutshell, the Defense Department is precluded legally from domestic spying so it pretended it was the FBI and used NSLs. (AP) Yup. No kidding. But where the Defense Department is leaving off, the states are starting up. Intelligence centers run by states, called "fusion centers," have access to personal information about millions of Americans, including unlisted cell phone numbers, insurance claims, driver's license photographs and credit reports." (Washington Post)
 
Bush's Buds:  The Saudis are still "the world's leading source of money for al-Qaeda and other extremist networks and has failed to take key steps requested by U.S. officials to stem the flow." (LA Times) These are Bush's best buddies and he can't get help with this or with oil prices? With friends like that, who needs enemies?
 
Pakistan:  Pervez Musharraf swore in a new cabinet "that was filled with political opponents from the main opposition parties, including several who served time in prison under his military government." (NY Times) This will be interesting.
 
Bush at NATO:  At his final NATO summit, Bush managed to accomplish 2 of his 3 objectives. He failed to persuade them to allow Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO but got backing for the missile-defense shield he wants to put in Eastern Europe and managed to get NATO to send more troops to Afghanistan. In addition, Bush reached an agreement with the Czech Republic to build a radar facility for the U.S. system. (Washington Post)
 
The Troops:  Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, testified this week before the Senate Armed Services Committee's readiness panel. He said that the heavy deploy-ments are inflicting "incredible stress" on soldiers and families and that they pose "a significant risk" to the nation's all-volunteer military. Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, "one of the chief architects of the Iraq troop increase, has been nominated to replace Cody." Gen. Robert Magnus, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, also testified. He said, "There has been little, if any, change of the stress or tempo for our forces," calling the current pace of operations "unsustainable." (Washington Post)
 
DoD Contracting:  The GAO has issued another report showing concern for the Defense Department's increasing use of con-tractors "to fill roles previously held by government employees and to perform many functions that closely support inherently governmental functions, such as contracting support, intelli-gence analysis, program management, and engineering and technical support for program offices." It raises concerns about the "proper balance" between public and private employees and the "potential risk of contractors influencing the government’s control over and accountability for decisions that may be based, in part, on contractor work."
 
Airplane Safety:  Safety inspectors testified before Congress this week and said they were repeatedly prevented from re-porting safety problems with Southwest Airlines planes. (The Weekly Wonk, Airplane Safety, 3/15/08) The inspectors said that when they tried to take further action, they were often harassed and threatened by senior Federal Aviation Adminis-tration (FAA) officials. A number said that the problems with Southwest planes were more extensive than had been pre-viously revealed and that the FAA had allowed them to continue flying. They gave stories about being threatened (one said even his wife's job was threatened) and being ordered to shred documents so they wouldn't get to Congress. They emphasized that the lax attitude toward Southwest stemmed from the close relationship their supervisor in Dallas had with the airline's managers. (Washington Post)
 
Monica Goodling:  The Justice Department Inspector General (IG) is investigating Monica Goodling, senior counsel to Alberto Gonzales. (The Weekly Wonk, The 5th Amendment, 3/31/07; The Other Monica, 4/7/07; Gonzales' Secret Memo, 5/5/07; The Goodling Connection, 5/12/07; Monica Goodling's Testimony, 5/26/07) Goodling is considered a key player in the firing of federal attorneys. The IG is looking into Goodling's role in firing Leslie Hagen, a career attorney who "received the highest possible ratings for her work," because of rumors that she's a lesbian. (NPR) Under Alberto Gonzales, Justice Department applicants had been asked about not only their political affiliation, but also more personal information, including religious beliefs and sexual orientation. (TPMMuckraker)
 
Weapons Budget:  The GAO issued a report saying that the U.S. weapons budget is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule. It found that 95 major systems have exceeded their original budgets by a total of $295 billion, bringing their total cost to $1.6 trillion, and, on average, are delivered almost 2 years late. Also, none of the systems that the GAO looked at had met all of the standards for "best management practices" during their development stages.
 
Building the Fence:  The border fence is costing more than just money. Bush, et al. is going to "bypass more than 30 laws and regulations in an effort to finish building 670 miles of fence along the southwest U.S. border by the end of this year." (See The Weekly Wonk, Homeland Security 10/27/07) Congress has approved this. (LA Times)
 
Alphonso Jackson:  The Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary resigned. The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) called this a "blow" to Bush since he was a key player in dealing with the housing crisis. But Jackson has been under fire for most of his tenure for things like the public housing crisis after Hurricane Katrina. (The Weekly Wonk, Alphonso Jackson, 10/6/072/9/08) Recently he's been under investigation for giving out lucrative contracts to friends. No!
 
Insurance Companies:  As if they don't have enough money, now there's this. Whistleblowers are filing lawsuits that claim insurance companies who pay out long-term disability insurance are forcing claimants to get Social Security benefits because it would cut down on the amount they have to pay out every month. It's costing the Social Security system millions of dollars every year by forcing people who file disability claims to also apply for SSI even if it's clear that they'll be denied. They even force claimants to appeal the denial, thus costing more money and delaying benefits for people who really need SSI. (NY Times)
 
National Health Care:  According to a recent survey, more than half of U.S. doctors are in favor of a national health care plan and fewer than a third oppose it. (Reuters)
 
Financial ReformPaul Krugman said that anyone who has ever read Dilbert understands Bush's plan to "fix" the financial mess and what caused it -- "it’s all about creating the appear-ance of responding to the current crisis, without actually doing anything substantive." Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson wants to "set up a new agency to oversee mortgage lending and take action to enhance his department's role as the chief regulator of financial markets." Banks and credit unions are against the plan. (Washington Post) Here's my favorite quote from Paulson. He says his plan "features both regulatory and deregulatory elements." (NY Times) No one expects any of this to go anywhere. It would be difficult to do with a popular administration, but with an unpopular, lame duck administration, it's probably impossible.
 
The Economy:  Most economists agree the subprime mortgage crisis sparked the current economic downturn, but many argue that the Iraq occupation "is deepening the economic pain." Even the "most conservative economists acknowledge that Americans will eventually pay the price at home for a war financed entirely with borrowed money." (Politico)
 
Unemployment:  We lost 80,000 payroll jobs in March, "the most in 5 years and the 3rd straight month of losses." The unemployment rate is now 5.1%. (AP)
 
Cell Phones:  The Independent had a piece warning about the use of cell phones, especially by children: "Mobile phones could kill far more people than smoking or asbestos, a study by an award-winning cancer expert has concluded. He says people should avoid using them wherever possible and that governments and the mobile phone industry must take 'immediate steps' to reduce exposure to their radiation."
 
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