Archive for February 2009
Over the past few weeks, the Obama Administration has been engaged in truly shocking behavior. It is letting Israel know when the U.S. disapproves of its actions, and appointing people to the government who have not been slavish devotees of the right-wing Likud line in the past. George W. Bush never did that!
So Hillary Clinton is under fire for allegedly telling the Israelis that they should open the Gaza borders to humanitarian aid. (The Israeli government is keeping the borders closed as a bargaining chip in the effort to get a soldier held prisoner by Hamas released from captivity.) And various of the usual suspects are bleating about the appointment of the estimable, but too pro-Saudi for my taste, Chas Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council. And others are outraged that the Obama Administration hasn’t ruled out participating in a U.N. Council on racism, which usually features racist diatribes directed at Jews.
Now, many of these neocons have been gunning for Obama from the start…and have been just twitching in anticipation of the chance to paint him anti-Israel or worse. Their tendency to slime their detractors with overwrought epithets—anti-semite is the old standby—has diminished whatever power that term once held. In this case, once again, they are standing athwart America’s best interests—and Israel’s: it’s about time that the U.S. starting calling Israel on its excesses. Clinton is right, for example: Israel’s strangle-hold on the Gaza crossings gave Hamas a rationale for its rocketing of innocent Israeli civilians. And furthermore, Israel’s steady accretion of settlements on Palestinian lands gives credibility to Palestinian extremists who believe that Israel has no interest in a truly viable two-state solution…
Jefferson Morley of the Washington Independent:
The oil industry vows to fight President Obama’s budget proposal unveiled yesterday that would raise $32 billion by taxing oil companies that failed to pay royalties on Gulf of Mexico oil leases issued between 1996 and 2000. Whether they can succeed is another question.
The American Petroleum Institute is objecting, and the major oil companies potentially on the hook are among the biggest of the big lobbying powers in Washington: BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell. They will “hide behind the independent oil companies,” predicts Erich Pica, an analyst for Friends of the Earth, “and threw in everything but the kitchen sink.”
These five companies spent a combined $59.4 billion in lobbying in 2008 alone, according to figures from the nonpartisan OpenSecrets.org, these five companies have plenty of money to throw in. Several prominent former Democrat legislators and staff members lobbied on behalf of these companies in 2008 — including former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux (Shell), former Hill staffer Holly Bode (Exxon), who previously worked for Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.); and former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Paul Brathwaite (BP).
But Big Oil’s ability to prevent the plugging of this loophole could be waning. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) targeted royalty relief in her “first 100 days” agenda when Democrats took control of Congress in 2007. The House approved a rollback, but it narrowly failed to gain Senate approval. Since then, pro-oil Republican Sen.Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Wayne Allard of Colorado have been replaced by green Democrats, Tom and Mark Udall, respectively. Pencil in Minnesota’s DFL Senator-in-waiting Al Franken in place of former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman, and as Daniel Weiss of the Center for American put it, ”Big oil faces an uphill climb.”
It could have been embarrassing. AP reports:
President Barack Obama’s former nominee to become commerce secretary, Sen. Judd Gregg, steered taxpayer money to his home state’s redevelopment of a former Air Force base even as he and his brother engaged in real estate deals there, an Associated Press investigation found.
Gregg, R-N.H., personally has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Cyrus Gregg’s office projects at the Pease International Tradeport, a Portsmouth business park built at the defunct Pease Air Force Base, once home to nuclear bombers. Judd Gregg has collected at least $240,017 to $651,801 from his investments there, Senate records show, while helping arrange at least $66 million in federal aid for the former base.
Gregg said he violated no laws or Senate rules.
But the senator’s mixture of personal and professional business would have been difficult to square with President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to impose greater transparency and integrity over federal budget earmarks — funding for lawmakers’ pet projects. Gregg said that during his consideration for the Cabinet job, the White House did not know about his Pease earmarks, although the administration knew about his investments at Pease.
Under new Senate ethics rules, Gregg had to certify that federal aid he directed to specific projects was not intended solely to enrich him or immediate family, including siblings. Senators are also supposed to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, though the Senate Ethics Committee seldom investigates or disciplines senators when questions are raised about their activities…
A friend advertised on Craigslist for a housekeeper.
Three interesting résumés came to the top. She googled each person’s name.
The first search turned up a MySpace page. There was a picture of the applicant, drinking beer from a funnel. Under hobbies, the first entry was, “binge drinking.”
The second search turned up a personal blog (a good one, actually). The most recent entry said something like, “I am applying for some menial jobs that are below me, and I’m annoyed by it. I’ll certainly quit the minute I sell a few paintings.”
And the third? There were only six matches, and the sixth was from the local police department, indicating that the applicant had been arrested for shoplifting two years earlier.
Three for three.
Google never forgets…
Strange to see the vigor with which Obama’s DoJ is defending Bush policies. Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:
Well, he doesn’t get to go free, but Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri — the last remaining “enemy combatant” who was picked up and held for the past six years without charge on U.S. soil — will finally have the privilege of being transferred to a real federal prison (from a South Carolina Navy brig) and charged in an actual U.S. federal court.
While that doesn’t mean that al-Marri will get out anytime soon, it does at least give him an opportunity to see and contest the charges against him. He will reportedly be charged with providing material support to Al Qaeda.
Today, President Obama issued an official presidential memorandum sealing the deal:
[I]t is in the interest of the United States that Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri be released from detention by the Secretary of Defense and transferred to the control of the Attorney General for the purpose of criminal proceedings against him.
One reason it’s in the interest of the United States is because it means the government can now ask the Supreme Court to dismiss the appeal pending in his habeas corpus case, as it’s said it will do. The appeal is a direct challenge to the government’s authority to hold a lawful U.S. resident indefinitely and without charge on U.S. soil. Al-Marri’s lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union have said they want to pursue the appeal to the Supreme Court, to obtain a ruling on the issue and “make sure that no American citizen or lawful resident will ever again be imprisoned without charge or trial.” However, it is difficult to imagine that the Supreme Court would choose to address the issue in al-Marri’s case, now that it no longer has to.
In as similar case, involving Jose Padilla, a US citizen held as an enemy combatant without charge by the Bush administration, the Supreme Court dismissed his appeal as soon as he was transferred to civilian custody for a criminal trial.
As a general matter, the Supreme Court will not decide a constitutional issue such as this one unless it is necessary to resolve a pending case. The transfer of al-Marri from Defense Department to Justice Department custody would seem to render the issue moot. However, SCOTUSblog noted yesterday that al-Marri’s lawyers could argue that because the government could change its mind in the future and transfer al-Marri back to military custody, the Supreme Court should go ahead and decide the case.
And Glenn Greenwald is similarly wondering:
Fennel and Celery Salad
2 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed, some fronds reserved
3 celery ribs, trimmed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, more to taste
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, more to taste
Freshly shaved Parmesan cheese. [My specialty – LG]
1. Cut fennel bulbs in quarters lengthwise, discarding outer layer if it is exceedingly tough. Use a mandoline to slice quarters thinly; slice celery equally thin.
2. Put sliced fennel and celery into a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and toss gently to combine. Top with lots of freshly shaved Parmesan and chopped fennel fronds if you like.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
Thin-shaved Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) which, coincidentally, I was served twice in restaurants (Del Posto, Al di La) in the last week. Or radishes, or even turnips. Celeriac, with the fennel (not with celery– redundant). And the herbs — whatever we can lay our hands on.
This is from the Kitchn [sic], where they have a great photo of the finished dish:
Dried hijiki may be found at Japanese and Korean markets and many health food stores, including Whole Foods.
Hijiki with Carrots
1/2 cup dried hijiki seaweed
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup julienned carrots
2 teaspoons sour citrus juice or rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
White pepper, to taste
Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
Rinse hijiki to remove any sand. (If you don’t have a fine mesh strainer, just swirl the seaweed around in a bowl of water, then drain.)
Place hijiki in a bowl with 1/2 cup warm water. Let soak for 15 minutes.
In a small saucepan, heat sesame oil over low-medium heat. Add carrots and cook until softened.
Add hijiki, citrus juice or vinegar, sea salt, and a dash of white pepper to the carrots. Heat through.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve warm or cool.
In my ma po tofu dishes, I’ve been including some arame seaweed: very nice taste and texture addition. We should all eat more seaweed, yes?
Got up early for a while, decided it was too early, and went back to bed and asleep again. Once awake for sure, I selected the above, which produced a great shave. I grow increasingly fonder of the Plisson Chinese Grey, and the Dovo/Rivivage soap is truly terrifice: very fine lather, every time. The Gillette toggle did a fine three-pass shave, and I was pleased to splash on the Floïd once more.
Remember that story Bobby Jindal told in his big speech Tuesday night — about how during Katrina, he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a local sheriff who was battling government red tape to try to rescue stranded victims?
Turns out it wasn’t actually, you know, true.
In the last few days, first Daily Kos, and then TPMmuckraker, raised serious questions about the story, based in part on the fact that no news reports we could find place Jindal in the affected area at the specific time at issue.
Jindal had described being in the office of Sheriff Harry Lee "during Katrina," and hearing him yelling into the phone at a government bureaucrat who was refusing to let him send volunteer boats out to rescue stranded storm victims, because they didn’t have the necessary permits. Jindal said he told Lee, "that’s ridiculous," prompting Lee to tell the bureaucrat that the rescue effort would go ahead and he or she could arrest both Lee and Jindal.
But now, a Jindal spokeswoman has admitted to Politico that in reality, Jindal overheard Lee talking about the episode to someone else by phone "days later." The spokeswoman said she thought Lee, who died in 2007, was being interviewed about the incident at the time.
This is no minor difference. Jindal’s presence in Lee’s office during the crisis itself was a key element of the story’s intended appeal, putting him at the center of the action during the maelstrom. Just as important, Jindal implied that his support for the sheriff helped ensure the rescue went ahead. But it turns out Jindal wasn’t there at the key moment, and played no role in making the rescue happen.
There’s a larger point here, though. The central anecdote of the GOP’s prime-time response to President Obama’s speech, intended to illustrate the threat of excessive government regulation, turns out to have been made up.
Maybe it’s time to rethink the premise.
Late Update: Politico‘s Ben Smith has updated his post with the following: …
Apple’s iPhone has wowed most of the globe — but not Japan, where the handset is selling so poorly it’s being offered for free.
What’s wrong with the iPhone, from a Japanese perspective? Almost everything: the high monthly data plans that go with it, its paucity of features, the low-quality camera, the unfashionable design and the fact that it’s not Japanese.
In an effort to boost business, Japanese carrier SoftBank this week launched the “iPhone for Everybody” campaign, which gives away the 8-GB model of the iPhone 3G if customers agree to a two-year contract.
“The pricing has been completely out of whack with market reality,” said Global Crown Research analyst Tero Kuittinen in regard to Apple’s iPhone prices internationally. “I think they [Apple and its partners overseas] are in the process of adjusting to local conditions.”
Apple’s iPhone is inarguably popular elsewhere: CEO Steve Jobs announced in October that the handset drove Apple to becoming the third-largest mobile supplier in the world, after selling 10 million units in 2008. However, even before the iPhone 3G’s July launch in Japan, analysts were predicting the handset would fail to crack the Japanese market. Japan has been historically hostile toward western brands — including Nokia and Motorola, whose attempts to grab Japanese customers were futile.
Besides cultural opposition, Japanese citizens possess high, complex standards when it comes to cellphones. The country is famous for being ahead of its time when it comes to technology, and the iPhone just doesn’t cut it. For example, Japanese handset users are extremely into video and photos — and the iPhone has neither a video camera nor multimedia text messaging. And a highlight feature many in Japan enjoy on their handset is a TV tuner, according to Kuittinen.
What else bugs the Japanese about the iPhone? …
UPDATE: But also note the article at the link in Scott Feldstein’s comment below.
A U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco today rejected the Obama Justice Department’s attempt to continue to conceal evidence of warrantless wiretapping.
As I wrote in my story today, the government filed an emergency appeal last week hoping to halt the release of documents showing that the National Security Agency, under President George W. Bush, had secretly wiretapped the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation — a Saudi charity with an office in Oregon that the government deemed a terrorist organization and shut down. Al-Haramain and its lawyers, who claim they were also wiretapped, need the documents (which they’ve already seen because the government released it accidentally) to proceed with their lawsuit against government officials.
Today, they got a significant step closer.
The Justice Department now has to file a plan with the district court setting out how and when it will release the relevant documents, said Jon Eisenberg, a lawyer representing Al-Haramain. He said his clients may also be able to obtain access to a series of secret arguments that were filed earlier in the case, which they have not been permitted to see.
The Ninth Circuit’s refusal to consider the emergency appeal is significant because it also leaves the district court’s ruling in effect. The lower court had rejected the government’s argument that the “state secrets privilege” allows executive agencies to disregard the requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
According to a lawyer with the respected British human rights group Reprieve, abuse of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp has actually gotten worse since President Obama took office.
“According to my clients, there has been a ramping up in abuse since President Obama was inaugurated,” lawyer Ahmed Ghappour told Reuters. The Pentagon has said that it too received reports of worsening prisoner abuse — though as we reported earlier, its report released Monday assured that the conditions at the prison complied with the requirements of the Geneva Conventions. (U.S. human rights groups disagreed.)
The worsening treatment did not seem to reflect orders from the top, Ghappour emphasized. Rather, he said, it seems as if sadistic and frustrated prison guards are trying to “get their kicks in” before the Obama administration closes the notorious prison down.
“If one was to use one’s imagination, (one) could say that these traumatized, and for lack of a better word barbaric, guards were just basically trying to get their kicks in right now for fear that they won’t be able to later,” he told Reuters.
Interesting article by Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:
For those of you who missed it, MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show last night featured a terrific and news-breaking interview with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in which Pelosi talked about, among other things, holding Bush administration officials criminally accountable.
As I’ve written before, Pelosi has been a bit cagey in the past about just what sort of criminal accountability she’s looking for. She has previously mentioned holding former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Bush aide and adviser Karl Rove — both of whom ignored congressional subpoenas while citing executive privilege — in contempt of Congress, as well as investigating the politicization of the Justice Department, but Pelosi has been relatively quiet on the authorization of torture by former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Last night, Pelosi clarified her views a bit — sort of. Asked by Maddow if she’d support a ‘truth commission’ along the lines of the one proposed on the Senate floor yesterday by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Pelosi said she supports an investigation, but she isn’t happy about providing immunity for Bush officials who broke the law. “I want to go forward but as we try to have reconciliation … I don’t think we should have immunity for some of those issues,” she said.
On one hand, this suggests that she’s even more gung-ho about prosecuting alleged criminal activity during the Bush administration than most members of Congress. But as Maddow pointed out later, that view also gives Pelosi a convenient excuse to oppose the Leahy truth commission, just as it’s gaining momentum — not only in Congress, but with the American public. That could be a way to prevent an in-depth investigation into exactly how it is that the U.S. government came to authorize the torture of terror suspects — including the role of Democrats who were briefed on the CIA’s tactics.
Not one to let such things go, Maddow specifically asked Pelosi about that as well. Pelosi’s response? …
Office of Legal Counsel Director-nominee Dawn Johnsen confirmed today that the OLC does not have the authority to give the president a green light to ignore congressional statutes, such as a prohibition on torture. “It was absolutely wrong for the president to direct that the torture statute not be complied with.”
Referring to former Bush administration OLC attorney John Yoo’s “torture memo” that defined torture in only the most extreme terms and still didn’t ban it, she said: “I have written very critically of that opinion … my view is that that opinion was not written in the best traditions of the office and did not reflect that principle that legal advice should be impartial, independent, principled and accurate.”
Johnson also confirmed that she would not interfere with the release of the Office of Professional Responsibility report about the integrity and competence of previous OLC opinions, which did approve presidential authority to violate congressional statutes.
Let it be recorded that Barack Obama came into full possession of the U.S. presidency toward the end of his February 24 budget speech to a joint session of Congress. He had just read a letter from a South Carolina schoolgirl, pleading for help with her dilapidated school. "We are not quitters," the girl had written. The President’s eyes brightened as he repeated that phrase, and he seemed barely able to control his joy and confidence as he attacked his peroration: that even in the toughest times, "there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency and a determination that perseveres." This was the chord that had been missing in the first dour month of Obama’s presidency — not so much optimism as confidence, the sense that he was not only steering the presidency, but loving the challenge of it. It was the quality that distinguished Franklin Roosevelt’s public persona, guided by the motto that F.D.R. had in his office: "Let unconquerable gladness dwell." (See the 10 greatest speeches of all time.)
The modern presidency is a vast electronic synthesizer, capable of exhilarating musical effects or rank cacophony. The President needs to be able to throw his voice in a variety of ways — now sober, now soaring, now educating, now soothing. George W. Bush’s presidency was straitjacketed by his inability to command any style but clenched orotundity. The two great television-era communicators in the office were yin and yang: Bill Clinton was a master of the conversational, not so good at set-piece speeches; Ronald Reagan just the opposite. Barack Obama has now demonstrated an ability to synthesize those two…
A grim but important video at the NY Times. It’s 14 minutes and worth watching.
The GOP is comically inept. Steve Benen writes:
For GOP lawmakers anxious to push back against the Obama administration’s agenda, the answer isn’t to engage in a debate over the role of government. Rather, the Republicans have decided the way to win the broader policy debate is to find individual spending proposals that sound funny.
The strategy hasn’t been especially effective. The money for marsh-mouse preservation turned out to be a lie. The money linking Vegas to Disneyland by way of high-speed rail was also non-existent. The volcano-monitoring program turned out to be a pretty good idea.
But now they’ve got a new one. Republicans, Fox News, the New York Post, and Drudge have found a $200,000 provision in the omnibus spending package for "tattoo removal." How can anyone defend that?
It’s actually pretty easy to defend. Greg Sargent looked into it.
[A] little reporting reveals that that this "tattoo removal" program is an anti-crime program in the San Fernando Valley that re-integrates reformed gang members and makes it easier for them to find jobs. Two Los Angeles law enforcement officials I just spoke to — one who identified himself as a "conservative Republican" — swore by the program for reducing crime and saving lives.
The chief of San Fernando Police Department told Greg that the program is "important" and "reduces attacks." A local probation officer added, "This program is one of the best life-saving and life-changing programs out here. I am about as right-wing a conservative as you would ever find."
In other words, it’s another example of the sad spectacle of foolish Republican talking points.
Looking at the big picture, it’s amazing the right would choose to be this foolish, on purpose. Conservative David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, recently explained the seriousness and scope of the current crisis, and the fundamental shift the Obama administration is pursuing. He added that Republican obsession over trivial expenditures makes the party look ridiculous: "Could we possibly act more inadequate to the challenge? More futile? More brain dead?"
Once upon a time, it was the received wisdom that American Indians always won their cases at the Supreme Court. And if one looks back at the opinions from the 1970s and 80s, the record will reflect that this is only a mild exaggeration. Justices Thurgood Marshall and Harry Blackmun wrote dozens of opinions rectifying historical wrongs, liberally construing the powers of tribal self-government, broadly defining the federal government’s "trust responsibility" vis-à-vis the tribes, and upholding preferential treatment of Indians in everything from employment to how statutes should be interpreted.
The winning streak for tribal interests began to wane in the mid-1980s. But now it’s gotten to the point of a complete reversal of the historical pattern. Today, the tribes rarely win at the Court, and these losses have cut back sharply on their power of self-government and diminished the positive aspects of their relationship with the federal government.
This week, in deciding Carcieri v. Salazar, the Supreme Court continued its recent pattern. At issue in Carcieri was the power of the federal government to take into trust on behalf of the Narragansett Tribe of Indians a 31-acre parcel of land that the Tribe had purchased from a local developer. The Secretary of the Interior had done this for the Tribe pursuant to the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, a landmark Indian-rights statute that includes provisions for the U.S. Government to help rebuild tribal land holdings by acquiring land and holding it in trust for the benefit of Indians.
The state of Rhode Island — within which the Narragansett are located – objected to having the land moved into trust and sued to prevent it. Both the district court and Court of Appeals had upheld the Secretary of Interior’s power to confer this benefit on the Tribe. But the Supreme Court has now held otherwise. It was a disturbing ruling that continues a disturbing trend on the Court.
The Story Behind the Carcieri Case
The story of the Narragansett Tribe is a tragic tale, not unlike the stories that surround other once powerful tribal groups on the Eastern Seaboard. Over the centuries, war and disease took a terrible toll on the Tribe. In 1880, what was left of the Narragansett Tribe agreed to accept "detribalization" by the state of Rhode Island and to reduce its landholdings to a meager two acres in exchange for $5000.
The Tribe spent much of the next century trying to undo that terrible choice and reclaim some of its land base. In 1983, the Narragansett finally achieved the status of a "federally recognized tribe" – a sine qua non for being able to receive a host of federal benefits, including (or at so the Narragansett thought) the benefit at issue in Carcieri: the ability to petition the Secretary of Interior to have land taken into trust on the Tribe’s behalf.
The Main Issue Before the Court: How to Interpret the Word "Now" As Used in the Statute
The language of the statute at issue says that it was enacted "for the purpose of providing land for Indians." The statute then defines "Indian" to include "all persons of Indian descent who are members of any recognized Tribe now under federal jurisdiction." …
The title says it all. Go here.