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      I woke up last night feeling like I was suffocating, because in my dream I was. It began in a church, or an old university lecture hall. Antique. And everyone in attendance was being asked to say little prayers honoring Jesus. Everyone was reciting little prayers that are common among the devout. But when it was my turn, I stood and exclaimed: Jesus was a ph […]
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Friday News Dump: July 10, 2009


I was thinking today was a pretty slow news day, but it appears that the administration has tried to quietly sneak out quite a bit of very creepy information today in a classic Bush-style Friday news dump.

Warrantless Wiretapping Report

The Inspector General’s report on Bush’s secret warrantless wiretapping program came out today, and the Associated Press says it was “massive.”

The Bush administration built an unprecedented surveillance operation to pull in mountains of information far beyond the warrantless wiretapping previously acknowledged, a team of federal inspectors general reported Friday, questioning the legal basis for the effort but shielding almost all details on grounds they’re still too secret to reveal.

The report, compiled by five inspectors general, refers to “unprecedented collection activities” by U.S. intelligence agencies under an executive order signed by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Just what those activities involved remains classified, but the IGs pointedly say that any continued use of the secret programs must be “carefully monitored.”

That sounds like a sneaky way of saying the program goes way beyond any semblance of legality. I say let’s prosecute all of the fascists who created and tried to justify this horrendous program to spy on Americans citizens as if we were all terrorists. Let’s start with the five Bush officials who refused to be interviewed by the Inspectors General: Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Assistant AG John Yoo, former CIA Director George Tenet, former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Dick Cheney’s alter ego, David Addingon. And can we find out if the Obama administration is still carrying on this program, because the report apparently doesn’t say. From the AP story:

Although the report documents Bush administration policies, its fallout could be a problem for the Obama administration if it inherited any or all of the still-classified operations.

According Wired’s Threat Level blog,

also warned that President’ Bush’s post-9/11 extrajudicial intelligence programs involved unprecedented collection of communications, and that the government needs to be careful about storing and using that data.

Senator Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat who sits on the Intelligence committee, said the report showed the programs were “outrageous” and called for more declassification.

“This report leaves no doubt that the warrantless wiretapping program was blatantly illegal and an unconstitutional assertion of executive power,” Feingold said. “I once again call on the Obama administration and its Justice Department to withdraw the flawed legal memoranda that justified the program and that remain in effect today.”

The government has only admitted to eavesdropping on calls and e-mails where one end was overseas and one person was suspected to be a terrorist. It has never officially confirmed that it sucked in the telephone records of millions of Americans or eavesdropped wholesale on the internet, despite repeated media reports and confirmations from Congress members. But the report makes clear that there were more intelligence programs that the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program” that the administration acknowledged after the New York Times revealed in December 2005.

And the massive spying program was apparently stunningly ineffective–at least for its supposed purpose of detecting and catching terrorists.

Despite the Bush administration’s insistence that its warrantless eavesdropping program was necessary to protect the country from another terrorist attack, FBI agents, CIA analysts and other officials had difficulty evaluating its effectiveness, according to an unclassified government report made public Friday.

The CIA made no effort to document how the program had contributed to counterterrorism successes, and CIA officials saw it as just “one source among many available analytic and intelligence-gathering tools,” the report said.

“Consequently, it is difficult to attribute the success of (any) particular counterterrorism case exclusively to the (program),” it said.

Uh huh. Did CIA officials “make no effort” to find out how well the program was serving the Agency’s own purposes (whatever they might be) though? Spencer Ackerman argues that the CIA Played a Leading Role in Warrantless Surveillance

As far as I know, the CIA involvement in domestic spying is absolutely illegal–not that I’m kidding myself that it doesn’t happen. I’d like to know if this is still going on.


According to the Washington Post, “‘Extraordinary and inappropriate’ secrecy about” the spying program “undermined its effectiveness as a terrorism-fighting tool.”

For the first few years of the program’s operation, only three Justice Department lawyers were aware of the highly classified initiative, and intelligence analysts whose “scary memos” helped certify the program initially were kept in the dark by supervisors who sometimes ordered up more data to prepare a “compelling case,” the watchdog report said.


In addition to the wiretapping report, a couple of big stories about the war in Afghanistan were also dumped out there today. James Risen reports that

After a mass killing of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taliban prisoners of war by the forces of an American-backed warlord during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Bush administration officials repeatedly discouraged efforts to investigate the episode, according to government officials and human rights organizations.

American officials had been reluctant to pursue an investigation — sought by officials from the F.B.I., the State Department, the Red Cross and human rights groups — because the warlord, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was on the payroll of the C.I.A. and his militia worked closely with United States Special Forces in 2001, several officials said. They said the United States also worried about undermining the American-supported government of President Hamid Karzai, in which General Dostum had served as a defense official.

The Obama administration will certainly investigate these war crimes, right?

It is not clear how — or if — the Obama administration will address the issue. But in recent weeks, State Department officials have quietly tried to thwart General Dostum’s reappointment as military chief of staff to the president, according to several senior officials, and suggested that the administration might not be hostile to an inquiry.

The question of culpability for the prisoner deaths — which may have been the most significant mass killing in Afghanistan after the 2001 American-led invasion — has taken on new urgency since the general, an important ally of Mr. Karzai, was reinstated to his government post last month. He had been suspended last year and living in exile in Turkey after he was accused of threatening a political rival at gunpoint.

“If you bring Dostum back, it will impact the progress of democracy and the trust people have in the government,” Mr. Prosper said. Arguing that the Obama administration should investigate the 2001 killings, he added, “There is always a time and place for justice.”

If I were Mr. Prosper, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the Obama administration to investigate. So far they have mostly defended Bush’s policies on torture, domestic spying, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In fact, according to the Washington Post,

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the newly arrived top commander in Afghanistan, has concluded that Afghan security forces will have to expand far beyond currently planned levels if President Obama’s strategy for winning the war there is to succeed, according to senior military officials.

Well isn’t that a shocker?

Such an expansion would require additional billions beyond the $7.5 billion the administration has budgeted annually to build up the Afghan army and police over the next several years, and the likely deployment of thousands more U.S. troops as trainers and advisers, officials said.

McChrystal has not yet completed a 60-day assessment of the war due next month. But Defense Department officials in Washington and in Kabul said he has informed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, including in a status update this week, of the need to increase the Afghan force substantially.

Doesn’t anyone down there in D.C. remember Vietnam? Oh yeah, that was one of those “excesses of the 1960s and 1970s” that Obama told us all we need to forget about.

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Whatever happened to “You break it, you fix it?” – an Open Thread

United breaks guitars:

Calorie Labeling and your weekend dinner plans

I am constantly struggling with my weight.  If I don’t walk about 5 miles a day I gain weight — and if I eat out with any regularity at all I gain weight.  The switch that makes my brain relate what I’m eating to my weight and health just shuts off when I’m at a restaurant.  And without that switch — I’m out of control.

Ezra Klein is discussing that experience in his post, Calorie Labeling In Action, today

All quite delicious. When I got back to the office, though, I decided to see what it added up to. First, I looked up the cookie. A solid 450 calories, with 19 grams of fat. Yikes. But what might have actually changed my purchase was knowing the content of my sandwich: According to the nutrition calculator, 525 calories.

The calories in the cookie weren’t startling. But their calories relative to my sandwich proved a bit off-putting. I could pretty much have ordered a second sandwich for the caloric cost. Buying them without the information, it was easy enough to just consider them a side dish. As it happened, the cookie was more like a second lunch. I wouldn’t have ordered a second lunch. Good to know.

I had that EXACT experience with a Subway sandwich and a cookie a few years ago.  Their cookies are only in the 200 calorie range but, they’re puny.  I got two that day (440 calories) and NEVER did it again.

When it comes to calories knowledge isn’t just power — it’s control.  And it’s not just me:

The following table comes from a Health Impact Assessment prepared by the County of Los Angeles on calorie labeling laws. It shows how much of the whole county’s projected weight gain would be averted if calorie labeling got X percent of restaurant patrons to make average decisions that were Y calories smaller

Follow the links and take a look (Ezra has a link to a graph) — it’s pretty impressive!  And since it’s likely you won’t find the label on the menu at your favorite restaurant, spend a couple of minutes looking at the nutrition information on their website before you go.

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How much will it cost ME and what will I get?

This idea doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and I’m getting dizzy trying to decide (like my opinion matters) if I should support a “strong public plan” in the absence of real reform with a single-payer plan.  And then I realized that there are two questions that hover in the back of my mind whenever I read an update about the health reform issue – how much will it cost ME and what will I get?

And boy-oh-boy no one is letting that information leak out!

How much will it cost me?

Then (from TNR, believe it or not) comes THIS idea:

A Moneyball Approach to Health Reform

Every time we mention the impact of a health reform proposal on the federal budget with a CBO score, we should also give an estimate of how the proposal impacts a family budget. Call it the Consumer Budget Impact–the CBI. It would indicate how a family’s premiums would go up or down–and how much their exposure to significant medical debt would decline.

True, no single number can capture this. So we may need to come up with a set of numbers and perhaps compile them into an index, the way Dow Jones uses a mix of stocks to demonstrate the performance of the market as a whole. Elected officials should know if John’s family at just over the federal poverty level will be able to get coverage–and if we are expecting too much for Alice the 60-year old who is around 400 percent of the poverty level.

Remember, the subsidies in health reform don’t simply help the uninsured get coverage; they also help people who already have coverage but are struggling to pay for it. Think of the early retiree who spends over $1,000 a month, and thus over a third of his or her limited income, to keep coverage. Or the underinsured young adult who can only afford the bare-bones, high-deductible health plan. Or the workers who would lose coverage if not for the assistance and new affordable options their employer is being offered.

All of these people are insured, but in a way that is inadvisable and/or unsustainable. Depending on their income, they and millions of others will get help, so they don’t have to pay over a certain percentage of their income for premiums to get a standard package of benefits.

And while we’re at it let’s Tell Rangel to Score HR 676 so we can properly evaluate the Consumer Budget Impact of that along with all the rest.

And what will I get?

Yesterday commenter Masslib said:

I guess I’m just not interested in access. I’m interested in actual high quality health administered health care.

And THAT’s a pretty good start.

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Your Breakfast Read, Served By The Confluence*

Healthcare Reform

Dems on Dems violence.
Democrats Are at Odds on Financing Health Care

House and Senate Democrats appeared on Thursday to be on a collision course over how to pay for a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system, with the House planning to propose an income tax increase on the wealthiest Americans, an idea that Senate negotiators have all but dismissed as unworkable.

Super majorities in both Houses of Congress, and the White House. Who are we trying to appease here, the Terry Randall-constituency? Oh I forget we still have those very important “centrists”. Sigh!
Could Abortion Coverage Sink Health-Care Reform?

While current versions of the legislation do not address the abortion issue at all, late last month, 19 antiabortion Democrats in the House sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, warning that they “cannot support any health-care-reform proposal unless it explicitly excludes abortion from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health-insurance plan.

Somebody please kill me now!

House Democrats buck leaders on health-care bill unveiling

Rank-and-file Democrats stalled the introduction of a long-awaited health-care bill in the House on Thursday by conducting a letter-writing campaign of sorts to put forth their demands for changes to the legislation, even before its authors could unveil it.

Obama Budget Chief Says Health Bill ‘Not Enough’ to Fix System

How Canadians Feel About Their Health Care: Wait Times and Spending

Economy News

Paul Krugman to the administration: You guys blew it! Man up and see if we can polish the turd still save the economy.
The Stimulus Trap

It was disturbing when President Obama walked back Mr. Biden’s admission that the administration “misread” the economy, declaring that “there’s nothing we would have done differently.” There was a whiff of the Bush infallibility complex in that remark, a hint that the current administration might share some of its predecessor’s inability to admit mistakes. And that’s an attitude neither Mr. Obama nor the country can afford.

Brown Manure, Not Green Shoots (Nouriel Roubini)

The jobs situation is even worse than the headlines.

Larry as Fed Chairman?
Barry Ritholtz says “Fuck Hell no!” and makes some Mt Vesuvius-size threats. Please don’t challenge him, don’t make him do it:

So help me God, if Obama nominates this incompetent, lacking-in-judgment jackboot to the FOMC chair, then in 2012, I will write in George W. Bush’s name for President . . .

What? We shouldn’t have listened to God Alan Greenspan?
The Man Nobody Wanted To Hear

William White predicted the approaching financial crisis years before 2007’s subprime meltdown. But central bankers preferred to listen to his great rival Alan Greenspan instead, with devastating consequences for the global economy.

With Sale of Good Assets, G.M. Out of Bankruptcy

General Motors completed a major step in its turnaround on Friday and closed the sale of its good assets to a new, government-backed carmaker, at a speed unimagined by auto and bankruptcy experts even six months ago.

Geithner says derivatives blindsided the gov’t

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is telling lawmakers the U.S. economy stumbled last year in part because the power and risks of an explosive derivatives market blindsided the government.

China replacing U.S. as top trade partner in Latin America

China has moved aggressively to fill a vacuum left by the United States in recent years, as the U.S. focused on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the global economic crisis sapped its economy.

Palinpalooza: There’s something for everyone.

A midlife meltdown for Palin

What if Palin were president?

Sarah ‘Barracuda’ Palin and the Piranhas of the Press

The Media as Villains in the Palin Story? Not Guilty, Your Honor

Here Sarah Palin explains the difference between her much more warranted “whine” and Hillary’s unnecessary “whine”

At one point during the campaign you said Hillary Clinton whines a little bit too much about being in the public eye. Do you now sort of sympathize with her?
What I said was, it doesn’t do her or anybody else any good to whine about the criticism. And that’s why I’m trying to make it clear that the criticism, I invite that. But freedom of speech and that invitation to constructively criticize a public servant is a lot different than the allowance to lie, to continually falsely accuse a public servant when they have proven over and over again that they have not done what the accuser is saying they did. It doesn’t cost them a dime to continue to accuse. That’s a whole different situation. But that’s why when I talk about the political potshots that I take or my family takes, we can handle that. I can handle that. I expect it. But there has to be opportunity provided for truth to get out there, and truth isn’t getting out there when the political game that’s being played right now is going to continue, and it is. When you realize that it doesn’t cost them a dime and it’s a fun sport for some, you know it’s going to continue. I love Alaska too much to put her through this in a lame-duck session.

Yeah! Whatever you say. There are over 40(!) books savaging Hillary Clinton any which way can imagine, a gazillion articles questioning even her humanity and she’s still going. When did she “whine about the criticism”?

Now that HE has spoken, I think we can close the speculations book:
Levi Johnson says Palin stepped down for money, family

Johnston met with reporters to say that he heard her musing about a better life, one in which she could spend more time at home, reduce her stress, and accept the lucrative offers coming her way.

War On Terror

U.S. military didn’t want to release Iranians held in Iraq

The United States claims that the five, detained in January 2007 in the northern city of Erbil, were in the Qods Force, the covert arms of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and were arming and training anti-U.S. insurgents. It has not provided detailed evidence to back up that charge, asserting it would compromise secret intelligence methods, and never pressed formal charges.

The US takes to the shadows in Iraq

Say what? Bin Laden was actually inside the US? Steve Coll has the goods.
Osama In America: The Final Answer (via Comment Central)

The question of whether Osama bin Laden has ever visited the United States, a subject on which I have expended an unhealthy amount of energy in the course of various journalistic and biographical research, has now seemingly been settled. Osama was here for two weeks in 1979, it seems, and he visited Indiana and Los Angeles, among other places.

Watchdog group: Dozens of active-duty troops found on neo-Nazi site

[T]here’s one other thing that dozens of members of newsaxon.org, a white supremacist social networking website, have in common: They proudly identify themselves as active-duty members of the U.S. armed forces.


Beat The Press

Way to make it easy for your critics
White House Press Corps Happy to Attend Barack Obama’s Off-the-Record BBQ

Reporters from roughly 30 television networks, newspapers, magazines, and web sites celebrated the Fourth of July with Barack Obama at the White House last weekend. Why didn’t you know that? Because they were sworn to secrecy.

For Huffington Post, left is right

Around The World

What actually happened in Honduras and how did it happen?
Q+A: The dispute that led to a coup in Honduras

Was there a coup in Honduras? The answer divides a nation.

Honduras is a nation divided. After its president was unceremoniously flown out of the country, a new government was sworn in hours later. On Monday, the airport was shut down for 48 hours and protest marches continued in the capital. The Associated Press reported that Mr. Zelaya was flying back to Washington Tuesday to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But if the crisis centers at the highest levels of government, it has also spilled down into the nation’s entire political establishment. And from the vantage of a social democratic party president, who fields concerns from members who support the ouster, condemn it, and all the shades of gray in between, the repercussions of this division could be felt for far longer than the immediate crisis itself.

Fearless Iranians to the Mullahs: “Bring it on!”
Iran Protesters Take to Streets Despite Threats

Thousands of Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran on Thursday, clapping, chanting, almost mocking the authorities as they once again turned out in large numbers in defiance of the government’s threat to crush their protests with violence.

Deadly Uighur riots may force policy debate in Beijing

Kurds Defy Baghdad, Laying Claim to Land and Oil

Oh No!

Montco swim club accused of racial discrimination

Days before a Northeast Philadelphia day camp’s membership at a private suburban swim club was rescinded, several of the campers said they had heard racial remarks about themselves at the pool.

Of course we have the usual démenti
Swim club denies any wrongdoing in statement on Web site


Maureen Dowd has an excuse, so do all the plagiarists: It’s called cryptomnesia.
You Didn’t Plagiarize, Your Unconscious Did

Is cryptomnesia—copying the work of others without being aware of it—to blame for journalism’s ultimate sin? Um, maybe not.

Heart Warming Story of The Week

One-of-a-Kind Commencement

Howard Community College Makes a Very Special Delivery To Award a Degree to the Oldest Member of the Class of 2009

*With assistance from Dr BostonBoomer

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