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News Flash: Official in Bush DoJ Broke the Law

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

By Devlin Barrett
Associated Press via Yahoo! News

WASHINGTON – A former top Justice Department official made false statements to Congress and violated federal law in overseeing the agency's civil rights division, investigators say.

The accusations against Bradley Schlozman, the former acting head of the civil rights division, are included in a new report by the department's inspector general, Glenn Fine.

Tuesday's report is the latest of several inquiries that found senior Justice Department officials violated civil service laws under the tenure of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Gonzales has denied knowledge of the conduct by his deputies, but the series of reports paints a disturbing portrait of the nation's top law enforcement agency being pulled in a sharply political direction during the Bush administration.

The report says Schlozman politicized and mistreated his staff and tried to punish agency employees he believed were too liberal. The report cited an e-mail in which Schlozman noted it had been awhile since he'd had to "scream with a bloodcurdling cry at some commie."

In the same 2003 missive, Schlozman used derogatory language to describe his pleasure in punishing career staffers, writing that "bitchslapping a bunch of (division) attorneys really did get the blood pumping and was even enjoyable once in a while."

At other times, the report said, Schlozman urged the hiring of "real Americans," apparently meaning conservatives, as opposed to liberals, whom he referred to as "libs" and "pinkos."

Schlozman resigned from the Justice Department in 2007 and is now an attorney in private practice in Wichita, Kan....(Click for remainder).


Barack Obama Official Portrait Released

By Dave Rochelson

Today we are releasing the new official portrait for President Barack Obama.

It was taken by Pete Souza, the newly-announced official White House photographer.

It is the first time that an official presidential portrait was taken with a digital camera.

You can see the portrait below, or click here to download a copy.


Britain loses faith in economy

Global poll shows UK least likely to trust politicians, banks or markets

Why are Britons so gloomy?

By Julian Glover
The Guardian UK

British economic confidence has been shattered by the financial crisis, according to a unique international poll published today. It shows that people here are now less likely to trust banks, the stockmarket or the government's economic management than people in comparable nations.

The research, carried out by WIN, an international network of pollsters including ICM in Britain, used professional polling techniques to assess public opinion in 17 countries, including the major G8 economies as well as China and India.

On most measures, British people emerged as among the most pessimistic of the 14,555 people questioned around the world.

Remarkably, confidence in the banking system appears lower in Britain - 4.2 out of 10 - than in bankrupt Iceland, which polled 4.6.

While around a third of citizens in developing economies such as India and China say the economic situation in their countries could improve in coming months, more than three-quarters of people in Britain expect it to worsen.

Pessimism here is slightly deeper than in competitors such as France, Spain and Germany, and equal to Japan.

British people are also less likely than average to think that their government can manage the situation, despite Gordon Brown's bank interventions and fiscal stimulus....(Click for remainder).


Is America's Love Affair with Stupidity Finally Over?

Americans' embrace of the Obamas and other intelligent public figures may be part of a much-needed cultural shift.

By Liz Langley

"There was a time in this country when smart people were considered cool -- well not cool, but they did things like build ships and pyramids and they even went in the moon ... I believe that time can come again."

That's an abridged quote from Idiocracy, the 2006 scarily spot-on parody film about what life will be like on Earth in 500 years if we don't throw a Stop Stick under the tires of the dumbing-down process. Written and directed by Mike Judge ("Beavis and Butthead," "King of the Hill") in Judge's world of tomorrow, the top TV show is "Ow! My Balls!" on the Violence Channel, and the U.S. president is an ex-porn star and pro-wrestler.

Idiocracy is supposed to be a comedy, but it's hard not to get a little chill after you see it and realize that this world is closer to us than Russia is to Sarah Palin's breakfast nook. Every time an ad screams "EXTREME!", every time we glimpse the failures of abstinence-only education (like the teen pregnancy rate going up in 2006 for the first time in 15 years), every time an SUV that amounts to a panic-room-on-wheels slops its grotesque bulk into more than one parking space, every time a cadre of degreed journalists report on what Suri, Shiloh and Apple are wearing to each other's birthday parties, every time Paris Hilton is in our line of vision, we inch closer to Judge's future.

So, can we turn this short bus around? Could there be a world ahead of us where the Detroit elementary school that had to ask parents for light bulbs and toilet paper is financially sound while Ann Coulter has to sell books out of a milk crate at the local gun show? The trickle down should come soon, but for now the big signal that the era of style over substance (and not that much style) is on it's way out (probably through the "in" door) is the election of Barack Obama....(Click for remainder).


Obama names Raytheon lobbyist for defense post

WTF? I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. I wonder if it will ever be possible to get rid of lobbyists for good?

By Rita Beamish and Anne Gearn
Associated Press via After Downing Street

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama appointed a Raytheon Co. lobbyist Thursday to become the No. 2 official at the Defense Department, acknowledging that his choice appeared to break with his self-imposed rules to keep lobbyists at arm's length.

William J. Lynn III, Obama's choice for deputy defense secretary, is a former Pentagon official who now is senior vice president for government operations at Raytheon Co. Lynn hasn't been a registered lobbyist since July, meaning he can't personally lobby Congress or the White House. In the first three months of 2008, his lobbying team reported spending $1.15 million to influence issues, including missiles, sensors and radar, advanced-technology programs and intelligence funding.

Obama has vowed that no political appointees in his administration would be permitted to work on areas that "directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years." His transition team, which voluntarily disclosed Lynn's lobbying activities, said Lynn's talents made him worth the apparent exception to the spirit of Obama's anti-lobbyists policy. It said it will work with Lynn to maintain Obama's high ethics standards.

"Because Mr. Lynn came so highly recommended from experts across the political spectrum, the president-elect felt it was critical that he fill this position," Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

Some government watchdogs questioned the revolving-door aspect of Lynn's appointment even while acknowledging his qualifications.
"He left public service and went into lobbying for one of the largest defense contractors in the nation. And that's the part that's troubling," said Bill Buzenberg, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity. "Even if he's completely aboveboard and ethical, it raises questions about his loyalty."

During his presidential campaign, Obama took pains to tell voters he wouldn't tolerate influence-peddling. "I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over," Obama said in November 2007 in Des Moines, Iowa....(Click for remainder).


National Zoo Director, and Gay Man, to Direct the Office of Personnel Management


John Berry will be named director of the Office of Personnel Management by President-elect Barack Obama, according to The Washington Post. Berry served as assistant secretary of the Interior during the Clinton administration and has been director of the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park since 2005.

LGBT leaders had hoped Berry would be tapped as secretary of the Interior, but D.C. insiders say his duties at the Office of Personnel Management will directly affect LGBT people because it has jurisdiction over the treatment of millions of federal employees.

“OPM is the federal government’s human resources department," said Denis Dison, spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which has been presenting qualified LGBT candidates to the Obama transition team. "Its director is the president’s top adviser on personnel matters. Having an out gay man in that position is more than symbolic, it’s a statement about how important workplace equality is to this president.”

The office is generally responsible for recruiting job applicants, filling vacancies at federal agencies, developing performance review processes, administering benefits, and overseeing nondiscrimination policies.

Though Beltway LGBT leaders had been pushing for an openly gay cabinet appointee, they were enthusiastic about Berry's appointment and said it was the most prominent position to be held by an openly gay person in the federal government. “The selection of John Berry to head the Office of Personnel Management, making him the highest-ranking openly gay official ever, is a meaningful step forward for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese....(Click for remainder).


How Israel's Propaganda Machine Works

Because it recognizes the importance of the propaganda war, Israel fights on this front as vigorously and disproportionately as it engages on the battlefield, notes James Zogby.

By Dr. John Zogby
Middle East Online

As in past Mideast conflicts, both the media story line and political commentary here in the US has closely followed Israel's talking points on the war. This has been an essential component in Israel's early success and in its ability to prolong fighting without US pushback. Because it recognizes the importance of the propaganda war, Israel fights on this front as vigorously and disproportionately as it engages on the battlefield.

Here's how they have done it:

1) Define the terms of debate, and you win the debate. Early on, the Israelis work to define the context, the starting point, and the story line that will shape understanding of the war. In this instance, for example, they succeeded by constant repetition, in establishing the notion that the starting point of the conflict was December 19th, the end of the six-month ceasefire (which Israel described as "unilaterally ended by Hamas"). In doing so, they ignored, of course, their own early November violations, and their failure to honor their commitment in the ceasefire to open Gaza's borders. They also ignored their having reduced Gaza into a dependency, a process which began long before and continued after their withdrawal in 2005. Because they know that most Americans do not closely follow the conflict and are inclined to believe, as the line goes, "what they hear over and over again," this tactic of preemptive definition and repetition succeeds.

(Click for remainder).


Conyers Backs Prosecution (And Other Measures), Releases Report His Staff Has Been Working on for Years

By David Swanson
After Downing Street

Remember all those months in which Chairman John Conyers' House Judiciary Committee staff refused to impeach but kept busy writing his next book. Well, here it is: a bitter sweet thing. It includes three recommendations, and the third one is pretty good:
3. The Attorney General should appoint a Special Counsel, or expand the scope of the present investigation into CIA tape destruction, to determine whether there were criminal violations committed pursuant to Bush Administration policies that were undertaken under unreviewable war powers, including enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, and warrantless domestic surveillance. This criminal investigation should, for the first time, ascertain and critically examine the facts to determine whether federal criminal laws were violated. It may be appropriate for certain aspects of the factual investigation by the prosecutor to await pertinent reports by the Inspectors General or information developed by any Blue Ribbon Commission or Select Committee. As part of this process, the incoming Administration should provide all relevant information and all necessary resources to outstanding Justice Department investigations, including with respect to the U.S. Attorney removals, the politicization of the Civil Rights Division, and allegations of selective prosecution. Congress should also consider extending the statute of limitations for potential violations of the torture statute, war crimes statute, laws prohibiting warrantless domestic surveillance, or for crimes committed against persons in United States military custody or CIA custody to ten years.

Reason: Among other things, documented incidents of grave abuse of detainees at various detention facilities including Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and the extraordinary rendition of terror suspects to countries where they have been tortured, and the implementation of warrantless surveillance inside the United States, raise credible concerns that criminal laws may have been violated.1579 At present, the Attorney General has agreed only to appoint a special U.S. Attorney to determine whether the destruction of videotapes depicting the waterboarding of a detainee constituted violations of federal law.1580 Despite requests from Congress, that prosecutor has not been asked to investigate whether the underlying conduct being depicted – the waterboarding itself or other harsh interrogation techniques used by the military or the CIA – violated the law.1581 Thus far the Attorney General has similarly refused to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether the practice of extraordinary rendition and, in particular whether the extraordinary rendition of Canadian citizen Maher Arar, violated the law. Similarly, there remains a serious question as to whether the warrantless domestic surveillance engaged in as part of the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program” prior to January 2007, violated the law.1582 It would seem that all or part of the above-described conduct meets the relevant requirements under federal regulations for the appointment of a special counsel (28 CFR 600.1), in that (i) a criminal investigation is warranted (e.g., waterboarding and warrantless domestic surveillance appear to violate criminal laws); (ii) the investigation would present a conflict of interest for the Justice Department (e.g., some of the potentially culpable parties have worked for or with the Department); and (iii) appointment of a special counsel would be in the public interest (e.g., it would help dispel a cloud of doubt over our law enforcement system).
(Click for remainder).

(Click for the full Conyers Report).


44 to reverse 43's executive orders

By Ben Smith and Lisa Lerer

President-elect Barack Obama is expected to move swiftly to reverse executive orders regarding torture of terror suspects, the military prison at Guantanamo Bay and other controversial security policies, sources close to his transition said, in dramatic gestures aimed at reversing President Bush’s accumulation of executive power.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) said he’s been informed that President Obama will support his proposed legislation to make public some opinions from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which issued some of the Bush Administration's most sweeping claims of executive power. Obama also has promised to limit President Bush's practice of using "signing statements" to amend legislation.

"Every day we get indications that they're serious about reversing the abuses of the Constitution," Feingold, a harsh Bush critic, told Politico. Feingold said he thinks Obama is likely to issue executive orders rapidly reversing Bush policies, and others have indicate that those will likely cover the interrogation and detention of terror suspects, and keeping the records of past presidents secret.

"I don't know in what order or how fast" Obama’s executive orders could come, he said. "It'll be important that a couple of them be done immediately, and I think they will be, to show there's a strong break from the current policy."...(Click for remainder).


Clinton vows action on Middle East

By Al Jazeera English

Hillary Clinton has vowed to make "every effort" to advance a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians as secretary of state in Barack Obama's administration.

Speaking on Tuesday at her senate confirmation hearing, Clinton said that the US must address Israel's security and work on the "legitimate" political and economic aspirations of the Palestinians.

However she ruled out negotiations with the Palestinian group Hamas until it recognised Israel and renounced violence, saying her position on the issue was "absolute".

Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds says that as Clinton's first session with the committee ended in Washington DC, a group of spectators shouted "ceasefire in Gaza" and held up signs.

Clinton also stressed the US must use "smart power" to further its foreign policy, with the military to be used as a "last resort".

"With 'smart power', diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy," she told the senate foreign relations committee.

"America cannot solve the most pressing problem on our own and the world cannot solve them without America."...(Click for remainder).


Obama Should Act Like He Won

By Thomas Frank
The Wall Street Journal

As we anxiously await the debut of the Obama administration, we hear more and more about the incoming president's "post-partisan" instincts. He has filled his cabinet with relics of the centrist Clinton years. He has engaged the evangelical pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. And according to Politico, he wants 80 Senate votes for his stimulus plan -- a goal that would mean winning a majority among Republicans as well as Democrats.

Maybe these will turn out to be wise moves. Maybe they won't.

Audacity they ain't, though. There is no branch of American political expression more trite, more smug, more hollow than centrism.

After all, as Mark Leibovich pointed out in Sunday's New York Times, transcending faction has been the filler-talk of inaugural addresses going back at least to Zachary Taylor's in 1849. When you hear it today -- bemoaning as it always does "the extremes of both parties" or "the divisive politics of the past" -- it is virtually a foolproof indicator that you are in the presence of a well-funded, much-televised Beltway hack.

Centrism is something of a cult here in Washington, D.C., and a more specious superstition you never saw. Its adherents pretend to worship at the altar of the great American middle, but in fact they stick closely to a very particular view of events regardless of what the public says it wants.

And through it all, centrism bills itself as the most transgressive sort of exercise imaginable. Its partisans are "New Democrats," "Radical Centrists," clear-eyed believers in a "Third Way." The red-hot tepids, we might call them -- the jellybeans of steel.

The reason centrism finds an enthusiastic audience in Washington, I think, is because it appeals naturally to the Beltway journalistic mindset, with its professional prohibition against coming down solidly on one side or the other of any question. Splitting the difference is a way of life in this cynical town. To hear politicians insist that it is also the way of the statesman, I suspect, gives journalists a secret thrill.

Yet what the Beltway centrist characteristically longs for is not so much to transcend politics but to close off debate on the grounds that he -- and the vast silent middle for which he stands -- knows beyond question what is to be done....(Click for remainder).



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