Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 21st, 2007

Presidential aides testifying before Congress

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The report from the Congressional Research Service (PDF file) is the authoritative reference on the question of whether Presidential aides have testified before Congress—and the simple answer is, “Yes—and fairly frequently in recent years.”

ThinkProgress:

“Dan Bartlett, counselor to Mr. Bush, has said it is ‘highly unlikely’ that the president would waive executive privilege to allow his top aides to testify publicly. One Republican strategist close to the White House…said: ‘No president is going to let their senior staff assistant to the president go testify. Forget that. They might agree to do an informal interview, but they’ll never testify.’ … Democrats, citing a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, say presidential advisers, including 47 from the Clinton administration alone, have frequently testified before Congressional committees, both while serving the president and after they had left the White House.”

And again:

Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) has called on Karl Rove and other top White House aides to testify under oath in front of Congress concerning their role in the U.S. attorney purge. A response from White House Counsel Fred Fielding is expected today, but in the meantime, the White House and its allies have put up a fight, arguing that presidential advisers have historically not testified in front of Congress:

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow: Well, as you know, Ed, it has been traditional in all White Houses not to have staffers testify on Capitol Hill. [3/13/07]

White House Counselor Dan Bartlett: I find it highly unlikely that a member of the White House staff would testify publicly to these matters. [3/13/07]

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH): No, I think you’re violating a precedent there that should not be violated. … I believe that under the separation of powers, there are limits to the extent to which Congress can subpoena or demand testimony from those who were closest to the president. [3/15/07]

But in reality, there is no such precedent. According to the Congressional Research Service, under President Clinton, 31 of his top aides testified on 47 different occasions. The aides who testified included some of Clinton’s closest advisors:

Harold Ickes, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff – 7/28/94

George Stephanopoulos, Senior Adviser to the President for Policy and Strategy – 8/4/94

John Podesta, Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary – 8/5/94

Bruce R. Lindsey, Assistant to the President and Deputy Counsel to the President – 1/16/96

Samuel Berger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs – 9/11/97

Beth Nolan, Counsel to the President – 5/4/00

In contrast, between 2000 and 2004, Bush allowed only one of his closest advisers, then-Assistant to the President for Homeland Security Tom Ridge, to appear in front of Congress. He has also refused three invitations from Congress for his aides to testify, a first since President Richard Nixon in 1972. Clinton did not refuse any.

CRS also notes that although “White House aides do not testify before congressional committees in a regular basis…under certain conditions they do. First, intense and escalating political embarrassment may convince the White House that it is in the interest of the President to have these aides testify and ventilate the issue fully. Second, initial White House resistance may give way in the face of concerted congressional and public pressure.”

And even Byron York of the National Review recognizes the inevitability:

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Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2007 at 8:33 pm

Republicans shocked—shocked!—by the Bush Administration

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Odd that they are shocked. Glenn Greenwald:

The House Judiciary Committee yesterday held a hearing concerning the FBI’s illegal use of NSLs to spy on Americans. The Inspector General who revealed (at least some of) the abuses, Glenn Fine, along with the FBI’s General Counsel, Valerie Caproni, testified.

The Washington Post reported that these revelations “evoked heated criticism of the bureau from Republicans and Democrats alike.” The Associated Press said that “Republicans and Democrats sternly warned the FBI on Tuesday that it could lose its broad power to collect telephone, e-mail and financial records to hunt terrorists after revelations of widespread abuses of the authority detailed in a recent internal investigation.”

Both articles included a series of quotes from Republican Congressmen expressing very, very righteous anger and betrayal over the fact that the FBI has been abusing all of the unchecked powers which Congressional Republicans gave to them. From AP:

If the FBI doesn’t move swiftly to correct the mistakes and problems revealed last week in Fine’s 130-page report, “you probably won’t have NSL authority,” said Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., a supporter of the power, referring to the data requests by their initials. “From the attorney general on down, you should be ashamed of yourself,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. “We stretched to try to give you the tools necessary to make America safe, and it is very, very clear that you’ve abused that trust.”

If Congress revokes some of the expansive law enforcement powers it granted in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Issa said, “America may be less safe, but the Constitution will be more secure, and it will be because of your failure to deal with this in a serious fashion.” . . .

“The problem is enforcement of the law, not the law itself,” said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the panel’s senior GOP member. “We need to be vigilant to make sure these problems are fixed.”

And from the Post:

[Fine’s] account evoked heated criticism of the bureau from Republicans and Democrats alike, including a comment from Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) that it “sounds like a report about a first- or second-grade class” . . . . Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) expressed surprise at how widespread the use of national security letters had become, asking: “Do we have that many potential terrorists running around the country? If so, I’m really worried.” He said the inspector general’s report shows that “the FBI has had a gross overreach,” and added that its officials “can’t get away with this and expect to maintain public support for the tools that they need to combat terrorism.”

Of course, this sudden discovery of the need for oversight was prompted only by highly public revelations of abuse. And the reason why all of this happened — and this is but a tiny fraction of the lawbreaking and abuse going on — is because Congressional Republicans spent the last six years purposely allowing the Executive branch to accumulate unlimited amounts of unchecked power, while they blocked every attempt (most of which were lame and half-hearted) by Congressional Democrats to exert oversight over how these powers were used. Thus, the very same Congressional Republican caucus now pretending to be so shocked and upset over these abuses were the ones who spent the last six years enabling these very abuses. They vested these powers and then completely abdicated their responsibilities to exercise oversight.

And it was not mere abdication of their responsibilities of which they are guilty, but worse still, all-out attacks on those who warned of the dangers of allowing the Executive to exercise unchecked surveillance and other powers over Americans. Just look at the quotes from these Republican Congressmen — “Do we have that many potential terrorists running around the country? If so, I’m really worried”; “America may be less safe, but the Constitution will be more secure” — which are rather similar to the arguments made over the last six years by opponents of unchecked executive power.

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Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2007 at 7:41 pm

The fear of public knowledge

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One thing becoming more and more clear about the Bush Administration is that members of the Administration have a great fear of the public learning what they do. We see it today in the Administration’s determination to have the testimony of Rove and others be in private, not under oath, and with no transcript being made. Tony Snow tried desperately to spin this by saying, “What do you gain with a transcript?” The question really is: “What does the Administration lose if a transcript is made?” and the answer is obvious: the transcript can be made public, so the public would know.

It seems obvious that this fear of the public’s knowing reflects the Administration’s knowledge of its own wrong-doing. And that fear is pervasive. Here’s a recent post by Glenn Greenwald:

The documents disclosed by the DOJ shed very interesting light not only on the process by which the U.S. attorneys were fired, but also on the related conduct of federal law enforcement agencies. One of the claims made by the DOJ as to why it fired Arizona U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton is that Charlton wanted to institute a policy of requiring law enforcement agents to tape record or videotape interrogations and confessions of criminal suspects — a request which the DOJ refused and, shortly thereafter, fired him.

The documents disclosed by the DOJ with regard to this issue — here, here, and here (.pdf) — shed very interesting light on why the DOJ, and the various law enforcement agencies (led by the FBI and the ATF) vehemently oppose having their interrogations recorded.

In March, 2006, Charlton sent a letter to Alberto Gonzales’ Deputy, Paul McNulty, requesting permission to create a “pilot program” whereby federal law enforcement agencies would be required to tape record interrogations of suspects. This is part of what he wrote:

Charlton cited numerous prosecutions where his office either lost a jury trial or had to accept an inadequate plea bargain because the only incriminating evidence (or confession) was contained in the handwritten notes of FBI agents, which were (either objectively or in the eyes of jurors) unreliable and an insufficient basis on which to convict. He also argued that jurors find it suspicious — given the frequency with which the Federal Government records everyone (other than itself) and the ease of doing so — that such interrogations are not taped, and that numerous federal judges have urged federal law enforcement agencies to tape record interrogations and confessions. Charlton therefore wanted all such interrogations and confessions to be recorded.

In a June, 2006 Memo regarding Charlton’s request, a Senior Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General summarized Charton’s rationale as follows:

But the Justice Department denied Charlton’s request, concluding that it did not want mandatory recording of interrogations and confessions. The DOJ solicited the views of all federal law enforcement agencies — the FBI, ATF, DEA, U.S. Marshall’s Service — and each of them vigorously opposed mandatory recording. In doing so, one of the principal arguments was that they wanted to conceal from jurors the conduct of law enforcement agents in interrogating defendants and obtaining confessions, because that conduct would appear coercive and improper to jurors.

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Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2007 at 7:18 pm

Does business require government oversight?

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That is, should businesses operate under the oversight of some agency independent of the business, an agency looking out for the public’s interest? Or should we just trust that the free market will ensure that businesses act responsibly toward the public? Judge for yourself:

Overly lax federal oversight and cost-cutting by BP were factors in a 2005 explosion at the oil giant’s Texas City refinery that killed 15 people and injured 170, the worst U.S. industrial accident since 1990, a government report found.

Though companies have plenty of safeguards for individual workers’ safety, there is a potentially deadly lack of sound procedures to measure process safety, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, which released the report Tuesday.

At a public meeting Tuesday night where the board approved the report, Chairwoman Carolyn W. Merritt vowed that the agency would follow up on the report’s safety recommendations until they are adopted.

“The 15 men and women who died here two years ago must not be allowed to perish in vain,” Merritt said at the meeting.

The CSB said that although the Texas City plant had several fatal accidents over the last 30 years, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration had done only one process safety management inspection at the refinery — in 1998. Such inspections are designed to prevent disasters such as explosions.

Nationally, the board found that between 1995 and 2005, OSHA had done few of the inspections.

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Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2007 at 3:58 pm

Posted in Business

Was Carol Lam fired for targeting the White House?

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From ThinkProgress:

Referring to the Bush administration’s purge of former San Diego-based U.S. attorney Carol Lam, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) questioned recently on the Senate floor whether she was let go because she was “about to investigate other people who were politically powerful.”

The media reports this morning that among Lam’s politically powerful targets were former CIA official Kyle “Dusty” Foggo and then-House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA). But there is evidence to believe that the White House may also have been on Lam’s target list. Here are the connections:

– Washington D.C. defense contractor Mitchell Wade pled guilty last February to paying then-California Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham more than $1 million in bribes.

– Wade’s company MZM Inc. received its first federal contract from the White House. The contract, which ran from July 15 to August 15, 2002, stipulated that Wade be paid $140,000 to “provide office furniture and computers for Vice President Dick Cheney.”

– Two weeks later, on August 30, 2002, Wade purchased a yacht for $140,000 for Duke Cunningham. The boat’s name was later changed to the “Duke-Stir.” Said one party to the sale: “I knew then that somebody was going to go to jail for that…Duke looked at the boat, and Wade bought it — all in one day. Then they got on the boat and floated away.”

– According to Cunningham’s sentencing memorandum, the purchase price of the boat had been negotiated through a third-party earlier that summer, around the same time the White House contract was signed.

To recap, the White House awarded a one-month, $140,000 contract to an individual who never held a federal contract. Two weeks after he got paid, that same contractor used a cashier’s check for exactly that amount to buy a boat for a now-imprisoned congressman at a price that the congressman had pre-negotiated.

That should raise questions about the White House’s involvement.

ThinkProgress notes that perhaps the above is the “real problem” that Sampson referred to:

Sampson

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2007 at 3:21 pm

Global warming resource

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Here is the preliminary report on climate change (PDF file), the “summary for policymakers” from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The full report will be issued in May. In the meantime, the 18-page report at the link has lots of useful information. But it may be soft-pedaling the crisis (see below).

Another useful link: an article (with many useful links) that debunks Drudge’s attack on Gore.

According to an article in New Scientist:

British researchers who have seen drafts of last month’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claim it was significantly watered down when governments became involved in writing it.

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Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2007 at 10:27 am

Posted in Environment, Science

Great resource for political transparency

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Take a look at Congresspedia: a wiki devoted to Congress. Everyone is helped by making the political process as transparent and open as possible, so all should embrace this, whether conservative or liberal.

I’ve made a permanent link to Congresspedia on my Firefox Bookmark toolbar.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2007 at 9:59 am

Posted in Congress, Government

Tony Snow: the President must comply with subpoenas

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Via Dan Froomkin, this luscious gem from Glenn Greenwald, quoting Tony Snow on how the President must comply with subpoenas from Congress, even on internal White House communications. In Tony Snow’s own words:

Evidently, [the President] wants to shield virtually any communications that take place within the White House compound on the theory that all such talk contributes in some way, shape or form to the continuing success and harmony of an administration. Taken to its logical extreme, that position would make it impossible for citizens to hold a chief executive accountable for anything. He would have a constitutional right to cover up.

Chances are that the courts will hurl such a claim out, but it will take time.

One gets the impression that [Team Bush] values its survival more than most people want justice and thus will delay without qualm. But as the clock ticks, the public’s faith in [Mr. Bush] will ebb away for a simple reason: Most of us want no part of a president who is cynical enough to use the majesty of his office to evade the one thing he is sworn to uphold — the rule of law

Well, Tony does have a point. However, as you can see from reading Greenwald’s excellent column, it was a point Snow was making against Bill Clinton—in the above, replace the instances of “Bush” with “Clinton” to get the original statement. But I’m sure that Tony Snow stands behind his words, and that they were not directed at a particular President, but instead based on general principles applying to all Presidents. At any rate, the White House Press Corps, if it had a speck of life in it, would ask him about it.

Tony Snow and the Right Wing Noise Machine at that time did go on to make further points:

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Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2007 at 9:42 am

Kitty antics

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A friend of The Wife’s has a kitty named Blanche (cf. Wife’s earlier kitty Stella), and they recently moved from Georgia to Michigan. The weather in Michigan is frequently too cold for the cats to want to go out, and when the friend opens the door for the cats, if the temperature is below a certain point, Blanche will hiss at the weather.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2007 at 9:25 am

Posted in Cats

Happy Megs

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Happy Megs

Megs: tummy full, me back home, a good night’s sleep (and play), morning sun nice and warm, in her hammock, about two yawns away from a nap—life is good.

Hoping your life is good as well.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2007 at 6:44 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

This morning

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The brand new ShaveMyFace brush—made by Rooney—and Mitchell’s Wool Fat Shaving Soap. Very nice. Used the Vision to achieve a perfect shave (didn’t shave yesterday), and finished with Thayers Lemon witch hazel. Refreshing.

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2007 at 5:46 am

Posted in Shaving

Really back home

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Now, having slept in my own bed, with Megs on top of me for most of the night, and shaved with a different razor at last (the HD is nice, but I’ve come to prefer variety), and drinking a pot of my coffee, I feel at home. Being rested also helps.

Megs seems to have had the same thought as I: calories on vacation don’t count. But, alas, they do, and both Megs and I are somewhat pudgier. Megs is going back to one-third of a can daily of her canned food (instead of half a can), and I am returning to 1400 calories per day and Fitday. Also, with all the walking I did in New York, I’m inclined to keep walking. Why not?

Written by Leisureguy

21 March 2007 at 5:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Megs

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