Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More Harman-izing

The Jane Harman case keeps getting stranger and stranger by the hour. First, Jane Harman basically got into what was almost a shouting match with NPR's Robert Siegel this evening defending herself.
Harman: Well, let's find out. I mean, the person I was talking to was an American citizen. I know something about the law and wiretaps. There are two ways you do it. One is you get a FISA warrant, which has to start with a foreign suspected terrorist, a non-American foreigner. If this was FISA, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, that would have had to happen.

Siegel: But if you know that it was an American citizen —

If it was Article III, FBI wiretap, that's different. But I don't know what this was. And I don't know why this was done. And I don't know who the sources are who are claiming that this happened are and I think —

But you are saying that you know it was an American citizen. So that would suggest that you know that there was a —

Well, I know that anyone I would have talked to about, you know, the AIPAC prosecution would have been an American citizen. I didn't talk to some foreigner about it.

It almost looks like she's suggesting that she was illegally wiretapped. This would definately have an effect on the AIPAC prosecution if true. But it may be a moot point: the Justice Department is apparently seriously considering shelving the AIPAC spy case altogether and dismissing the charges.
The review of the case against Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman was triggered by a series of recent court rulings that make it harder for the government to win convictions, the sources said. Those included an appeals court decision allowing the defense to use classified information at trial and a judge's ruling that said prosecutors must show the two men knew the information they allegedly disclosed would harm the United States and help a foreign country. That set a high bar for prosecutors because criminal intent can be difficult to prove.

The former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are charged with conspiring to obtain classified information and pass it to journalists and the Israeli government.

It is unclear when a decision will be made about whether to proceed with the case, but sources said they expect one soon because the trial is set for June 2 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. The sources described the review as a legal analysis examining the recent court rulings and whether prosecutors can meet their burden of proof. They said the review was not begun by political appointees from the Obama administration and would have been undertaken even if Republicans had retained the presidency.

The sources also said the review is unrelated to the revelations that Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee for much of the Bush administration, was overheard on telephone calls intercepted by the federal government.

"It's not because 'oh, this is getting ink, it's getting too hot, we need to drop it,' '' said one law enforcement source, who was not authorized to speak about the case. "We would never do it for that reason.''

Any decision to seek to drop the charges would require approval from a federal judge.

This case has been delayed time and time again, only now to be kicked over to the Obama Justice Department, who seems to be on the verge of tossing in the towel. Is this the price America has to pay for Netayahu's cooperation? If the DoJ was going to drop the case anyway, why bust Harman with this years-old bombshell now? None of this makes any sense. We still don't know who was wiretapping Harman and why. The Bushies brought the AIPAC case anyway, stalled it, and now Obama's "rule of law" DoJ is killing it?

There's still way too much unknown here.

Revenge Of Plan N

Economist Simon Johnson does an excellent job of explaining once again why we need Plan N.

Obama will have to do it eventually. You can count on that.

Bye Bye Bybee, Hello Holder

Patrick Leahy on current Federal judge and former torture memo author Jay Bybee:
On Monday, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), rejected calls for the impeachment of federal judge and torture memo author Jay Bybee, saying that he was "one of the most honorable people you'll ever meet."

If that's the case, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), told reporters Tuesday, then Bybee should resign.

"The fact is, the Bush administration and Mr. Bybee did not tell the truth. If the Bush administration and Mr. Bybee had told the truth, he never would have been confirmed," said Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"The decent and honorable thing for him to do would be to resign. And if he is a decent and honorable person, he will resign," he said deliberately.

Oh, and while this weekend the Obama administration position was "we won't prosecute torture" somebody must have pointed out to him that 1) it makes him accessory to war crimes and 2) it really was never Obama's decision, but AG Eric Holder's choice to prosecute.

Hence Obama's new position on leaving it up to Holder for prosecuting torture today.

The question of whether to bring charges against those who devised justification for the methods "is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws and I don't want to prejudge that," Obama said. The president discussed the continuing issue of terrorism-era interrogation tactics with reporters as he finished an Oval Office meeting with visiting King Abdullah II of Jordan.
The always impressive Dday has more on this as does the NY Times political crew, and Greg Sargent notes that calling it torture is suddenly not in vogue anymore with the White House.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan seems to think the Nameless One may be hitting the panic button.

New overdue tag: Eric Holder.

Your Daily Dose Of Doctor Doom

Ladies and gentlemen, The Great Roubini!
At some point, investors will realise that bank losses are massive, and that some banks are insolvent. Deleveraging by highly leveraged firms -- such as hedge funds -- will lead them to sell illiquid assets in illiquid markets. And some emerging market economies -- despite massive IMF support -- will experience a severe financial crisis with contagious effects on other economies.

So, while this latest bear-market rally may continue for a bit longer, renewed downward pressure on stocks and other risky assets is inevitable.

To be sure, much more aggressive policy action (massive and unconventional monetary easing, larger fiscal-stimulus packages, bailouts of financial firms, individual mortgage-debt relief, and increased financial support for troubled emerging markets) in many countries in the last few months has reduced the risk of a near depression. That outcome seemed highly likely six months ago, when global financial markets nearly collapsed.

Still, this global recession will continue for a longer period than the consensus suggests. There may be light at the end of the tunnel -- no depression and financial meltdown. But economic recovery everywhere will be weaker and will take longer than expected. The same is true for a sustained recovery of financial markets.

As Atrios reminds us, Roubini's actually been a tad on the optimistic side.

There's a fun thought. Of course, if the measures described don't work, we're right back to where we were six months ago, staring down a systemic collapse.

First Do No Harman

Greg Sargent follows up on the Harman case and discovers that indeed Jane Harman spoke to the NY Times to stop the wiretapping story from coming out, a story that could have cost Bush the election in 2004.
As I noted here yesterday, one key revelation in that big CQ Politics scoop is that Harman may have privately tried to kill the story in 2004. Yesterday Times executive editor Bill Keller said that Harman hadn’t spoken to him or influenced his decision.

But now Times spokesperson Catherine Mathis sends over a more detailed statement from Keller explaining what really happened:

Congresswoman Harman spoke to Washington Bureau Chief Phil Taubman in late October or early November, 2004, apparently at the request of General Hayden. She urged that The Times not publish the story. She did not speak to me, and I don’t remember her being a significant factor in my decision. In 2005, when we were getting ready to publish, Phil met with a group of congressional leaders familiar with the eavesdropping program, including Ms. Harman. They all argued that The Times should not publish. The Times published the story a few days later.

So Harman did urge the paper’s Washington bureau chief not to publish. While the timing is slightly fuzzy, it seems fair to assume in light of the CQ story that it was in fact before the election.

And if so, it means Jane Harman, a Democrat, helped sink the Democrats in 2004. Probably a hell of a lot of Dems aren't going to be happy with her.

Yet another wrinkle in this crazy affair.

Took Me A Whole Five Minutes

Much is being made by the right of today's WaPo op-ed from former Bush Pentagon man and speechwriter Mark Thiessen.
In releasing highly classified documents on the CIA interrogation program last week, President Obama declared that the techniques used to question captured terrorists "did not make us safer." This is patently false. The proof is in the memos Obama made public -- in sections that have gone virtually unreported in the media.

Consider the Justice Department memo of May 30, 2005. It notes that "the CIA believes 'the intelligence acquired from these interrogations has been a key reason why al Qaeda has failed to launch a spectacular attack in the West since 11 September 2001.' . . . In particular, the CIA believes that it would have been unable to obtain critical information from numerous detainees, including [Khalid Sheik Mohammed] and Abu Zubaydah, without these enhanced techniques." The memo continues: "Before the CIA used enhanced techniques . . . KSM resisted giving any answers to questions about future attacks, simply noting, 'Soon you will find out.' " Once the techniques were applied, "interrogations have led to specific, actionable intelligence, as well as a general increase in the amount of intelligence regarding al Qaeda and its affiliates."

Specifically, interrogation with enhanced techniques "led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the 'Second Wave,' 'to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into' a building in Los Angeles." KSM later acknowledged before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay that the target was the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast. The memo explains that "information obtained from KSM also led to the capture of Riduan bin Isomuddin, better known as Hambali, and the discovery of the Guraba Cell, a 17-member Jemmah Islamiyah cell tasked with executing the 'Second Wave.' " In other words, without enhanced interrogations, there could be a hole in the ground in Los Angeles to match the one in New York.

Only one problem. It took me all of five minutes to find this story also from the WaPo that ends up completely annhilating Thiessen's bullshit. (emphasis mine)
When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

Moreover, within weeks of his capture, U.S. officials had gained evidence that made clear they had misjudged Abu Zubaida. President George W. Bush had publicly described him as "al-Qaeda's chief of operations," and other top officials called him a "trusted associate" of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a major figure in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. None of that was accurate, the new evidence showed.

So Thiessen's entire premise of his editorial is built on a lie the same newspaper completely debunked not more than a few weeks earlier as a front-page story. And yet, the WaPo still publishes this propaganda when they know it is demonstrably false. I honestly don't get it. The Post's own reporters tore the "torture worked!" meme apart. The stories and lies that Abu Zubaydah gave the CIA were wild goose chase stories.

And yet here we have this editorial, printed by the Post itself, that is filled with untruths debunked and investigated by its own reporters. If I were Post reporters Peter Finn and Joby Warrick, I would march down to the Editorial desk and smack somebody over the head with a Sunday paper. Even worse, the Wingers are dancing in the streets spitting out the Cheney meme that Obama has weakened the country. Torture did not work, people. When you waterboard a man dozens and dozens and dozens of times and gain nothing, you lose everything.

It's a lie. And the WaPo is printing it. And people wonder why newspapers are dying. Nice work, Washington Post. Nice work indeed.

TARP Man To The Rescue

After eight years of no oversight on basically well, anything, it's a bit of a shock to see a government oversight inspector actually providing oversight and inspecting things, in this case, where our TARP money is going. And IG Neil Barofsky is already swinging the hammer.
The top cop tracking the government's $700 billion bailout program said Tuesday that he has opened 20 criminal investigations and six audits into whether tax dollars are being pilfered or wasted.

Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, released a 250-page report detailing a long list of concerns about government efforts to prop up hundreds of banks, Wall Street firms and auto companies.

Barofsky, whose investigations could lead to criminal charges, told CNNMoney.com in an interview that he wants taxpayers to understand where their money is going. At the same time, he wants to alert officials to weaknesses in TARP that could invite corruption or fraud.

"Our recommendations are forward looking and there are no vulnerabilities that can't be addressed," Barofsky said. "The balance of what we're trying to do is to inform, bring transparency and make appropriate recommendations."

The report reveals that Barofsky is looking into whether bailout decisions were influenced by those who stood to benefit from them and whether companies receiving bailout dollars are adhering to caps on executive pay.

Barofsky's report also makes several recommendations to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and other officials charged with implementing the bailout. Among them: Require all TARP recipients to detail how they use bailout dollars and safeguard a new mortgage rescue effort against scams.

Well here's to government oversight! (Damn, but that actually feels good to say.) Go Neil go!

Now, if only Obama would publicly get behind Barofsky's report and see that his recommendations are implemented, especially the parts about criminal trials being brought. Not holding my breath on that one and I don't think anyone is. But it would go a long way towards actual justice, especially if we keep crapping out money to grease AIG's palms on an almost monthly basis.

Hey Timmy, double this guy's department. Appoint a DoJ liason for Eric Holder's guys. Coordinate these trials and get them moving already.

Do your job as well as Barofsky is doing his, in other words.


With Blanche Lincoln (D-Walmart) and Arlen Specter (R-Not The Penn "T") both making beating a filibuster on the EFCA all but impossible, yet another Democratic senator is waffling on the Employee Free Choice Act, and this time it's a big one: Virginia's Jim Webb, as Greg Sargent reports.
“He doesn’t believe this is the appropriate time to introduce this legislation or to be debating it,” Webb spokesperson Jessica Smith confirms to me. “He’s always been a strong supporter of the right to collective bargaining, but as written, he would look towards improving the legislation in a way to make it more fair and equitable.”

In another blow, Webb’s also won’t say whether he’ll support bringing it to the floor for debate. “He’s not publicly going to say at this point,” his spokesperson said.

That could be a big deal, because the initial “cloture” vote to allow the bill to be debated, thus overcoming the GOP’s filibuster, is the one that requires 60 votes in the Senate. Labor, obviously, can ill afford to lose another Dem like Webb, particularly with another reliable backer, Senator Dianne Feinstein, also refusing to say whether she’ll back it.

At this point the EFCA doesn't even have close to the votes to beat a guaranteed filibuster. In fact it's looking more and more like the measure barely has 50 votes.

But that's the world we live in: a majority vote isn't good enough to pass legislation. The Republicans block absolutely everything, and that gives cover for Southern state Dems to trash unions.

In a world where wages are going down and 600,000+ Americans are losing their jobs every month, sure would be nice if the American worker had some protection. But keep telling yourselves that unions are the problem.


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