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The 26th Amendment gives 18-year-olds the right to vote. (American Civil Liberties Union 2012; The Constitution: Amendments 11-27 2012) Forty years later, the Obama administration will issue a statement honoring the passage of the amendment, saying: “Forty years ago, the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution took effect, lowering the universal voting age in America from 21 years to 18 years. Millions of young Americans were extended the right to vote, empowering more young people than ever before to help shape our country.… The right to vote has been secured by generations of leaders over our history, from the women’s groups of the early 20th century to the civil rights activists of the 1960s. For young people, the movement to lower America’s voting age took years of hard work and tough advocacy to make the dream a reality. Yet, once proposed in Congress in 1971, the 26th Amendment was ratified in the shortest time span of any constitutional amendment in American history.… Today, young adults across America continue to exercise this enormous responsibility of citizenship. Countless young people are involved in the political process, dedicated to ensuring their voices are heard.” (White House 7/1/2011)
The CIA’s inspector general completes a lengthy, secret report on the interrogation of detainees in US custody. The report, based on over 100 interviews, a review of the CIA’s videotapes of interrogations (see November 2005), and some 38,000 pages of documents, will remain secret throughout the Bush administration and into the first year of the Obama administration. Some portions will be made public over the years. The report includes evidence that US interrogators used harsh tactics—torture—against detainees who were not withholding information. Officials familiar with the report will say that it concludes some of the techniques used violate the UN Convention against Torture (see October 21, 1994). According to a declassified summary of the report later made public, the report finds that “it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks.” The threat of such an imminent attack was cited by the Justice Department in its numerous authorizations of torture. The report prompts CIA general counsel John Rizzo to request new statements from the Justice Department confirming the legality of CIA interrogation methods (see May 10, 2005 and May 30, 2005). (Smith 5/9/2009)
A Bush administration official sends an e-mail to senior members of the Defense Department’s Transportation Command, including General Norton Schwartz, who later becomes the Air Force chief of staff. The e-mail recommends that a set of prisoners slated for release from Guantanamo be detained longer for fear of negative press coverage. The e-mail will be released three years later as part of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (see February 12, 2009). The name of the author of the message will be redacted from the document. It reads in part: “We may need to definitely think about checking with Southcom to see if we can hold off on return flights for 45 days or so until things die down. Otherwise we are likely to have hero’s welcomes awaiting the detainees when they arrive.… It would probably be preferable if we could deliver these detainees in something smaller and more discreet.” The e-mail forwards correspondence entitled “US Getting Creamed on Human Rights,” which cites international news coverage of UN reports on conditions at Guantanamo. The e-mail cites that press coverage, along with “lingering interest in Abu Ghraib photos,” all of which “adds up to the US taking a big hit on the issues of human rights and respect for the rule of law.” In 2009, reporter Liliana Segura will observe: “The line fits neatly with the rest of what we know about the Bush administration’s philosophy: that perceptions of abuse were worth worrying about; the abuse itself? Not so much.” Gitanjali Gutierrez, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, will add: “It is astonishing that the government may have delayed releasing men from Guantanamo in order to avoid bad press. Proposing to hold men for a month and a half after they were deemed releasable is inexcusable. The Obama administration should avoid repeating this injustice and release the innocent individuals with all due haste.” (Center for Constitutional Rights 2/12/2009; Segura 2/13/2009)
Zack Christenson registers the Internet domain name “chicagoteaparty.com.” Christenson, a Republican, is the producer for the conservative Chicago radio host Milt Rosenburg, who is busily associating presidential candidate Barack Obama with former left-wing radical William Ayers (see August 2008). Christenson will not activate a Web site using that domain name until February 19, 2009, when CNBC commentator Rick Santelli engages in an “impromptu” on-air rant calling for a “Chicago tea party” in protest of the Obama administration’s economic policies (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009). (Ames and Levine 2/27/2009)
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) files a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA), President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, former Cheney chief of staff David Addington, and other members of the Bush administration. The EFF claims the lawsuit is “on behalf of AT&T customers to stop the illegal unconstitutional and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records.” The EFF is referring to its ongoing lawsuit against AT&T and other telecommunications firms, which it accuses of colluding with the NSA to illegally monitor American citizens’ domestic communications (see December 15, 2005). The case, the EFF writes, “is aimed at ending the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans and holding accountable the government officials who illegally authorized it.” After January 2009, the newly elected Obama administration will challenge the lawsuit, Jewel v. NSA, on the grounds that to defend itself against the lawsuit, the government would be required to disclose “state secrets” (see Late May, 2006). The government used similar arguments to quash the EFF’s lawsuit against AT&T (see April 28, 2006), arguments which were rejected by a judge (see July 20, 2006). (Electronic Frontier Foundation 2009) The suit will be dismissed (see January 21, 2010).
The conservative “astroturf” advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004) holds a conference of conservative political operatives and pundits in a Marriott hotel outside Washington, DC. Right-wing blogger Erick Erickson of RedState.com thanks oil billionaire and AFP co-founder David Koch (see August 30, 2010) from the podium and promises to “unite and fight… the armies of the left!” The rest of the conference is spent planning how to battle the policies that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama might implement if he wins the November election. AFP will be instrumental in the Koch brothers’ battle against Obama administration policies (see August 30, 2010). (Mayer 8/30/2010)
Libertarian Representative Ron Paul (R-TX—see 1978-1996, July 9-10, 2006, July 22, 2007, and August 4, 2008) gives an interview to radio host Alex Jones in which he accuses President-elect Barack Obama of working to undermine the US government in favor of a “new world order” (see September 11, 1990), a UN-led “one-world government.” Paul says that he believes the incoming Obama administration is orchestrating some sort of “international crisis” that will give Obama the chance to begin implementing his sinister plan: “I think it’s going to be an announcement of a new monetary order, and they’ll probably make it sound very limited, they’re not going to say this is world government, even though it is if you control the world’s money and you control the military, which they do indirectly.… A world central bank, worldwide regulation and world control of the whole system, of all the commodities and all the natural resources, what else can you call it other than world government?… Obama wouldn’t be there if he didn’t toe the line.… [T]his could be the beginning of the end of what’s left of our national sovereignty.” Paul says that many non-US media outlets are already hailing Obama as “the world’s leader.” (Neiwert 11/17/2008)
Conservative radio host and convicted felon G. Gordon Liddy (see March 23, 1974) advises his listeners not to register their firearms. (Failure to register a firearm is a crime.) Liddy makes the suggestion because he believes the Obama administration intends to take away citizens’ guns, and if the guns are not registered, government and law enforcement officials have no way to locate them and their owners. While talking to a caller about assault weapons, Liddy says: “[P]eople are buying them. Some because they’ve always wanted one and think that the Obama administration will try to outlaw them again, the way the Clinton administration did (see September 13, 1994). Others figure: ‘OK, I’ll buy as many as I can get my hands on, and I’ll be grandfathered in. And then when they’re banned, I will be able to sell them at a very nice profit.’ So, that’s going on. But the main thing is, you know, get them into private hands as quickly as possible.… The first thing you do is, no matter what law they pass, do not—repeat, not—ever register any of your firearms. Because that’s where they get the list of where to go first to confiscate. So, you don’t ever register a firearm, anywhere.” (Media Matters 4/9/2009) In 1994, Liddy advised radio listeners to shoot federal agents in the head if they came to their houses to confiscate their guns. “Head shots, head shots.… Kill the sons of b_tches,” he said (see August 26 - September 15, 1994).
The conservative Washington Times, a staunch opponent of President-elect Barack Obama, publishes an editorial predicting that the incoming Obama administration will, in some form or fashion, move to “exterminate” babies with disabilities and other “useless” Americans through its promised reform of the US health care system, similar to actions taken by the Nazis before World War II. The Times provides a brief synopsis of Adolf Hitler’s “T4 Aktion” program designed, in the words of the Times, “to exterminate ‘useless eaters,’ babies born with disabilities. When any baby was born in Germany, the attending nurse had to note any indication of disability and immediately notify T4 officials—a team of physicians, politicians, and military leaders. In October 1939 Hitler issued a directive allowing physicians to grant a ‘mercy death’ to ‘patients considered incurable according to the best available human judgment of their state of health.’ Thereafter, the program expanded to include older children and adults with disabilities, and anyone anywhere in the Third Reich was subject to execution who was blind, deaf, senile, retarded, or had any significant neurological condition, encephalitis, epilepsy, muscular spasticity, or paralysis. Six killing centers were eventually established, and an estimated quarter-million people with disabilities were executed.” The Times draws a parallel between the Nazis and the Obama administration’s support for legal abortion and for physician-assisted suicide, which it equates with “euthanasia.” The incoming administration will, the Times fears, begin “selecting” babies with disabilities for what apparently will be “selective abortions.” It quotes the Reverend Briane K. Turley as saying: “Were God’s design for us left unhindered, we could naturally expect to welcome 40,000 or more newborn infants with Down syndrome each year in the US. And yet we have reduced that number to just under 5,500. These data strongly indicate that, in North America, we have already discovered a new, ‘final solution’ for these unusual children and need only to adapt our public policies to, as it were, ‘cure’ all Down syndrome cases.” Turley, the Times notes, claims that “there is growing evidence suggesting that, among health care practitioners and systems, the central motivation behind legally enforced or high pressure screenings is economics.” The Times then adds: “[A]nd the results seem to bear him out. America’s T4 program—trivialization of abortion, acceptance of euthanasia, and the normalization of physician assisted suicide—is highly unlikely to be stopped at the judicial, administrative, or legislative levels anytime soon, given the Supreme Court’s current and probable future makeup during the Obama administration, the administrative predilections that are likely from that incoming administration, and the makeup of the new Congress.” The Times predicts a new “final solution” of “extermination” that will start with disabled infants and will progress “from prenatal to postnatal to child to adult.” (Washington Times 11/23/2008) The editorial anticipates the “deather” claims that many conservatives will make in the summer of 2009 (see January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, and August 13, 2009).
Twelve retired generals and admirals meet with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team to ask that his administration completely repudiate the Bush administration’s policies of torture, rendition, and indefinite detentions of terror suspects. The group represents a larger number of some three dozen retired flag officers. Several of the participants tell reporters before the meeting about what they intend to discuss. The retired flag officers are going into the meeting with a list of “things that need to be done and undone,” says retired Marine General Joseph Hoar, who commanded the US Central Command (CENTCOM) from 1991 through 1994. “It is fairly extensive.” Such a set of moves by the Obama administration, the officers believe, would help reverse the decline in world opinion about the US, a decline they say was sparked by the issue of detainee abuse both in the Guantanamo detention center and in other such facilities. “We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on our reputation overseas,” says retired Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, a former Navy inspector general. Retired Major General Fred Haynes adds, “If he’d just put a couple of sentences in his inaugural address, stating the new position, then everything would flow from that.” But it needs to be done quickly and decisively, says Gunn: “Gradualism won’t do. That abrupt change will send a signal to the world that America is back.” (Hess 12/2/2008; Mikkelsen 12/2/2008) Obama has said repeatedly that he will shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center and stop the US practice of allowing detainees to be tortured (see November 16, 2008).
The conservative “astroturf” advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, and August 6, 2009) launches a multi-pronged attack on every major policy initiative attempted by the Obama administration. Within weeks of Obama’s inauguration, AFP holds “Porkulus” rallies protesting Obama’s stimulus spending measures. The Koch-funded Mercatus Center (see August 30, 2010), working in concert with AFP, releases a report that falsely claims stimulus funds are being disproportionately directed towards Democratic districts; the author is later forced to correct the report, but not before conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, citing the report, calls the stimulus program “a slush fund,” and Fox News and other conservative outlets repeat the characterization. AFP vice president Phil Kerpen is a Fox News contributor; AFP officer Walter Williams is a frequent guest host for Limbaugh. AFP soon creates an offshoot organization, Patients United Now (PUN—see May 29, 2009), designed to oppose the Obama administration’s health care reform initiatives; PUN holds some 300 rallies against reform efforts (see August 5, 2009), some of which depict Democratic lawmakers hung in effigy (see July 27, 2009) and others depict corpses from Nazi concentration camps. AFP also holds over 80 rallies opposing cap-and-trade legislation, which would force industries to pay for creating air pollution. AFP also targets individual Obama administration members, such as “green jobs” czar Van Jones, and opposes the administration’s attempt to hold international climate talks. AFP leader Tim Phillips (see August 6, 2009) tells one anti-environmental rally: “We’re a grassroots organization.… I think it’s unfortunate when wealthy children of wealthy families… want to send unemployment rates in the United States up to 20 percent.” (Mayer 8/30/2010)
Judge Vaughn Walker rules that “sufficient facts” exist to keep alive a lawsuit brought by the defunct Islamic charity Al Haramain, which alleges it was subjected to illegal, warrantless wiretapping by the US government (see February 28, 2006). The lawsuit centers on a Top Secret government document accidentally disclosed to plaintiffs’ lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo that allegedly proves the claim of illegal wiretapping; previous court rulings forced Belew and Ghafoo to return the document to the government and prohibited its use in the lawsuit. The lawsuit is widely viewed as a test case to decide in court whether the Bush administration abused its power by authorizing a secret domestic spying program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo, says it does not matter whether the case pertains to the Bush administration or the incoming Obama administration. “I don’t want President Obama to have that power any more than I do President Bush,” he says. Because the lawsuit contains sufficient evidence even without the Top Secret document, Walker rules, it can continue. “The plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to withstand the government’s motion to dismiss,” he writes. Therefore, he adds, the law demands that they be allowed to review the classified document, and others, to determine whether the lawyers were spied on illegally and whether Bush’s spy program was unlawful. “To be more specific, the court will review the sealed document ex parte and in camera,” Walker writes. “The court will then issue an order regarding whether plaintiffs may proceed—that is, whether the sealed document establishes that plaintiffs were subject to electronic surveillance not authorized by FISA” (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—see 1978). (Kravets 1/5/2009)
Sparked by the official confirmation that Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani was tortured (see January 14, 2009), Amnesty International calls for the incoming Obama administration and Congress to launch an independent commission of inquiry into human rights violations in the “war on terror.” In a press release, Amnesty International writes: “Torture is a crime under international law. The USA is obliged as a party to the UN Convention against Torture (see October 21, 1994) to investigate ‘wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.’ The same treaty requires it to submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution. The treaty, and international law more generally, precludes the invocation of exceptional circumstances or superior orders as justification for torture. Anyone who has authorized, committed, is complicit, or participated in torture must be brought to justice, no matter their level of office or former level of office. Yet the public acknowledgement that the USA has tortured al-Khatani was not accompanied by any news of efforts to bring those responsible to justice.” Such a government commission “must not be used to block or delay the prosecution of any individual against whom there is already sufficient evidence of wrongdoing. A criminal investigation into the torture of Mohamed al-Khatani is already long overdue.” The incoming president, Barack Obama, has already acknowledged that waterboarding, one of the “harsh interrogation techniques” used against Guantanamo detainees, is torture. “Next week, then, the USA will have a president who considers that torture has been committed by the USA,” Amnesty writes. “He will be under an obligation to ensure full individual and institutional accountability. There must be no safe havens for torturers.” As for al-Khatani, Amnesty believes the US should either release him or try him “in accordance with international fair trial standards in an independent and impartial court—not a military commission. No information obtained under torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment should be admitted in any proceedings, except against the perpetrators of any such treatment as evidence that it occurred.” (Amnesty International 1/14/2009)
As one of its last official acts, the Bush administration asks federal judge Vaughn Walker to stay his ruling that keeps alive a lawsuit testing whether a sitting president can bypass Congress and eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. The request, filed at 10:56 p.m. on President Bush’s last full day in office, asks Walker to stay his ruling and allow the federal government to appeal his ruling that allows the al-Haramain lawsuit to proceed (see February 28, 2006). The warrantless wiretapping alleged in the lawsuit took place in 2004, well before Congress’s 2008 authorization of the government’s spy program. The Obama administration’s incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, says the Justice Department will defend the spy program because Congress made it legal (see January 15, 2009). It is not clear whether the Justice Department under Holder will continue to fight the Al Haramain lawsuit. The Bush administration wants Walker to reverse his decision to let plaintiffs’ lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo use a Top Secret document that was accidentally disclosed to them in 2004 (see January 5, 2009); that document, which allegedly proves the warrantless and illegal nature of the wiretapping performed against the Al Haramain charity, is at the center of the lawsuit. Previous rulings disallowed the use of the document and forced the defense lawyers to return it to the government, but Walker ruled that other evidence supported the claim of warrantless wiretapping, and therefore the document could be used. In its request for a stay, the Bush administration asserts that allowing the document to be used in the lawsuit would jeopardize national security, and that the document is protected under the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953). Administration lawyers say that Walker should not be allowed to see the document, much less the defense lawyers. “If the court were to find… that none of the plaintiffs are aggrieved parties, the case obviously could not proceed, but such a holding would reveal to plaintiffs and the public at large information that is protected by the state secrets privilege—namely, that certain individuals were not subject to alleged surveillance,” the administration writes in its request. If the lawsuit continues, the government says, that decision “would confirm that a plaintiff was subject to surveillance” and therefore should not be allowed: “Indeed, if the actual facts were that just one of the plaintiffs had been subject to alleged surveillance, any such differentiation likewise could not be disclosed because it would inherently reveal intelligence information as to who was and was not a subject of interest, which communications were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication may or may not have been subject to surveillance.” Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo, says: “We filed this lawsuit to establish a judicial precedent that the president cannot disregard Congress in the name of national security. Plaintiffs have a right to litigate the legality of the surveillance.” (Kravets 1/20/2009)
The Obama administration is moving towards seeking a worldwide ban on space-based weapons, a dramatic shift in US policy from the previous administration. While President Obama makes his inaugural speech, his advisers update the White House Web site with a number of policy statements, including a pledge to restore US leadership on space issues and seek a worldwide ban on weapons that interfere with military and commercial satellites. The statement also says that the US will consider threats to US satellites, and develop contingency plans to protect them from attack and keep information moving from them. One of the key issues surrounding the proposed ban on space weapons is defining what exactly such a weapon is. Even weather tracking satellites could be programmed to ram into and disable other satellites. No attacks on one nation’s satellites by another have been publicly documented, but both the US and China have destroyed their own satellites in recent years, showing that the capacity to bring down another nation’s satellites does exist. A defense official says that while Obama officials have not yet held briefings on the subject, it is clearly understood that the focus will shift towards more diplomatic initiatives. Work on classified projects involving what the official calls “active” military responses to attacks on US satellites may be halted in favor of more monitoring and passive protection measures, says the official, who declines to be more specific. Victoria Samson of the Center for Defense Information says, “There’s still a lot of wiggle room” in the administration’s statement on military space. “But just the sheer fact that they are discussing it represents a real shift from the Bush administration.… It’s not going to happen immediately, but it seems as though the wheels are in motion to initiate some sort of cooperative measure.” In his presidential campaign, Obama acknowledged the difficulties of securing a global treaty banning space-based weapons, and once suggested that a simpler and quicker solution might be a “code of conduct for responsible space-faring nations.” Such a code would include what Obama called “a prohibition against harmful interference against satellites.” (Reuters 1/25/2009)
Officials for the incoming Obama administration are dismayed to find that the task of closing Guantanamo Bay, one of President Obama’s first orders as president (see January 22, 2009), is going to be much harder than anticipated, because the records and details of the approximately 245 prisoners in custody are in terrific disarray. Obama officials, barred from examining classified records on the detainees until the inauguration, also find that many of the prisoners have no comprehensive case files at all. What information that does exist on the detainees is, according to a senior Obama official, “scattered throughout the executive branch.” Most detainees have little more than a dossier containing brief summaries of information, and lack any sort of background or investigative information that would be required for federal prosecutions. Obama named a Cabinet-level panel to review each case individually before the base is to be closed in a year, and those panel members will now have to spend weeks and perhaps months hunting down and correlating relevant material.
'Food Fights' among Bush Agencies - Officials from the former Bush administration admit that the files are incomplete, and that no single government office was tasked with keeping the information on Guantanamo detainees together. They blame the CIA and other intelligence agencies for not adequately sharing information, and add that the Bush administration’s focus was more on detention and interrogation, and much less on putting together information for future prosecutions. A former Pentagon official says that “regular food fights” between competing government agencies over the sharing of information contributed to the lack of coherent and consistent files. (A CIA official denies that the agency ever balked at sharing information with other governmental agencies, and says the Defense Department was more likely to be responsible for laspes in information.)
Former Bush Officials Say Obama Officials 'Look[ing] for Excuses' - However, other former Bush officials say the Obama team is trying to “look for excuses” instead of dealing with the complexities of the issues involved. Obama officials, after promising quick solutions, are now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor, according to a former senior Bush official. He says that “all but about 60… are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” and the Obama administration will come to the same conclusion as Bush officials: that they need to stay in detention without trial or charges.
Files 'Not Comprehensive,' Problem Noted in Previous Judicial Proceedings - But Obama officials say they want to make their own judgments. A senior Obama official says: “The consensus among almost everyone is that the current system is not in our national interest and not sustainable. [But] it’s clear that we can’t clear up this issue overnight” in part because the files “are not comprehensive.” Justice Department lawyers claim that after the Supreme Court ruled detainees have habeas corpus rights (see June 30, 2006), Bush officials were “overwhelmed” by the sudden need to gather and correlate information and material. In one federal filing, the Justice Department told a court that the record for a particular detainee “is not simply a collection of papers sitting in a box at the Defense Department. It is a massive undertaking just to produce the record in this one case.” In another filing, Justice Department officials told a court that “defending these cases requires an intense, inter-agency coordination of efforts. None of the relevant agencies, however, was prepared to handle this volume of habeas cases on an expedited basis.” Some former military officials say that evidence gathered for military commissions trials was scattered and incomplete. One former Guantanamo prosecutor, Darrel Vandeveld, says evidence was “strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks.” He says he once accidentally found “crucial physical evidence” that “had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten.” (DeYoung and Finn 1/25/2009) Vandeveld says that evidence at Guantanamo was often so disorganized “it was like a stash of documents found in a village in a raid and just put on a plane to the US.” (United Press International 1/14/2009)
Prosecutors Lacked Evidence Necessary for Prosecutions, Says Senior Official - “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision,” says Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the military commissions. “And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” Crawford has stated that another detainee was tortured while at Guantanamo (see January 14, 2009). (Weiss 1/14/2009)
Defense Department: Information There, but Scattered - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says the files are in good order: “Fundamentally, we believe that the individual files on each detainee are comprehensive and sufficiently organized,” however, “in many cases, there will be thousands of pages of documents… which makes a comprehensive assessment a time-consuming endeavor.… Not all the documents are physically located in one place,” but most are available through a database. “The main point here is that there are lots of records, and we are prepared to make them available to anybody who needs to see them as part of this review.” (DeYoung and Finn 1/25/2009)
After taking office as president (see January 20-21, 2009), Barack Obama instructs new CIA Director Leon Panetta to develop options and find new resources for pursuing Osama bin Laden. An unnamed senior official will later say that while “a lot of good” had been done during the Bush administration years, resources for the CIA’s bin Laden hunt “fluctuated over time.” As part of the effort, the CIA increases the number of drone strikes on militant leaders in Pakistan’s tribal region. (Bohan et al. 5/12/2011)
Obama: Bin Laden Must Be Killed - In the spring of 2009, Obama tells his top intelligence officials that al-Qaeda can never be truly defeated unless bin Laden is killed, and the US needs the closure his death would provide. Obama allegedly says: “We need to redouble our efforts in hunting bin Laden down.… I want us to start putting more resources, more focus, and more urgency into that mission.” (Tapper 6/9/2011)
New Attitude towards Pakistan - Part of the change is a new attitude towards the government of Pakistan. President Bush had close personal ties to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. But Musharraf resigned shortly before Obama became president (see August 18, 2008), making those ties moot. An unnamed former top Bush administration official will later say: “For a long time there was a strong inclination at the highest levels during our time to work with the Pakistanis, treat them as partners, defer to their national sensitivities.… There was some good reason for that.” But, this person says, the Obama administration “do seem more willing to push the envelope.” In 2011, former senior State Department official Vali Nasr will say: “Obama was fundamentally honest that the United States and Pakistan were on different trajectories in Afghanistan. Under Bush, there was this pretense that we were all in this war on terror together.” The Obama administration is increasingly skeptical about Pakistan’s promises to act against militants, and the US is more willing to act on its own to get militants hiding in Pakistan. (Bohan et al. 5/12/2011)
President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year’s time, and declares that prisoners at that facility will be treated within the parameters of the Geneva Conventions. Obama’s order also mandates the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons overseas. Another element of those orders bans the practice of torture on detainees (see January 22, 2009). Obama calls the order the first move by his administration to reclaim “the moral high ground” vacated by the previous administration. Americans understand that battling terrorism cannot continue with a “false choice between our safety and our ideals,” he says. (Los Angeles Times 1/23/2009; Priest 1/23/2009) “We can no longer afford drift, and we can no longer afford delay, nor can we cede ground to those who seek destruction,” he adds. (Raum and Elliott 1/22/2009) “We believe we can abide by a rule that says, we don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need.” (Shane, Mazzetti, and Cooper 1/23/2009) The Washington Post reports that the orders essentially end the “war on terror” as it has been managed by the Bush administration, and writes, “[T]he notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.” However, Obama’s order does not detail what should be done with the detainees currently housed at Guantanamo. According to a White House summary, Obama’s orders “set… up an immediate review to determine whether it is possible to transfer detainees to third countries, consistent with national security.” If a prisoner cannot be transferred, “a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum.” Obama says, “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.” The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he adds. The orders do not specifically ban the practice of “rendition,” or secretly transferring prisoners to the custody of other nations, some of which practice torture. “There are some renditions that are, in fact, justifiable, defensible,” says a senior Obama administration official. “There’s not going to be rendition to any country that engages in torture.”
Republicans, Conservatives Object - Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), a supporter of torture by the Bush administration, says Obama’s orders are imprecise and vague: “This is an executive order that places hope ahead of reality—it sets an objective without a plan to get there.” (Los Angeles Times 1/23/2009; Priest 1/23/2009) “What do we do with confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorist conspirators.” Hoekstra asks, “offer them jail cells in American communities?” (Sevastopulo 1/22/2009) Conservative news outlet Fox News tells its viewers, “The National Security Council told Fox that for now even [O]sama bin Laden or a high-ranking terrorist planner would be shielded from aggressive interrogation techniques that the CIA says produced lifesaving intelligence from… Mohammed.” (US News and World Report 1/23/2009)
'A New Era for America' - Newly installed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a different view. “I believe with all my heart that this is a new era for America,” she tells reporters as she assumes her duties at the State Department. (Collinson 1/22/2009) Former Bush official John Bellinger, the National Security Council’s top legal adviser, praises Obama’s orders, calling them “measured” and noting that they “do not take any rash actions.” Bellinger adds: “Although the Gitmo order is primarily symbolic, it is very important. It accomplishes what we could never accomplish during the Bush administration.” (Shane, Mazzetti, and Cooper 1/23/2009) Retired admiral John Hutson agrees. “It is a 180 degree turn,” says Hutson. “It restores our status in the world. It enables us to be proud of the way we are prosecuting the war.” Closing the Guantanamo prison camp and banning torture “is the right thing to do morally, diplomatically, militarily and constitutionally,” Hutson adds, “but it also makes us safer.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls the move “a great day for the rule of law.” (Sevastopulo 1/22/2009; Shane, Mazzetti, and Cooper 1/23/2009)
US defense officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, say they are not entirely supportive of President Obama’s promise to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months. Gates is the only Obama administration holdover from the former Bush administration. Instead of getting behind Obama’s 16-month withdrawal, which was a central promise of Obama’s campaign, defense officials say they intend to present Obama with a “full range of options.” Asked about Obama’s meeting with him and senior US military commanders to discuss withdrawal, Gates says the 16-month timetable is just “the beginning of a process of evaluating various options.” The White House has said that the plans to withdraw American forces from Iraq in 16 months are firm. “Let me just say, I think our obligation is to give the president a range of options and the risks associated with each of those options,” Gates notes. “And he will make the decision.” Iraq is still a nation in transition, says Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and this year’s series of elections in Iraq provides reason for both hope and apprehension. “There’s growing confidence, but it’s not in leaps and bounds,” Mullen says. General Ray Odierno, the senior US commander in Iraq, says, “How the provincial elections play out will, I think, be a big indicator for 2009, which is a big year.” Mullen is in favor of a “responsible drawdown,” but is not sure exactly how it should progress. Outgoing US ambassador Ryan Crocker joins Gates, Mullen, and Odierno in warning of what he calls a “precipitous” withdrawal (see January 22, 2009). “Al-Qaeda is incredibly tenacious,” Crocker says. “As long as they hang on they are looking for the opportunity to regenerate.” Obama intends to withdraw some forces from Iraq for duty in Afghanistan, which he views as the US’s central front in battling terrorism. There are currently 143,000 US troops in Iraq, and only 34,000 in Afghanistan. The US commander in Afghanistan wants another 30,000 troops; the Pentagon says those will be provided over the next 12 to 18 months. Gates agrees with Obama’s intention to refocus US military efforts on Afghanistan: “The president has been quite clear that the mission is to responsibly draw down and end our active combat role, the role that we have been playing over the last number of years. He wants to put more emphasis on Afghanistan and deal with the problems in Afghanistan there and the challenges that we face in Afghanistan.” (Agence France-Presse 1/22/2009)
Federal judge John Bates gives the Obama administration until February to tell him whether it wants to change the legal definition of the term “enemy combatant.” Several detainees held at US detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan are challenging their classfication as “enemy combatant,” which the Bush administration defined as having virtually no legal rights in the US judicial system. The Obama administration has until February 9 to make a decision on behalf of the Guantanamo lawsuits, and until February 20 for the Bagram lawsuits. “The new presidential administration may wish to review the government’s current position regarding the appropriate definition of ‘enemy combatant’ to be used in these and other habeas cases,” Bates says. Bates adds that Obama’s orders to close Guantanamo Bay (see January 22, 2009) and to outlaw torture (see January 22, 2009) indicate “significant changes to the government’s approach to the detention, and review of detention, of individuals currently held at Guantanamo Bay.” He notes, “A different approach could impact the court’s analysis of certain issues central to the resolutions of [Bagram] cases as well.” (Associated Press 1/23/2009)
The Supreme Court grants the Obama administration a month’s delay in the case of alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali al-Marri (see December 12, 2001). Al-Marri is the only known person being held as an “enemy combatant” in the United States (see June 23, 2003 and January 22, 2009). Obama has directed the Justice Department to review al-Marri’s case. (Associated Press 1/23/2009)
An array of Afghan and Pakistani human rights representatives and former Guantanamo inmates say that President Obama’s plans to close the detention camp (see January 22, 2009) do not go far enough. Other US detention centers should also be shut down and former inmates should be compensated, they say. Obama “is closing it in order to put an end to the criticism from human rights groups and also to get rid of the bad image it created for the Americans,” says Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan who spent more than three years imprisoned at Guantanamo. “But he needs to restore justice for prisoners who were persecuted there during investigations. There were innocent people imprisoned there. He needs to put on trial those who were involved in the persecution of inmates.” Lal Gul Lal, the head of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organization, calls the Guantanamo prison “a flagrant violation of international and American laws.” He continues: “If Obama’s administration wants to get rid of the criticism and wants to implement justice then it should hand over to their respective countries all the prisoners it has in various prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. If that does not happen the closure of Guantanamo will have no meaning.” Some 250 prisoners are still being held in Guantanamo, around 600 prisoners still remain in custody at the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and more are being held in camps at Kandahar and Khost. Many of the detainees have never been charged with a crime. Amina Masood Janjua, a Pakistani campaigner for the release of detainees, says while the closing of Guantanamo will be a positive development, “those governments which are running illegal torture cells and safe houses set up by intelligence agencies and militaries should be forced to close them too.” Khalid, a former Pakistani security agent who now heads the Defense of Human Rights organization, calls the closure “nothing… a media stunt.” He adds: “After brutally and inhumanely treating inmates, now they’re pretending that they believe in justice and human rights. What about the human rights crimes committed there? What about those who have seen the worst time of their lives there? Is it that easy to ignore or forgive?” (Salahuddin 1/22/2009)
The Obama administration names Gary Samore, a former National Security Council non-proliferation expert in the Clinton administration, as its coordinator for the prevention of WMD proliferation and terrorism, or its “nonproliferation czar.” Samore’s is a new position, recommended by Congressional legislation passed in 2007 but never created or filled under former President George W. Bush. The post does not require Senate confirmation. (Rozen 1/23/2009)
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) claims, falsely, that the Obama stimulus package would spend four times as much money on “lawn grass” as it allocates for small businesses. Cantor is referring to the plan’s $200 million allocation for renovating Washington’s National Mall, which fellow Republicans characterize as “earmarks” or “pork.” According to MSNBC and Fox News, Cantor claims: “When you’re seeing four times as much money spent on grass in Washington—that is actually lawn grass in Washington—than you do to help small businesses, that has your priorities backwards.… If you look at the bill that passed the ways and means committee yesterday, for every dollar spent to help small businesses, four dollars is being spent to help upkeep the grass on the lawns of Washington. Again, what does that have to do with a stimulus bill?” The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank, accuses Cantor of “completely invent[ing] the truth.” The draft version of the House stimulus plan allocates over four times as much money for “creating small business opportunity”—$880 million—than for renovating the National Mall. The figures also do not include the stimulus plan’s more than $20 billion in business tax cuts. CAP notes that spending money on infrastructure, such as the Mall renovations, is considered one of the most effective ways to stimulate the economy, creating “twice as many jobs as tax cuts.” The tax cuts that Cantor champions—mostly for large businesses and wealthy Americans—are, CAP says, among the least efficient ways to grow the economy. Cantor is also wrong in characterizing the Mall spending as money for “lawn grass.” The money will be allocated for, among other projects, repairing the Tidal Basin’s seawall, adding restrooms to the Mall, and renovating buildings and monuments in Washington’s Capitol district. CAP notes that “all of [this] will require new workers and create jobs.” (Think Progress 1/23/2009)
White House counsel Greg Craig says that the executive orders given by President Obama in his first days in office, particularly those outlawing torture (see January 22, 2009) and closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) have been in the works for over a year. Craig also notes that Obama has not finished issuing reforms, and has deliberately put off grappling with several of the most thorny legal issues. Craig says that as Obama prepared to issue the orders, he was “very clear in his own mind about what he wanted to accomplish, and what he wanted to leave open for further consultation with experts.”
Process Began before First Presidential Caucus - Craig says that the thinking and discussion behind these orders, and orders which have yet to be issued, began in Iowa in January 2008, before the first presidential caucus. Obama met with former high-ranking military officers who opposed the Bush administration’s legalization of harsh interrogation tactics, including retired four-star generals Dave Maddox and Joseph Hoar. They were sickened at the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib prison, and, as reporter Jane Mayer writes, “disheartened by what they regarded as the illegal and dangerous degradation of military standards.” They had formed what Mayer calls “an unlikely alliance with the legal advocacy group Human Rights First, and had begun lobbying the candidates of both parties to close the loopholes that Bush had opened for torture.” The retired flag officers lectured Obama on the responsibilities of being commander in chief, and warned the candidate that everything he said would be taken as an order by military personnel. As Mayer writes, “Any wiggle room for abusive interrogations, they emphasized, would be construed as permission.” Craig describes the meeting as the beginning of “an education process.”
'Joy' that US is 'Getting Back on Track' - In December 2008, after Obama’s election, the same group of retired flag officers met with Craig and Attorney General-designate Eric Holder. Both Craig and Holder were impressed with arguments made by retired Marine general and conservative Republican Charles Krulak, who argued that ending the Bush administration’s coercive interrogation and detention regime was “right for America and right for the world.” Krulak promised that if the Obama administration would do what he calls “the right thing,” which he acknowledged will not be politically easy, that he would personally “fly cover” for it. Sixteen of those flag officers joined Obama for the signing of the executive order banning torture. After the signing, Obama met with the officers and several administration officials. “It was hugely important to the president to have the input from these military people,” Craig says, “not only because of their proven concern for protecting the American people—they’d dedicated their lives to it—but also because some had their own experience they could speak from.” During that meeting, retired Major General Paul Eaton called torture “the tool of the lazy, the stupid, and the pseudo-tough. It’s also perhaps the greatest recruiting tool that the terrorists have.” Retired Admiral John Hutson said after the meeting that the feeling in the room “was joy, perhaps, that the country was getting back on track.”
Uncertainty at CIA - Some CIA officials are less enthusiastic about Obama’s changes. They insist that their so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” have provided critical intelligence, and, as Craig says, “They disagree in some respect” with Obama’s position. Many CIA officials wonder if they will be forced to follow the same interrogation rules as the military. Obama has indeed stopped torture, Craig says, but the president “is somewhat sympathetic to the spies’ argument that their mission and circumstances are different.” Craig says that during the campaign, Obama’s legal, intelligence, and national security advisers visited CIA headquarters in Langley for two intensive briefings with current and former intelligence officials. The issue of “enhanced interrogation tactics” was discussed, and the advisers asked the intelligence veterans to perform a cost-benefit analysis of such tactics. Craig says, “There was unanimity among Obama’s expert advisers that to change the practices would not in any material way affect the collection of intelligence.” (Meyer 1/25/2009)
The newly named US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, says that the Obama administration will reverse years of Bush administration policies and engage in “direct diplomacy” with Iran. Such direct diplomatic efforts have not been tried with Iran since before the 1979 Iranian revolution (see February-November 4, 1979), when Iranian radicals captured 52 Americans and held them hostage for well over a year (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). (Associated Press 1/26/2009) Israel’s Arutz Shiva calls the announcement a “not-unexpected bombshell.” (Ratzlav-Katz 1/26/2009)
Iran Open to Engagement - Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says Iran is “ready for new approaches by the United States.” Mottaki adds that Iran would consider the idea of allowing the US to open a diplomatic office in Tehran. The last US diplomatic office was closed in 1979.
US Still 'Deeply Concerned' about Iran's Nuclear Program - Rice says that Iran must meet UN Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment before the US will be willing to discuss its nuclear program. “The dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council,” Rice says. “And its continuing refusal to do so will only cause pressure to increase.” Rice says the US remains “deeply concerned about the threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses to the region, indeed to the United States and the entire international community.” She adds, “We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran, as well as continued collaboration and partnership” with the other four permanent members of the Security Council—Britain, China, France and Russia—as well as Germany.
NATO: Iran Must Be Included in Decisions Regarding Afghanistan - NATO Secretary General Japp de Hoop Scheffer says that Iran must be part of the engagement process of escalating the war in Afghanistan. “We need a discussion that brings in all the relevant players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia—and yes, Iran,” he says. “We need a pragmatic approach to solve this very real challenge.” Bush officials have long sought to isolate Iran from having any influence over the events in Afghanistan, even though its ruling Shi’ite theocracy has long opposed Afghanistan’s Taliban. (Associated Press 1/26/2009; Ratzlav-Katz 1/26/2009)
Clinton: 'New, Perhaps Different Approach' - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says: “Obviously, the incoming administration views with great concern the role that Iran is playing in the world, its sponsorship of terrorism, its continuing interference with the functioning of other governments, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. There is an ongoing policy review that the Obama administration has undertaken, but… our goal will be to do everything we can, pursue through diplomacy, through the use of sanctions, through creating better coalitions with countries that we believe also have a big stake in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power, to try to prevent this from occurring. We are not taking any option off the table, at all. But we will pursue a new, perhaps different approach that will become a cornerstone of what the Obama administration believes is an attitude towards engagement that might bear fruit.” She says that the US continues to view an Iranian nuclear program as “unacceptable.” (Ratzlav-Katz 1/26/2009)
Former US President Jimmy Carter says that any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must include Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement that controls the Gaza Strip. “Hamas has got to be involved before peace can be concluded,” Carter says. Israel, which like the US and many Western nations considers Hamas a terrorist organization, is in the midst of a military operation against Hamas. Carter says that previous presidents have been either unable or unwilling to oppose Israel’s supporters in the US, but he has high hopes for George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s new envoy to the Middle East (see January 22, 2009). “The fact is that very few of the presidents have been willing to confront Israel’s forces in the United States, politically speaking,” Carter says. “If you look at US Middle East envoys in the past, almost all of them have been closely associated with Israel, sometimes even working professionally for Israel. George Mitchell is a balanced and honest broker compared to the others.” He continues by noting that any possible reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the organization led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, has been “objected to and obstructed by the US and Israel.” He hopes the Obama administration will work to bring Hamas and Fatah together. Abbas and Fatah control the West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. President Obama has indicated he intends to institute new peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, but has reiterated previous international demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel, renounce violence, and recognize previous peace agreements before they can join in any future negotiations. (Al Jazeera 1/29/2009; Khan 1/29/2009)
John Yoo, the former Bush administration legal adviser who authored numerous opinions on the legality of torture, detentions without legal representation, and warrantless wiretapping (see November 6-10, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and August 1, 2002, among others), writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal opposing the Obama administration’s intent to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see January 20, 2009 and January 22, 2009)) and restrict the CIA’s ability to torture detainees (see January 22, 2009). Yoo, now a law professor and a member of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, writes that while President Obama’s decision “will please his base” and ease the objections to the Bush “imperial presidency,” it will “also seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.” Yoo writes that the Obama decisions mark a return “to the failed law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism that prevailed before Sept. 11, 2001.” Yoo recommends that Obama stay with what he calls “the Bush system” of handling terror suspects. Yoo fails to note that the US law enforcement system prevented, among others, the “millennium bombing” plot (see December 14, 1999), the plot to bomb New York City’s Lincoln and Holland Tunnels (see June 24, 1993), and Operation Bojinka (see January 6, 1995).
Obama Needs to be Able to Torture Prisoners Just as Bush Did, Yoo Declares - And by eschewing torture, Obama is giving up any chance on forcing information from “the most valuable sources of intelligence on al-Qaeda” currently in American custody. The Bush administration policies prevented subsequent terrorist attacks on the US, Yoo contends, and Obama will need the same widespread latitude to interrogate and torture prisoners that Bush employed: “What is needed are the tools to gain vital intelligence, which is why, under President George W. Bush, the CIA could hold and interrogate high-value al-Qaeda leaders. On the advice of his intelligence advisers, the president could have authorized coercive interrogation methods like those used by Israel and Great Britain in their antiterrorism campaigns. (He could even authorize waterboarding, which he did three times in the years after 9/11.)” It is noteworthy that Yoo refused to confirm that Bush ordered waterboarding of suspects during his previous Congressional hearings (see June 26, 2008).
Interrogations Must be 'Polite' - According to Yoo, in forcing the CIA and other US interrogators to follow the procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual, they can no longer use “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines used in police stations throughout America.… His new order amounts to requiring—on penalty of prosecution—that CIA interrogators be polite. Coercive measures are unwisely banned with no exceptions, regardless of the danger confronting the country.” (Yoo 1/29/2009) Yoo is incorrect in this assertion. The Army Field Manual explicitly countenances many of the “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines” Yoo says it bans. Further, the Field Manual says nothing about requiring interrogators to be “polite.” (Army 9/2006) And actual field interrogators such as the Army’s Matthew Alexander have repeatedly said that torturing prisoners is ineffective and counterproductive, while building relationships and treating prisoners with dignity during interrogations produces usable, reliable intelligence (see November 30, 2008).
Shutting Down Military Commissions - Obama’s order to stay all military commission trials and to review the case of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) is also mistaken, Yoo writes. Yoo fears that Obama will shut down the military commissions in their entirety and instead transfer detainees charged with terrorist acts into the US civilian court system. He also objects to Obama’s apparent intent to declare terrorists to be prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, instead of following the Bush precedent of classifying terrorists “like pirates, illegal combatants who do not fight on behalf of a nation and refuse to obey the laws of war.” To allow terror suspects to have rights under Geneva and the US legal system, Yoo asserts, will stop any possibility of obtaining information from those suspects. Instead, those suspects will begin using the legal system to their own advantage—refusing to talk, insisting on legal representation and speedy trials instead of cooperating with their interrogators. “Our soldiers and agents in the field will have to run more risks as they must secure physical evidence at the point of capture and maintain a chain of custody that will stand up to the standards of a civilian court,” Yoo writes. (Yoo 1/29/2009) In reality, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), as well as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) and the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), all mandate that detainees must be handled according to the Geneva Conventions.
Risk to Americans - Another effect of transferring detainees into the civilian justice system, Yoo claims, is to allow “our enemies to obtain intelligence on us.” Defense lawyers will insist on revealing US intelligence—information and methods—in open court, and will no doubt force prosecutors to accept plea bargains “rather than risk disclosure of intelligence secrets.”
Obama 'Open[ed] the Door to Further Terrorist Acts on US Soil' - Obama said in his inaugural speech that the US must “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Yoo calls that statement “naive,” and writes, “That high-flying rhetoric means that we must give al-Qaeda—a hardened enemy committed to our destruction—the same rights as garden-variety criminals at the cost of losing critical intelligence about real, future threats.” By making his choices, Yoo writes, “Mr. Obama may have opened the door to further terrorist acts on US soil by shattering some of the nation’s most critical defenses.” (Yoo 1/29/2009)
Military judge Colonel James Pohl denies the Obama administration’s request to suspend legal proceedings at Guantanamo Bay (see January 20, 2009) in the case of a detainee accused of planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Because of Pohl’s order, the Pentagon may be forced to temporarily withdraw charges against accused Cole plotter Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and perhaps 20 other detainees facing military trials, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see January 5-8, 2000 and November-December 2000).
White House Response - Obama officials are startled by Pohl’s order, as five other military judges have agreed to the government’s request. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says, “We just learned of the ruling here… and we are consulting with the Pentagon and the Department of Justice to explore our options in that case.” Asked if the decision will hamper the administration’s ability to evaluate detainees’ cases, Gibbs replies, “Not at all.”
Judge: Government Arguments 'Unpersuasive' - Pohl says he finds the government’s arguments in favor of suspension “unpersuasive” and that the case will go forward because “the public interest in a speedy trial will be harmed by the delay in the arraignment.” The White House wants the delay in order to review the cases of the approximately 245 detainees at Guantanamo and decide the disposition of each case. Pohl says he is bound by the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), “which remains in effect.”
Reactions Mixed - Navy Commander Kirk Lippold, who commanded the Cole when it was attacked, says he is “delighted” with the ruling, and adds, “It proves the military commissions work without undue command influence, and this decision puts us back on track to see an accounting for al-Nashiri’s terrorist acts.” Human rights activists disagree, with many arguing that the charges against al-Nashiri and perhaps other detainees should be withdrawn in order to allow the option of preserving or reforming military commissions at a new location. “Given that the Guantanamo order was issued on day two of the new administration, the president was clearly trying to make the immediate decisions needed while giving himself the flexibility to deal with the rest down the road,” says Human Rights Watch official Jennifer Daskal. “That said, the only sure way to ensure that the commissions process is brought to a halt is to now withdraw the charges.”
Options for Proceeding - Susan Crawford, the Pentagon official who approves charges and refers cases to trial (see January 14, 2009), can withdraw charges “without prejudice,” which would allow for refiling at a later date, whether under a modified military commissions procedure or for a civilian or military court. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, “And so while that executive order is in force and effect, trust me, there will be no proceedings continuing down at Gitmo with military commissions.” Al-Nashiri’s case is complicated by the fact that he is one of at least three detainees who were waterboarded by CIA interrogators (see May 2002-2003). (Finn 1/30/2009)
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) invests $90 billion in clean energy projects for the next 10 years via loan guarantees, tax incentives, and grants. $38 billion of this is government spending and $20 billion is tax incentives. Symbolically, President Obama signs the bill into law at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where he takes a tour of the museum’s solar panel installation. He says he hopes the bill will inspire Americans to get involved in “green” energy the same way that President Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon inspired Americans in the 1960s. “I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more in science, medicine, energy and make our economy stronger, our nation more secure, and our planet safer for our children,” Obama says before signing the bill. The bill includes:
A three-year extension to the tax credit for wind, which would have expired at the end of this year, and an extension until the end of 2013 for geothermal and biomass renewable-energy projects. The credit has been increased to 30 percent of the investment.
$4.5 billion in direct spending to modernize the electricity grid with smart-grid technologies.
$6.3 billion in state energy-efficient and clean-energy grants, and $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient.
$6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy systems, biofuel projects, and electric-power transmission facilities.
$2 billion in loans to manufacture advanced batteries and components for applications such as plug-in electric cars.
$5 billion to weatherize homes of up to 1 million low-income people.
$3.4 billion appropriated to the Department of Energy for fossil energy research and development, such as storing carbon dioxide underground at coal power plants.
A tax credit of between $2,500 and $5,000 for purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, available for the first 200,000 placed into service.
Most companies in the green-tech field hail the new focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy in the bill, contrasting it with the Bush administration’s support for fossil fuel energy production and its disdain for clean energy programs. Investors and analysts say the new law is a step towards a comprehensive energy policy based on sustained commitment to renewable energy and efficiency. Michael Liebriech of New Energy Finance says: “For years, US policymakers’ support for clean energy has been uneven. No longer… the US will have a great chance to be the growth engine for our industry over the next several years.” The spending should have an almost-immediate impact, especially in areas such as smart grid technology and energy efficiency, says venture capitalist Dennis Costello. However, even this influx of government funding does not solve all the financial problems facing energy technology firms. The recession continues to grip the economy, he notes, damping demand and making financing of new projects difficult. “It’s kind of refreshing to see at least beginnings of a real energy policy, some sort of unified approach to our energy problems,” he says. “But it isn’t going to solve our energy problems. There are a lot of countervailing factors to give pause to being over-exuberant on the future of energy sector and clean tech.” (LaMonica 2/17/2009; Adam Johnston 7/2013)
FedUpUSA, a group of investors in Troy, Michigan, issues a call for people to send tea bags to Congress as a sign of their disapproval of Democratic economic policies. The group calls the event a “Commemorative Tea Party.” This will become one of the earliest events in the history of the “tea party” movement. (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010) Nineteen days later, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli will launch what he calls an unplanned, “impromptu” rant against the Obama administration’s economic policies, in which he will call for a “tea party” protest (see February 19, 2009).
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that because of the Obama administration’s new policies, there is what he calls a “high probability” that terrorists will attempt a catastrophic nuclear or biological attack in coming years. “If it hadn’t been for what we did—with respect to the terrorist surveillance program (see After September 11, 2001 and December 15, 2005), or enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees (see September 16, 2001 and November 14, 2001, among others), the Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), and so forth—then we would have been attacked again,” says Cheney. “Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the US.” The situation has changed, he says. “When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an al-Qaeda terrorist (see January 22, 2009) than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry,” he says. Protecting the country’s security is “a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business,” he continues. “These are evil people. And we’re not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.” He calls the Guantanamo detention camp, which President Obama has ordered shut down (see January 22, 2009), a “first-class program” and a “necessary facility” that is operated legally and provides inmates better living conditions than they would get in jails in their home countries. But the Obama administration is worried more about its “campaign rhetoric” than it is protecting the nation: “The United States needs to be not so much loved as it needs to be respected. Sometimes, that requires us to take actions that generate controversy. I’m not at all sure that that’s what the Obama administration believes.” Cheney says “the ultimate threat to the country” is “a 9/11-type event where the terrorists are armed with something much more dangerous than an airline ticket and a box cutter—a nuclear weapon or a biological agent of some kind” that is deployed in the middle of an American city. “That’s the one that would involve the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, and the one you have to spend a hell of a lot of time guarding against. I think there’s a high probability of such an attempt. Whether or not they can pull it off depends whether or not we keep in place policies that have allowed us to defeat all further attempts, since 9/11, to launch mass-casualty attacks against the United States.” (Harris, Allen, and Vanderhei 2/4/2009) Cheney has warned of similarly dire consequences to potential Democratic political victories before, before the 2004 presidential elections (see September 7, 2004) and again before the 2006 midterm elections (see October 31, 2006).
Two British High Court judges rule against releasing documents describing the torture and abuse of Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001). The judges cite threats from the US government as shaping their decision, saying that the US had threatened to withhold intelligence cooperation from Britain if the information on Mohamed’s treatment were made public.
Confession through Torture, Detainee Alleges - Mohamed is a British resident who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 (see September 2001 - April 9, 2002). He was initially charged with planning a “dirty bomb” attack in the US (see November 4, 2005); those charges were later dropped (see October-December 2008), but he has allegedly confessed to being an al-Qaeda operative and remains in detention without charges. Mohamed says that the confession was tortured out of him during his detention in secret prisons in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002 and May 17 - July 21, 2002), Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004), and Afghanistan (see January-September 2004), and later in Guantanamo. During his incarcerations at these various prisons, he says he was beaten, deprived of sleep, and had his genitals cut with a scalpel. Mohamed’s attorneys argue that he has committed no crime and is a victim of torture and rendition by US officials, with British cooperation (see February 24, 2009). (Jordan 2/5/2009; Chu 2/5/2009)
Judges, Lawmakers 'Dismayed' at US Threats - In their decision, Judges John Thomas and David Lloyd Jones write, “We did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence… relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be.” (Jordan 2/5/2009) They are dismayed that “there would be made a threat of the gravity of the kind made by the United States government, that it would reconsider its intelligence-sharing relationship” with Britain, one of its closest allies, if the British government made the summary public. (Chu 2/5/2009) They warn that a US withdrawal from intelligence-sharing could “inflict on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat” remains. Conservative member of parliament David Davis tells the House of Commons, “The government is going to have to do some pretty careful explaining about what’s going on.” It is absolutely inappropriate for the US to have “threatened” the British government, Davis says: “The ruling implies that torture has taken place in the Mohamed case, that British agencies may have been complicit, and further, that the United States government has threatened our High Court that if it releases this information the US government will withdraw its intelligence cooperation with the United Kingdom.… Frankly, it is none of their business what our courts do.”
Lawyer Objects - Clive Stafford Smith, Mohamed’s attorney, says that by not disclosing the evidence, Britain is guilty of “capitulation to blackmail.… The judges used the word ‘threat’ eight times. That’s a criminal offense right there. That’s called blackmail. Only the Mafia have done that sort of stuff.” Smith continues: “It is hardly Britain’s finest hour. As the judges say, it is up to President Obama to put his money where his mouth is. He must repudiate his predecessor’s reprehensible policy.”
Prime Minister Knows Nothing of Threats - Officials in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s office say they know nothing of any threats from Obama officials. “We have not engaged with the new administration on the detail of this case,” says a Brown spokesman. But British Foreign Secretary David Miliband notes: “Matters regarded as secret by one government should be treated as secret by others. For it to be called into question would pose a serious and real risk to continuing close intelligence-sharing with any government.” Miliband notes that the British government has made “strenuous efforts” to have Mohamed released (see August 2007). (Bonner 2/4/2009; Jordan 2/5/2009)
ACLU Asks for Clarification - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking that she clarify the Obama administration’s position on the Mohamed case and to reject what it described as the Bush administration’s policy of using false claims of national security to avoid judicial review of controversial programs. According to ACLU head Anthony Romero, “The latest revelation is completely at odds with President Obama’s executive orders that ban torture and end rendition, as well as his promise to restore the rule of law.” State Department spokesman Robert Wood refuses to comment on the judges’ statement, saying, “It’s the first I’ve heard of it.” (Jordan 2/5/2009; Chu 2/5/2009)
President Obama’s pick to head the CIA, former Clinton administration chief of staff Leon Panetta, says that the CIA will not carry out “extraordinary renditions” under his tenure. Sparked by recent claims that the Obama administration intends to continue such extraordinary renditions, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asks Panetta during his Senate confirmation hearings, “Will the CIA continue the practice of extraordinary rendition by which the government will transfer a detainee to either a foreign government or a black site for the purpose of long-term detention and interrogation, as opposed to for law enforcement purposes?” Panetta says, “No we will not.” He adds, “[B]ecause under the executive order signed by the president (see January 22, 2009), that kind of extraordinary rendition, where we send someone for the purposes of torture or for actions by another country that violate our human values—that has been forbidden by the executive order.” Panetta goes on to note the difference between “extraordinary rendition” and law enforcement rendition. (Frick 2/5/2009)
Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, says that House Republicans should become political “insurgents” to oppose and undermine the Obama administration, specifically its economic proposals, and says the GOP can learn from the example of the Taliban. “Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban,” he tells editors of the conservative National Journal. “And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person’s entire processes. And these Taliban—I’m not trying to say the Republican Party is the Taliban. No, that’s not what we’re saying. I’m saying an example of how you go about [sic] is to change a person from their messaging to their operations to their frontline message. And we need to understand that insurgency may be required when the other side, the House leadership, does not follow the same commands, which we entered the game with.” Sessions complains that neither President Obama nor House Democrats have attempted to work with Republicans in a truly bipartisan fashion. “If they do not give us those options or opportunities then we will then become insurgency of a nature to where we do those things that are necessary to making sure the American public knows what we think the correct answer is. So we either work together, or we’re going to find a way to get our message out.” Sessions says he is not comparing House Republicans to the Taliban: “I simply said one can see that there’s a model out there for insurgency.” Sessions is interrupted by an aide, who explains that Sessions is merely trying to express the need for Republicans to start thinking about how to act strategically as the minority party. Sessions blames House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for the Republicans’ new approach: “I think insurgency is a mindset and an attitude that we’re going to have to search for and find ways to get our message out and to be prepared to see things for what they are, rather than trying to do something about them. I think what’s happened is that the line was drawn in the sand” by Pelosi. (Skalka 2/5/2009) At a House Republicans’ retreat the week before, Sessions told fellow Republicans that they “need to get over the idea that they’re participating in legislation and ought to start thinking of themselves as ‘an insurgency’ instead.” (Frick 2/5/2009)
A lawyer for a Guantanamo detainee demands the release of her client because he is near death. Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley is in London to ask that her client, British resident Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), who is still in Guantanamo even though all charges against him have been dropped (see October-December 2008), be released. Through Bradley, Mohamed claims that he has been repeatedly tortured at the behest of US intelligence officials (see April 10-May, 2002, May 17 - July 21, 2002, July 21, 2002 -- January 2004, and January-September 2004). Bradley says that Mohamed is dying in his cell. Mohamed and some twenty other detainees are so unhealthy that they are on what Bradley calls a “critical list.”
Hunger Strike, Beatings - Fifty Guantanamo detainees, including Mohamed, are on a hunger strike, and are being strapped to chairs and force-fed; those who resist, witnesses say, are beaten. Mohamed has suffered drastic weight loss, and has told his lawyer that he is “very scared” of being attacked by guards after witnessing what The Guardian describes as “a savage beating for a detainee who refused to be strapped down and have a feeding tube forced into his mouth.” Bradley is horrified at Mohamed’s description of the state of affairs in the prison. She says: “At least 50 people are on hunger strike, with 20 on the critical list, according to Binyam. The JTF [the Joint Task Force running Guantanamo] are not commenting because they do not want the public to know what is going on. Binyam has witnessed people being forcibly extracted from their cell. SWAT teams in police gear come in and take the person out; if they resist, they are force-fed and then beaten. Binyam has seen this and has not witnessed this before. Guantanamo Bay is in the grip of a mass hunger strike and the numbers are growing; things are worsening. It is so bad that there are not enough chairs to strap them down and force-feed them for a two- or three-hour period to digest food through a feeding tube. Because there are not enough chairs the guards are having to force-feed them in shifts. After Binyam saw a nearby inmate being beaten it scared him and he decided he was not going to resist. He thought, ‘I don’t want to be beat, injured or killed.’ Given his health situation, one good blow could be fatal.… Binyam is continuing to lose weight and he is going to get worse. He has been told he is about to be released, but psychologically and physically he is declining.”
Demanding Documents to Prove Torture, Rendition - Bradley is also demanding documents that she says will prove her client was tortured, and may also prove British complicity in Mohamed’s treatment (see February 24, 2009). An American court in San Francisco is also slated to hear evidence that Mohamed was subjected to “extraordinary rendition” by the CIA, where Mohamed and other prisoners were sent to other countries that tortured them. That lawsuit was originally dismissed when the Bush administration asserted “state secrets privilege” (see March 9, 1953), but lawyers for Mohamed refiled the case hoping that the Obama administration would be less secretive.
US Intelligence Wants Mohamed Dead? - The Guardian also notes that “some sections of the US intelligence community would prefer Binyam did die inside Guantanamo.” The reason? “Silenced forever, only the sparse language of his diary would be left to recount his torture claims and interviewees with an MI5 officer, known only as Witness B. Such a scenario would also deny Mohamed the chance to personally sue the US, and possibly British authorities, over his treatment.” (Townsend and Harris 2/8/2009)
A Justice Department official says that the Obama administration will continue to assert the so-called “state secrets privilege” (see March 9, 1953) in a lawsuit filed by Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see February 8, 2009). In the case Mohamed et al v Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc, Mohamed and four former detainees are suing a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, for cooperating with the CIA in subjecting them to “extraordinary rendition,” flying them to foreign countries and secret overseas CIA prisons where, they say, they were tortured. The case was thrown out a year ago, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has appealed it. According to a source inside the Ninth US District Court, a Justice Department lawyer tells the presiding judge that its position has not changed, that the new administration stands behind arguments that the previous administration made, with no ambiguity at all. The lawyer says the entire subject matter remains a state secret. According to Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller, “It is the policy of this administration to invoke the state secrets privilege only when necessary and in the most appropriate cases, consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Reynolds that the privilege not ‘be lightly invoked.’” Miller adds that Attorney General Eric Holder is conducting a review of all state secret privilege matters. “The Attorney General has directed that senior Justice Department officials review all assertions of the State Secrets privilege to ensure that the privilege is being invoked only in legally appropriate situations,” Miller says. “It is vital that we protect information that, if released, could jeopardize national security. The Justice Department will ensure the privilege is not invoked to hide from the American people information about their government’s actions that they have a right to know. This administration will be transparent and open, consistent with our national security obligations.” The ACLU’s Anthony Romero says that the Obama administration is doing little besides offering “more of the same.” He continues: “Eric Holder’s Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition, and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama’s Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue. If this is a harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again.” ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, who argued the case for Mohamed and the other plaintiffs, adds: “We are shocked and deeply disappointed that the Justice Department has chosen to continue the Bush administration’s practice of dodging judicial scrutiny of extraordinary rendition and torture. This was an opportunity for the new administration to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition, but instead it has chosen to stay the course. Now we must hope that the court will assert its independence by rejecting the government’s false claims of state secrets and allowing the victims of torture and rendition their day in court.” (Tapper and de Vogue 2/9/2009)
Betsy McCaughey (R-NY), the former lieutenant governor of New York and a fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, writes that health care provisions in the Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan will affect “every individual in the United States.” McCaughey writes: “Your medical treatments will be tracked electronically by a federal system. Having electronic medical records at your fingertips, easily transferred to a hospital, is beneficial. It will help avoid duplicate tests and errors. But the bill goes further. One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and ‘guide’ your doctor’s decisions.” McCaughey says the provisions are similar to suggestions in the book Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis, by former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), until recently Obama’s pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services. McCaughey writes that hospitals and doctors who do not use the system will be punished, by a federal oversight board to be called the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research. Perhaps most worrisome is McCaughey’s claim that elderly Americans will be given reduced health care based on their age and expected productivity. “Medicare now pays for treatments deemed safe and effective. The stimulus bill would change that and apply a cost-effectiveness standard set by the Federal Council,” she writes. “The Federal Council is modeled after a UK board discussed in Daschle’s book. This board approves or rejects treatments using a formula that divides the cost of the treatment by the number of years the patient is likely to benefit. Treatments for younger patients are more often approved than treatments for diseases that affect the elderly, such as osteoporosis. In 2006, a UK health board decreed that elderly patients with macular degeneration had to wait until they went blind in one eye before they could get a costly new drug to save the other eye. It took almost three years of public protests before the board reversed its decision.… If the Obama administration’s economic stimulus bill passes the Senate in its current form, seniors in the US will face similar rationing. Defenders of the system say that individuals benefit in younger years and sacrifice later. The stimulus bill will affect every part of health care, from medical and nursing education, to how patients are treated and how much hospitals get paid. The bill allocates more funding for this bureaucracy than for the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force combined.” (McCaughey 2/9/2009) McCaughey’s claims are very similar to the ones she made against the Clinton administration’s attempt to reform health care in 1994 (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994). They will be proven false (see July 23, 2009).
Ben Wizner, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) representing five plaintiffs suing a Boeing subsidiary for participating in their extraordinary rendition and torture (see February 9, 2009, says it is remarkable that the Obama administration is opposing the lawsuit. Wizner notes that the entire claim of “state secrets” advocated by the Justice Deparment in its quest to have the lawsuit thrown out is based on two sworn declarations from former CIA Director Michael Hayden. One was made public and one was filed secretly with the court. In those declarations, Hayden argued that courts cannot become involved in the case because to do so would be to disclose and thus degrade secret CIA programs of rendition and “harsh interrogation.” Wizner notes that President Obama ordered those programs shut down (see January 22, 2009). He says it is difficult to see how the continuation of the lawsuit could jeopardize national security when the government claims to have terminated the programs that are being protected. Salon pundit Glenn Greenwald writes: “What this is clearly about is shielding the US government and Bush officials from any accountability. Worse, by keeping Bush’s secrecy architecture in place, it ensures that any future president—Obama or any other—can continue to operate behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy, with no transparency or accountability even for blatantly criminal acts.” (Greenwald 2/9/2009)
US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announces a much bigger plan to rescue the US financial system than previously predicted or envisioned, including a much greater government role in markets and banks since the 1930s (see March 15, 2008). Although the administration provides few details, one central portion of the plan that investors most desired to learn about creates bad banks that rely on taxpayer and private investor funds to purchase and hold bad assets racked up by the banks from subprime mortgages, derivatives, and credit defaults. An additional focal point of the plan stretches the final $350 billion that the Treasury may use for the bailout, relying on the Fed’s capability to create money. This last tranche of funding allows the government to be involved in the management of markets and banks. For example, with the credit markets, the administration and the Fed propose to expand a lending program that spends as much as $1 trillion as a replacement for the $1.2 trillion decline between 2006 and 2008 for the issuance of securities backed primarily by consumer loans. The third component of the plan gives banks new capital to lend, but banks that receive new government assistance will have to cut the salaries and perks of their executives and limit dividends and corporate acquisitions. Banks must also publicly declare more information about their lending practices. With the newly proposed Treasury requirements, banks will have to give monthly statements on how many new loans they make, yet the plan stops short of ordering banks to issue new loans or requiring them to account in detail for the federal money. The Obama administration’s commitment to flood the banking system with funds will combine the $350 billion left in the bailout fund; the rest of the money will be from private investors and the Federal Reserve. Some market observers, along with some federal legislators and economists, criticize the plan for its lack of details. (Andrews and Labaton 2/10/2009)
Conservative columnist Thomas P. Kilgannon, the president of Freedom Alliance, writes in a piece for the online news magazine Human Events: “Globalists were dismayed because [President] Bush’s rejection of the ICC [International Criminal Court] was a vote for American sovereignty—a refusal to cede authority to international government and a court that is not bound to the principles of the US Constitution, far less our laws. That could change under the Obama administration. Two weeks ago, hope returned to the House of Hammarskjold [referring to the United Nations] when US Ambassador Susan Rice, in a closed [UN] Security Council meeting, voiced support for the ICC.” (Kilgannon 2/10/2009; Media Matters 4/10/2009)
The Washington Times spins off a recent op-ed by health industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey (see February 9, 2009) to claim that the Obama administration will attempt to save money by euthanizing old people, disabled people, and sickly infants. The editorial begins with the “chilling” idea of a national medical information database that will allow the government to “track… your every visit to a health care provider—where you went, who you saw, what was diagnosed, and what care was provided.” The Obama administration, the Times claims, will use that information to decide which people deserve the more expensive lifesaving treatments and which ones must be denied in the interest of cost efficiency. “If it costs too much to treat you, and you are nearing the end of your life anyway, you may have to do with less, or with nothing,” the Times writes. “You just aren’t worth the cost.… What nondescript GS-11 will be cutting care from Aunt Sophie after her sudden relapse before he or she heads to the food court for some stir fry?” The elderly, the physically and mentally disabled, all “whose health costs are great and whose ability to work productively in the future” will, the Times writes, be allowed to die or even exterminated. So will premature babies, badly wounded soldiers, and others as yet to be determined. The Times again cites Nazi Germany’s “T4 Aktion” program of forcibly euthanizing less productive citizens (see November 23, 2008) as a likely template for the Obama program. (Washington Times 2/11/2009)
Sean Hannity, a Fox News host who also hosts a daily radio show, has conservative columnist Ann Coulter as a guest on his radio show. Coulter and Hannity warn listeners that President Obama wants to “tak[e] our guns and schools and doctors.” Coulter says: “[B]y the way, the NRA [National Rifle Association] also has information on how they [the Obama administration] are going to be expanding the concept of national parks to include, you know, highways running from Rhode Island to Virginia. National parks have gun bans imposed throughout.” Of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the enormous Obama-backed economic recovery plan that includes large government-financed bailouts of several large corporations, Coulter says: “This bill is so much worse than earmarks and pork. This is a total government takeover, and Big Brother coming in and taking our guns and schools and doctors.” Hannity agrees with Coulter’s claims. (Media Matters 4/9/2009)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other human rights organizations release over a thousand pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The documents provide new details of the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners in its “global war on terror.” Among other things, the documents show a much closer collaboration between the CIA and the Defense Department than initially believed; the Defense Department was intimately involved with the CIA’s practices of indefinite “ghost” detentions and torture. The documents confirm the existence of a previously “undisclosed detention facility” at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base and details of the extensive abuse and torture of prisoners at that facility. They also show that the Defense Department worked to keep the Red Cross away from its detainees by refusing to register their capture with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for two weeks or more, “to maximize intelligence collection,” a practice the Defense Department officials acknowledged in their private communications to be illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
CIA, Defense Department in Collusion? - The Center for Constitutional Rights notes, “These policies demonstrate the ease with which the CIA could have used DOD facilities as ‘sorting facilities’ without having to worry about ICRC oversight or revelation of the ghost detainee program.” The documents also include e-mails sent to Defense Department Transportation Command officials recommending that a number of prisoners slated for release from Guantanamo be detained longer, for fear of negative press coverage (see February 17, 2006). (Segura 2/13/2009) “These newly released documents confirm our suspicion that the tentacles of the CIA’s abusive program reached across agency lines,” says Margaret Satterthwaite of New York University’s International Human Rights Clinic. “In fact, it is increasingly obvious that defense officials engaged in legal gymnastics to find ways to cooperate with the CIA’s activities. A full accounting of all agencies must now take place to ensure that future abuses don’t continue under a different guise.”
Heavy Redactions Thwart Intent of FOIA - Amnesty International’s Tom Parker notes that much of the information in the documents was blacked out before its release. “Out of thousands of pages, most of what might be of interest was redacted,” he says. “While the sheer number of pages creates the appearance of transparency, it is clear this is only the tip of the iceberg and that the government agencies have not complied with spirit of President Obama’s memo on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (see January 21, 2009). We call on Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration to put teeth into the memo and work actively to comply with FOIA requests.” (Center for Constitutional Rights 2/12/2009)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a tour of Asia, warns North Korea not to fulfill its threat to test a long-range Taepodong-2 ballistic missile. “The possible missile launch that North Korea is talking about would be very unhelpful in moving our relationship forward,” Clinton says. North Korea greets Clinton’s arrival in Japan, where she issues her warning, with an oblique statement that says in part, “One will come to know later what will be launched.” (Landler 2/16/2009; Lee 2/16/2009) During the same trip, Clinton says the US is willing to provide assistance to North Korea in return for its dismantling of its nuclear program (see February 15, 2009).
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she is not sure whether North Korea actually has a secret program to enrich uranium, as the Bush administration had long claimed. She adds that she intends to persuade Pyongyang to give up the weapons-grade plutonium it does possess. “There is a debate within the intelligence community as to exactly the extent of the highly-enriched-uranium program,” she says. “My goal is the denuclearization of North Korea,” she continues. “That means a verifiably complete accounting of whatever programs they have and the removal of the reprocessed plutonium that they were able to achieve because they were given the opportunity to do so.… When they move forward” on ending the program, “we have a great openness to working with them, [and] a willingness to help the people of North Korea.”
Broadening Focus Beyond Uranium Possession - The claim of the uranium program led to the Bush administration’s rejection of the 1994 agreement that kept the North Korean nuclear weapons program in check (see October 21, 1994), she says: “The Agreed Framework was torn up on the basis of the concerns about the highly-enriched-uranium program. There is no debate that, once the Agreed Framework was torn up, the North Koreans began to reprocess plutonium with a vengeance because all bets were off. The result is they now have nuclear weapons, which they did not have before.” When the Bush administration withdrew from the Agreed Framework (see October 20, 2002), Clinton says, North Korea restarted its plutonium-based reactor at Yongbyon and now has enough material for at least a half-dozen nuclear weapons. A 2006 nuclear test by the North Koreans prompted Bush officials to reopen negotiations and eventually craft a new agreement remarkably similar to the Agreed Framework (see February 8, 2007 and After). Most Asian nations are expected to welcome Clinton’s new position on the uranium issue, as they thought the Bush administration had put too much emphasis on North Korea’s uranium possession. (Kessler 2/15/2009) Clinton also warns North Korea not to test-fire a long-range ballistic missile (see February 15, 2009).
'Old Wine in a New Bottle' - The senior editorial writer for South Korea’s Hankyoreh newspaper, Jungsoo Jang, calls the Clinton proposal little more than “old wine in a new bottle,” writing: “Of course, the side by side denuclearization and normalization plan elucidated by Clinton clearly does represent a considerable change from the Bush administration, which focused on a schematic view of denuclearization first, normalization second. But Clinton’s solution does have limitations, in that normalization of North Korea-US relations cannot be pursued as long as prior issues such as total abolition of nuclear weapons and suspicions about enriched uranium are not neatly resolved.” Jang says that a conflict between a more conservative camp and a more progressive camp in the Obama State Department is currently being won by the conservatives, who favor an emphasis on US-Japanese relations and a more direct, confrontational approach to dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program. (Jang 2/16/2009)
Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union calls the case of alleged al-Qaeda detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) a key test of “the most far-reaching use of detention powers” ever asserted by the executive branch. Al-Marri has spent five years incarcerated in the Charleston Naval Brig without being charged with a crime. “If President Obama is serious about restoring the rule of law in America, they can’t defend what’s been done to Marri. They would be completely buying into the Bush administration’s war on terror,” he says. Hafetz, who is scheduled to represent al-Marri before the Supreme Court in April, compares the Bush administration’s decision to leave al-Marri in isolation to his client’s being stranded on a desert island. “It’s a Robinson Crusoe-like situation,” he adds. Hafetz says that among the issues to be decided is “the question of who is a soldier, and who is a civilian.” He continues: “Is the fight against terrorism war, or is it not war? How far does the battlefield extend? In the past, they treated Peoria as a battlefield. Can an American be arrested in his own home and jailed indefinitely, on the say-so of the president?” Hafetz wants the Court to declare indefinite detention by executive fiat illegal. He also hopes President Obama will withdraw al-Marri’s designation as an enemy combatant and reclassify him as a civilian; such a move would allow al-Marri to either be charged with crimes and prosecuted, or released entirely. Civil liberties and other groups on both sides of the political divide have combined to file 18 amicus briefs with the Court, all on al-Marri’s behalf. The al-Marri decision will almost certainly impact the legal principles governing the disposal of the approximately 240 detainees still being held at Guantanamo.
Opinion of Former Bush Administration Officials - Former Bush State Department counsel John Bellinger says of his counterparts in the Obama administration: “They will have to either put up or shut up. Do they maintain the Bush administration position, and keep holding [al-]Marri as an enemy combatant? They have to come up with a legal theory.” He says that Obama officials will find it more difficult to put their ideals into action: “Governing is different from campaigning,” he notes, and adds that Obama officials will soon learn that “they can’t just set the clocks back eight years, and try every terror suspect captured abroad in the federal courts.” Former Attorney General John Ashcroft calls keeping al-Marri and other “enemy combatants” locked away without charges or trials a “sound decision” to “maximize the national interest,” and says that in the end, Obama’s approach will be much like Bush’s. “How will he be different?” he asks. “The main difference is going to be that he spells his name ‘O-b-a-m-a,’ not ‘B-u-s-h.’”
Current Administration's Opinion - Obama spokesman Larry Craig sums up the issue: “One way we’ve looked at this is that we own the solution. We don’t own the problem—it was created by the previous administration. But we’ll be held accountable for how we handle this.” (Mayer 2/23/2009)
Less than one month after his inauguration, President Barack Obama signs into law a $787 billion recovery package, stating that this will “set our economy on a firmer foundation.” However, Obama reiterates during the bill’s signing ceremony at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science that he will not pretend “that today marks the end of our economic problems, nor does it constitute all of what we have to do to turn our economy around. Today marks the beginning of the end, the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the wake of layoffs.” The legislative battle on the bill ended with only three Republican votes in the Senate and none in the House. As president-elect, Obama initially expected to spend between $675 billion and $775 billion on the recovery package, and the final number is almost exactly that. However, Congress included $70 billion worth of tax cuts in the bill they approved, although more than a few economists say $70 billion in tax cuts won’t create as many new jobs as $70 billion in spending would. According to the government’s Recovery (.gov) Web site, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act:
Saves and creates more than 3.5 million jobs over the next two years;
Takes a big step toward computerizing Americans’ health records, reducing medical errors, and saving billions in health care costs;
Revives the renewable energy industry and provides the capital over the next three years to eventually double domestic renewable energy capacity;
Undertakes the largest weatherization program in history by modernizing 75 percent of federal building space and more than one million homes;
Increases college affordability for seven million students by funding the shortfall in Pell Grants, increasing the maximum award level by $500, and providing a new higher education tax cut to nearly four million students;
Enacts the largest increase in funding of the nation’s roads, bridges, and mass transit systems since the creation of the national highway system in the 1950s;
Provides an $800 “Making Work Pay” tax credit for 129 million working households, and cuts taxes for the families of millions of children through an expansion of the Child Tax Credit;
Requires unprecedented levels of transparency, oversight, and accountability.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says Obama will seek additional stimulus/recovery funding if needed. (Stolberg 2/17/2009; recovery.gov 2/17/2009)
Former 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), a former adviser to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see February 28, 2005), calls for the US to launch a military strike against North Korea in order to remove that nation’s nuclear weapons capability. Zelikow dismisses Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s reservations about North Korea’s nuclear program (see February 15, 2009) and writes, “To accept the combination of nuclear weapons and IRBMs or ICBMs in the hands of North Korea is a gamble, betting on deterrence of one of the least well understood governments on earth, in a country now undergoing high levels of internal stress.” Zelikow refers directly to the 2006 call from two former Defense Department officials, Ashton Carter and William Perry, for a military strike against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see June 22, 2006), and writes that at the time he believed the call for military action was “premature.” Now, however, “political predicate for the Carter-Perry recommendations has been well laid.” Zelikow recommends that the Obama administration issue the requisite warnings to dismantle the nuclear weapons, and if North Korea refuses to heed the warnings, the US should destroy them. (Zelikow 2/17/2009; Zenko 10/22/2010)
President Obama orders 17,000 additional US troops to be deployed in Afghanistan. He says that nation must be stabilized, and the US-led offensive there has suffered from years of neglect. The move effectively doubles the number of US combat brigades in the country, though both White House and Pentagon officials have been careful not to call the increase a “surge,” as the 2007 increase in US troops in Iraq was called (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007).
Answering Request from Months Before - Obama notes that a request for more troops had been made months before, by General David McKiernan, the top US commander in Afghanistan. “This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires,” Obama says. (Barnes and Miller 2/18/2009) “The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border.” Obama recognizes “the extraordinary strain this deployment places on our troops and military families,” but the deteriorating security situation in the region requires “urgent attention and swift action.” (Australian 2/19/2009) Some 3,000 soldiers have already arrived in Afghanistan, where they are seeing combat near Kabul. (Associated Press 2/17/2009)
Refocus on Afghanistan, Away from Iraq - During the presidential campaign, he repeatedly promised to refocus American efforts onto Afghanistan and away from Iraq. A full strategic review of the US’s war plans in Afghanistan is still pending (see February 4, 2009). Military officials warn that without a commensurate reduction in troops deployed in Iraq, the already-critical strain on US troops will only increase. One Pentagon official says: “All we are doing is moving demand from Iraq to Afghanistan. This sustains and, to some degree, increases the demands on soldiers.” (Barnes and Miller 2/18/2009)
Afghans Welcome Additional Troops - Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Is’haq Payman calls the deployment “a positive move,” and adds: “[W]e have our own conditions. We want these troops to be deployed in areas where they could play a positive role in suppressing terrorists.” (Taipei Times 2/19/2009) Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomes the deployment; after discussing the move with Obama via telephone, he says that former tensions between the US and Afghanistan over the issue of US-inflicted civilian casualties (see August 22, 2008, September 7, 2008, September 16, 2008, and January 26, 2009) are finished. “The tension was over civilian casualties and uncoordinated operations by foreign troops,” he says. “From now on, no foreign troop operations will be uncoordinated with Afghan forces. The tension the Afghan government had with the US government is now over.” (Reuters 2/18/2009)
In the case of Kiyemba v Obama the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously blocks a judge’s order to free 17 Chinese Uighurs (see September 17, 2006 and June 30, 2008) from detention in Guantanamo. (Glaberson 2/18/2009; Constitution Project 2/18/2009)
Not a Threat to the US - The Uighurs, members of a small Muslim ethnic and religious minority, have been in detention for seven years after being captured in Pakistan; they insist they were receiving training to resist Chinese oppression, and never harbored any ill will towards the US or had any intention of participating in attacks on US or US-allied targets. Judge Ricardo Urbina concurred in an October ruling. Even Bush officials had decided not to try to prove the 17 men were “enemy combatants”; instead, they said that they would continue imprisoning them because they had “trained for armed insurrection against their home country” in a Uighur camp in Afghanistan. The Obama administration can choose to release the Uighurs if it can find a country—the US or another nation—to accept the detainees for resettlement. Obama officials do not want to turn the Uighurs over to Chinese authorities for fear that they will be imprisoned and tortured.
Two Rulings, One on Release, One on Habeas Corpus - All three appellate judges agree to overturn Urbina’s order to release the Uighurs, but split 2-1 on a separate question: whether detainees such as the Uighurs have habeas corpus rights to challenge their detention. Two, Judges Arthur Randolph and Karen Henderson, say that the law, as decided by the Supreme Court in the June 2008 Boumediene v Bush case (see June 22, 2008), does not give judges the right to release detainees into the US. “Never in the history of habeas corpus,” the majority opinion finds, “has any court thought it had the power to order an alien held overseas brought into the sovereign territory of a nation and released into the general population.” Judge Judith Rogers dissents, writing that the ruling “ignores the very purpose” of the writ of habeas corpus, which is, she writes, to serve as “a check on arbitrary executive power.” If the court has no legal right to release the Uighurs into the US, Rogers writes, the Boumediene ruling has no meaning. A lawyer for the Uighurs, Susan Baker Manning, says the ruling means innocent people “can spend the rest of their lives in prison even though the US knows it’s a mistake.” (Glaberson 2/18/2009)
Civil Rights Organization 'Disappointed' in Ruling, Calls for Release - Sharon Bradford Franklin of the Constitution Project, a civil rights organization, writes: “We are disappointed by today’s DC Circuit ruling that denies freedom to the 17 men whom the government admits are not ‘enemy combatants’ and yet continues to hold at Guantanamo for a seventh year. President Obama should exercise his power to release the Uighurs into the US. The appellate court’s ruling that the trial court lacked the power to compel the executive branch to release the Uighurs into the United States in no way limits the ability of the executive branch to release the Uighurs on its own. We therefore call on President Obama to choose the right course and evaluate the terms under which the Uighurs may be released into the United States. The writ of habeas corpus is a fundamental constitutional right. For habeas corpus to have meaning, it must permit a court to end wrongful detentions. We regret that today’s decision failed to recognize the court’s ability to check arbitrary detention, such as that suffered by the Uighurs.” (Constitution Project 2/18/2009)
Conservative syndicated columnist Cal Thomas uses a recent editorial by health care industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey (see February 9, 2009) to accuse the Obama administration of planning a “euthanasia” program to exterminate hapless Americans. President Obama’s economic stimulus plan, Thomas writes, “means the government will decide who gets life-saving treatment and who doesn’t. It is survival of the fittest in practice.” Thomas then writes that the Obama administration’s support of legal abortions will inevitably lead to “euthanasia” of older and less productive citizens. He quotes a 1979 book by theologian Francis Schaeffer and future Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? as saying, “Will a society which has assumed the right to kill infants in the womb—because they are unwanted, imperfect, or merely inconvenient—have difficulty in assuming the right to kill other human beings, especially older adults who are judged unwanted, deemed imperfect physically or mentally, or considered a possible social nuisance?” Thomas then writes, “No one should be surprised at the coming embrace of euthanasia.” Schaeffer and Koop’s prediction that “the next candidates for arbitrary reclassification as nonpersons are the elderly” now “seems to be coming true,” Thomas writes. He also repeats a claim from the 92-year-old Koop that in 1988, he had suffered from an ailment that temporarily paralyzed him. Under Britain’s government-run health care, Koop claims, “I would have been nine years too old to have the surgery that saved my life and gave me another 21 years.” Soon, Thomas writes, “dying will become a patriotic duty when the patient’s balance sheet shows a deficit.” (Thomas 2/18/2009)
Pakistan agrees to a truce with Taliban fighters that would impose strict Islamic religious law—sharia—on the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, a setback for the Obama administration’s hopes to mount a united front against Islamist militants there and in Afghanistan. The agreement gives the Taliban religious and social control of the Swat region, considered of critical strategic importance in battling insurgents in the wild border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. James Dobbins, a former Bush administration envoy to Afghanistan, says: “It is definitely a step backwards. The Pakistanis have to take a stronger line with extremists in the region.” Obama administration envoy Richard Holbrooke says, “We are very concerned about Pakistan and stability.” A Pentagon official calls it a “negative development,” but other officials are more circumspect. “What is, of course, important is that we are all working together to fight terrorism and particularly to fight the cross-border activities that some Taliban engage in,” says Pentagon spokesman Gordon Duguid. NATO officials take a tougher stance, with NATO spokesman James Appathurai calling the truce a “reason for concern.” He adds, “Without doubting the good faith of the Pakistani government, it is clear that the region is suffering very badly from extremists and we would not want it to get worse.” Amnesty International official Sam Zarifi says, “The government is reneging on its duty to protect the human rights of people from Swat Valley by handing them over to Taliban insurgents.” (Associated Press 2/18/2009)
In what is purportedly an impromptu on-air “rant,” CNBC financial commentator Rick Santelli exhorts viewers to join in what he calls a “Chicago tea party” to oppose the Obama administration’s plans to bail out several large financial institutions. Santelli’s rant comes during CNBC’s Squawk Box broadcast. (CNBC 2/19/2009; CNBC 2/19/2009) Santelli’s “impromptu rant” is actually preceded by a number of “tea party” protests and activities, and some of the protests’ organizers claim to have given Santelli the idea for his on-air “tea party” statement (see After November 7, 2008, February 1, 2009, and February 16-17, 2009).
'It's Time for Another Tea Party' - Broadcasting from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Santelli tells viewers in part: “The government is promoting bad behavior. We certainly don’t want to put stimulus pork and give people a whopping $8 or $10 in their check and think that they ought to save it.… I have an idea. The new administration is big on computers and technology. How about this, Mr. President and new administration. Why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages? Or would they like to at least buy buy cars, buy a house that is in foreclosure… give it to people who might have a chance to actually prosper down the road and reward people that can carry the water instead of drink the water? This is America! How many people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgages that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? Raise their hand! President Obama, are you listening?… It’s time for another tea party. What we are doing in this country will make Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin roll over in their graves.” Santelli also compares the US to Cuba: “Cuba used to have mansions and a relatively decent economy,” he says. “They moved from the individual to the collective. Now they’re driving ‘54 Chevys.” (RightPundits 2/19/2009) Santelli’s “tea party” metaphor is in reference to the Boston Tea Party, a Revolutionary War protest against taxation by America’s British rulers. (Connor 2/20/2009)
Financial Traders Are the 'Real Americans' - Santelli tells viewers that the “real” Americans are not the working-class citizens trying to pay mortgages larger than they can handle, but the stock traders and other members of the Chicago Mercantile, New York Stock Exchange, and other members of the financial industry. (Weisenthal 2/19/2009) Santelli says, “We’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July (see After November 7, 2008), all you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.” (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
Cheers and Applause - Behind Santelli, traders erupt in cheers and applause at his comments. (Graef 2/20/2009)
Active Promotion of the Video - Within hours, CNBC begins promoting the video of Santelli’s comments, calling it “the rant of the year” and posting it on YouTube and its own website. (CNBC 2/20/2009)
Protests, Organizations Begin Forming - Within minutes of Santelli’s broadcast, “tea party” organizations and groups begin forming (see February 19, 2009 and After).
More Studied Response - Three days later, Santelli will explain the thinking behind his comments, saying: “America is a great country and we will overcome our current economic setbacks. The issues that currently face us and the solutions to correct them need to be debated, vetted, and openly studied. This should not be an issue about the political left or right. This is an issue of discourse on a topic that affects the foundation and principles that make our country great… free speech, contract law, freedom of the press, and most of all the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren.” (CNBC 2/22/2009)
Human Rights Organization: 'Racial' Component to Santelli's Rhetoric - In 2010, a report by the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) will say that “[a]n unstated racial element colored Santelli’s outrage over the Obama administration’s home mortgage rescue plan.” The report will explain that many of the “losers” responsible for the “bad loans” Santelli is criticizing were made by banks that “disproportionately targeted communities of color for subprime loans.” Santelli’s “losers” are largely African-American or Hispanic borrowers who had “been oversold by lenders cashing in on the subprime market. Their situations were worsened by derivatives traders, like Santelli, who packaged and re-packaged those loans until they were unrecognizable and untenable.” (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
The media responds strongly to CNBC commentator Rick Santelli’s call for a “tea party” to oppose the Obama economic stimulus. (CNBC 2/20/2009)
Santelli 'Equally Complicit' in Economic Crisis - Writing for College News, Jon Graef notes that Santelli has opposed virtually all of the Obama economic policies, including all the bailouts of the mortgage and automobile industries. He lauds Santelli for “embracing the democratic possibilities that the Internet allows,” but says that “Santelli and his ilk are equally complicit in the housing/finance crises as those who refused to live responsibly within their means. If Santelli doesn’t like the details of the mortgage bailout, then why is continuing to work in conjunction with an industry that received its own government bailout—and promptly spent it on press releases and product placement?” (Graef 2/20/2009)
'Mad as Hell' - Writer Jerome Corsi, who penned a lurid and highly inaccurate “biography” of President Obama before the 2008 election (see August 1, 2008 and After), notes that some are comparing Santelli’s rant to that of fictional news anchor Howard Beale in the movie Network, where Beale screams, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more!” (Corsi 2/19/2009)
'Investors Have It All Figured Out' - Market analyst Donald Luskin writes that Santelli “went a little bit berserk in his broadcast… warning that all the bailouts, programs, rescues, stabilizations, and stimuli are turning our capitalist nation into Cuba. He got the floor traders so stirred up it seemed for a minute there that an armed revolution was going to start at any moment.” Luskin continues, with at least some sarcasm: “Santelli is right. This country is being rescued to death. The voters may be fooled, for a while at least. But obviously investors have it all figured out.” (Luskin 2/20/2009)
'Santelli Hates Poor People' - The avant-garde Washington political gossip blog Wonkette calls Santelli “unlikable” for calling Americans forced to default on their mortgage “losers,” and calls his on-air rant “apesh_t.” Commentator Jim Newell continues, “Maybe Obama’s plan isn’t so great, who knows, but one thing is clear, and that’s that Rick Santelli hates poor people—and by poor people we mean the bottom 50-90 percent of per capita income earners.” (Jim Newell 2/20/2009)
'Speaking Truth to Ego and the Far Left' - Financial blogger Thomas Smicklas writes that Santelli “sp[oke] truth to ego and the far left.… It is becoming more apparent each day of the new administration those who work hard, save, and are responsible citizens are getting hosed by the practice of class warfare.… Ladies and gentlemen, the politics of vote buying, legal extortion, and the re-distribution of wealth to the lazy and ill-educated has begun in earnest. And we haven’t even touched upon a deteriorating foreign policy. Thanks to CNBC’s Rick Santelli and the workers in the pit that deal in commodities who finally expressed it. We can all be grateful for the lesson.” (Thomas Smicklas 2/20/2009)
Rewarding Those Who Caused the Bad Lending - The Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins writes that right-wing media figures such as Matt Drudge are “freaking out” over Santelli’s rant, “fomentin’ a revolution on the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He’s assembled a small army of half-hearted, floor-trading broheims to cheer and hoot as he rails against President Obama’s plan to not immediately foreclose on everybody and kick them out into the streets, because that rewards ‘bad behavior,’ and clearly what we should be doing is rewarding people who incentivized all the risky lending, because until the house of cards collapsed, things were looking pretty for everybody!” (Linkins 3/22/2009)
'Hysteria a la Fox News' - Columnist Mary McNamara calls Santelli’s rant “colorful,” but says Santelli’s “rhetoric/hysteria a la Fox News is damaging to national discourse.” The financial crisis has hit hardest, not in the businesses and mansions of the people Santelli works with, but in the working-poor and lower-middle class families. “They work hard,” she writes. “They weren’t buying luxury homes. Sure, there were a few speculators. But mostly, they just wanted a little piece of the American dream, especially good schools for their kids and closer proximity to their work.” (McNamara 2/19/2009)
'Money for Idiots' - Conservative columnist David Brooks refers to Santelli’s “lustily” delivered rant in defending the necessity for the government to stabilize an economy sliding into chaos. (Brooks 2/19/2009)
'Pretty Awesome' - New York Magazine’s Jessica Pressler writes that she finds Santelli’s “call for revolution… pretty awesome.” She writes, “Santelli is pissed off about the Obama administration’s bailout measures so far, in particular the housing plan the administration announced yesterday, and he wants America to stand up and revolt before we turn into some kind of not-even-tropical version of Cuba.” (Pressler 2/19/2009)
Favorable Coverage from Limbaugh, Hannity, Drudge - Associated Content’s Mark Whittington notes that Santelli’s rant is garnering tremendous coverage from conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Drudge. “More importantly,” he writes, “Santelli’s attack on the Obama mortgage bailout scheme seems to reflect a growing disquiet over President Obama’s spending schemes, which started with the stimulus package, and will now not only include a bailout for mortgages but also a new bailout for the car companies and perhaps even a second stimulus.” (Whittington 2/19/2009)
'Almost Inciting a Riot' - Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal observes: “CNBC’s RIck Santelli is always pugnacious, but he outdid himself today, almost inciting a riot among the traders in Chicago when talking about Obama’s housing plan. Suffice to say, the capitalists on the floor do not want to pay for anyone else’s mortgage. Neither do we. That being said, his insistence that these guys represent the ‘real America’ won’t ultimately play that well among most people.” (Weisenthal 2/19/2009) Progressive columnist and blogger John Amato calls himself “disgusted” at Santelli’s “embarrassing diatribe at the expense of the American people,” and writes that watching Santelli “made me realize that these Wall Street frat boys still don’t get it. America is sick and tired of the riches they have manipulated out of the system and then be lectured by people who make more money than 100 middle class workers put together.” Referring to Santelli’s experience as a trader in the high-risk derivative market, an area that many have blamed for causing much of the economic downturn, Amato writes sarcastically, “The next time I want advice on how to live I’ll be sure to ask a man who was deeply involved in ‘derivatives.’” He concludes: “Don’t blame the crooked mortgage lenders who were having bidding wars to acquire their next mansion, but blame first time buyers or average Americans, the lifeblood of our society and call them ‘losers.’ Santelli needs to own that he is the loser and if it wasn’t for the gasbag insider crowd that gives his words a modicum of respect, crowds would gather outside his home with torches and pitchforks.” (John Amato 2/21/2009)
'Voice of the Silent Majority' - Progressive author and blogger Jane Hamsher writes: “Rick Santelli is just the explosive id of CNBC, saying what everyone else thinks. Somehow it’s not the pervasive institutional rot, the criminal malfeasance at the highest levels, or the chairman of the Federal Reserve telling Americans over and over again that housing prices would never go down. They have convinced themselves that the real problem is once again people at the absolute bottom of the economic scale. If they’d only used appropriate ‘judgment’ and lived within their means, we’d all be fine. Santelli is now being promoted by CNBC as a truth teller, a voice of the… ‘silent majority.’ ‘Would you join Santelli’s “Chicago Tea Party?”’ they want to know. With 170,000 respondents, 93 percent say yes! I guess it was only a matter of time before a hero emerged.” (Jane Hamsher 2/20/2009; CNBC 2/20/2009)
A day after CNBC’s Rick Santelli engaged in a “rant” against President Obama’s economic policies, and called for a modern-day “tea party” to protest those policies (see February 19, 2009), White House press secretary Robert Gibbs invites Santelli to the White House for coffee and to discuss Obama’s plan to help homeowners. “I’d be happy to buy him a cup of coffee,” Gibbs says. “Decaf.” Gibbs has said that Santelli needs to learn more about the economic bailout before engaging in such sharp criticism. “I’ve watched Mr. Santelli on cable the past 24 hours or so,” he says. “I’m not entirely sure where Mr. Santelli lives or in what house he lives but the American people are struggling every day to meet their mortgages, stay in their jobs, pay their bills, send their kids to school.… Mr. Santelli has argued, I think quite wrongly, that this plan won’t help everyone. This plan helps people who have been playing by the rules.… I would encourage him to read the president’s plan.… It’s tremendously important for people who rant on cable TV to be responsible and understand what it is they’re talking about. I feel assured that Mr. Santelli doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Santelli, who has admitted to not reading the White House’s bailout proposals, tells CNBC viewers he “would love to accept” the invitation, but—holding a tea bag to the cameras—says he prefers “tea” to coffee. (CNBC 2/20/2009; Gerstein 2/20/2009; Fang 2/23/2009; Stelter 2/23/2009; Associated Press 3/2/2009) Shortly thereafter, Santelli will say that he felt “threatened” by Gibbs’s reference to not knowing where he lives (see February 23, 2009).
White House officials give the press a broad outline of President Obama’s ambitious arms-control agenda. Obama’s plan calls for dramatic cuts in both US and Russian nuclear arsenals, an end to a Bush administration plan for a more advanced nuclear warhead, the ratification of a global treaty banning underground nuclear testing, and a worldwide ban on the production of nuclear weapons material. The long-term goal, officials say, is “a world without nuclear weapons” in which the US leads by example. Obama’s plans are striking departures from the Bush administration agenda, which had little use for arms-control treaties (see May 24, 2002 and Late May 2005) and pulled out entirely from the anti-ballistic missile treaty with Russia (see December 13, 2001). Obama has said his plans are based in part on the work of the bipartisan Nuclear Security Project, headed by former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, former Clinton administration Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Republican Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz.
Criticism - Some conservative organizations and members of the national security community warn that Obama’s proposals could weaken US security. Henry Sokolski, a member of the bipartisan US Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism and an advocate of limited arms reduction, says: “This brave new, nuclear world may be anything but peaceful. As the qualitative and quantitative differences between nuclear weapons states become smaller, rivalries are likely to become much more dangerous.” The Heritage Foundation’s Baker Strang says of the Obama administration: “The problem is that they are betting the physical survival of the US on nothing more than the hope that other nuclear-armed states and any states or non-state actors that join the nuclear club will follow suit by disarming. This gamble involves the highest possible stakes and has an exceedingly low likelihood of success.” And neoconservative Frank Gaffney, a Defense Department official during the Reagan administration and president of the Center for Security Policy, says, “Every other declared nuclear weapon state is modernizing its stockpile and the most dangerous wannabes—North Korea and Iran—are building up their offensive missile capabilities and acquiring as quickly as possible the arms to go atop them.” Obama may also face opposition from within his Cabinet; Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush administration, wants to implement the Reliable Replacement Warhead program (see January 26, 2009), a nuclear warhead replacement program that Obama opposes.
Support - Obama’s plan has strong support among Congressional Democrats: Representative Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), who heads the House subcommittee overseeing US nuclear forces, says that reducing US and Russian arsenals, negotiating a treaty to end production of new nuclear weapons material, and ratifying the test ban pact “are all achievable goals. The debate is at a point where it is a question about when we achieve these goals, not if,” she says. Ultimately, achieving Obama’s goals will be difficult, says nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione. “It is going to require a herculean effort,” he says. “It is completely doable, but it will require the sustained attention of the president himself.” (Bender 2/22/2009)
Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit is in talks with the US government to increase the amount of public ownership of the bank in a move both politicians and bank bosses hope will avert the need for the ailing corporation to be taken into FDIC receivership (see March 15, 2008). Talks commenced after Citigroup shares dropped more than 20 percent in late trading on Friday, leaving the business with a share value of $10.6 billion, with balance sheet assets of $1.95 trillion. Government receivership of Citigroup is seen as politically unpalatable, and US taxpayers could conceivably own up to 40 percent of Citigroup. Economists see government takeover of the corporation as evidence of other major banks struggling with insolvency. The failure of major banks will have calamitous repercussions. The US treasury says it remains committed to helping the banking industry recover without taking complete control. “Because our economy functions better when financial institutions are well managed in the private sector, the strong presumption… is that banks should remain in private hands,” the Treasury Department said in a joint statement with the Federal Reserve. Speculation that a major Wall Street institution could be taken into public ownership toppled the market on Friday, February 20; likely targets were heavily rumored to be Citigroup and Bank of America. Bank of America lost nearly half its share value in three days before rallying late Friday afternoon. The latest talks center on a Treasury Department proposal to convert preference shares in Citigroup into new ordinary shares. This move would not involve additional taxpayer funds, but taxpayers would surrender the guaranteed dividends that come with preference stock, as well as some degree of protection in the event of a corporate collapse. Serious questions remain, such as the price at which new shares are issued. Estimates of the size of the government’s eventual stake range from 25 percent to 40 percent. With this move, Barack Obama’s administration would become a major presence on Citigroup’s ordinary share register, thus diluting the interests of existing investors, and heightening fears of political pressure being brought on US banks. Some analysts suggest that banks relying on taxpayer bail-outs are being encouraged to focus lending and liquidity on the national US market. (Bowers and Wearden 2/23/2009)
CNBC commentator Rick Santelli appears on two conservative radio programs, hosted by G. Gordon Liddy and Mike Gallagher respectively, to promote his “tea party” “rant” against the White House’s economic bailouts (see February 19, 2009). He tells both Liddy and Gallagher that he felt “threatened” by the White House’s response to his remarks (see February 20, 2009). Santelli tells Liddy that White House press secretary Robert Gibbs “started that press conference saying, ‘I don’t know where he lives, I don’t know where his house is.’ This is the press secretary of the White House. Is that the kind of thing we want?” Liddy calls Gibbs’s remark “a veiled threat.” Santelli replies: “It really is.… I don’t really want to be a spokesman, but I really am very proud of a) the response I’m getting, which is overwhelmingly positive, and b) discourse, that is debate. That if the pressure and the heat I’m taking from the White House—the fact my kids are nervous to go to school—I can take that, okay.” Santelli tells Gallagher he finds it “very scary” for Gibbs to say “we don’t know where he lives or where his house is.” Progressive news Web site Think Progress publishes Gibbs’s full quote from the February 21 press conference, which it says proves Gibbs made no such threats towards Santelli. Gibbs said: “I’ve watched Mr. Santelli on cable the past 24 hours or so. I’m not entirely sure where Mr. Santelli lives or in what house he lives but the American people are struggling every day to meet their mortgages, stay in their jobs, pay their bills, send their kids to school.” Think Progress’s Lee Fang writes, “Gibbs wasn’t threatening Santelli; he was pointing out the sheer absurdity of a well-to-do pundit criticizing Obama’s housing plan as seeking to simply [quoting Santelli] ‘subsidize the losers’ mortgages.’” (Fang 2/23/2009)
Attorney General Eric Holder confirms the Obama administration’s plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see November 16, 2008 and January 22, 2009), but calls it a well-run, professional institution. Closing Guantanamo “will not be an easy process,” Holder says after visiting the site. “It’s one we will do in a way that ensures that people are treated fairly and that the American people are kept safe.” Holder leads the administration’s effort to close the facility within a year. Most of that time will be spent reviewing the case files and histories of the 245 inmates currently incarcerated there: “It’s going to take us a good portion of that time to look at all of the files that we have to examine, until we get our hands around what Guantanamo is, and also what Guantanamo was,” he says. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), an outspoken advocate of keeping Guantanamo open (see February 5, 2009), says he is encouraged by Holder’s remarks. “I believe as more time goes by there is a chance the administration will grow to realize that we need Gitmo and must keep it open,” he says. “More time will allow facts to replace political rhetoric.” Inhofe is promoting legislation that will bar any Guantanamo detainees from coming to the US. (Barrett 2/25/2009)
The Obama administration announces that the media can now photograph the flag-draped coffins of US soldiers killed in combat as they return through Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Under a ban begun by the first Bush administration in 1991, news photographers were prohibited from taking pictures, journalists were prevented from interviewing families of the war dead, and, as the Los Angeles Times notes, “no public record was made about the personal toll exacted by Washington’s policies on individual soldiers and their families.” President George W. Bush claimed the policy was to protect the privacy of military families; critics said that the policy was a public relations ploy to avoid bad publicity by personalizing the cost of war. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that if military families object, the coffins of their loved ones will not be photographed. (Los Angeles Times 2/26/2009; Jelinek and Gearan 2/26/2009)
A federal appeals court rejects the Obama administration’s assertion that a potential threat to national security should stop a lawsuit challenging the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. The Justice Department had requested an emergency stay in a case brought by a defunct Islamic charity, the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (see February 28, 2006). Al Haramain has asked that classified information be made available to the court to prove its case that the electronic surveillance brought to bear against it by the government was illegal; Justice Department lawyers contend that the information needs to remain classified and unavailable to the court, and cite the “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953) as legal justification. Although the court rejects the request for the stay, Justice Department lawyers say they will continue fighting to keep the information secret. “The government respectfully requests that the court refrain from further actions to provide plaintiffs with access to classified information,” says a filing made by the Justice Department in regards to the ruling. A lawyer for Al Haramain, Steven Goldberg, says: “All we wanted was our day in court and it looks like we’re finally going to get our day in court. This case is all about challenging an assertion of power by the executive branch which is extraordinary.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Ann Brick says the court has now crafted a way to review the issue in which “national security isn’t put at risk, but the rule of law can still be observed.” (Barrett 2/27/2009) Days later, the Justice Department will file a brief announcing its intention to refuse to honor the appeals court’s decision (see March 2, 2009).
The Department of Health and Human Services rescinds the controversial “conscience rule” that allows health care workers to refuse to provide abortion counseling or other family-planning services if doing so would violate their moral or religious beliefs. The rule was announced on December 19, 2008 as one of the Bush administration’s final policy initiatives. Seven states have already challenged the rule in court, arguing that it sacrifices the health of patients to religious beliefs of medical providers. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has reported numerous cases regarding the rule, including a Virginia mother of two who became pregnant after being denied emergency contraception, and a rape victim whose prescription for emergency contraception was rejected by a pharmacist. Obama officials say the administration will consider drafting a new rule to clarify what health care workers can reasonably refuse for patients. The public has 30 days to respond to the move before it becomes viable. Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, said in December that her organization supported the rule because in recent years “we have seen a variety of efforts to force Catholic and other health care providers to perform or refer for abortions and sterilizations.” However, opponents of the rule, including the American Medical Association, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and Planned Parenthood, said it could have voided state laws requiring insurance plans to cover contraceptives and requiring hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims. It could also allow drugstore employees to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives. And the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already offers broad protection against discrimination based on religion, mandating that an employer must make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s practices and beliefs. Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood says, “Today’s action by the Obama administration demonstrates that this president is not going to stand by and let women’s health be placed in jeopardy.” (Levey 2/27/2009; Stout 2/27/2009)
CNBC’s Rick Santelli has become something of a superstar among conservative media pundits and others exasperated by the Obama economic bailouts, after engaging in a purportedly impromptu “rant” during an on-air broadcast (see February 19, 2009). Investigative reporters Mark Ames and Yasha Levine discover that Santelli’s rant may have been a pre-planned incident timed to coincide with the launch of a so-called “tea party movement” predicated on opposing the Obama administration and supporting conservative and Republican ideas and agendas. In the hours and days following Santelli’s appearance on CNBC, the authors write, “[a] nationwide ‘tea party’ grassroots Internet protest movement has sprung up seemingly spontaneously, all inspired by Santelli, with rallies planned today in cities from coast to coast to protest against Obama’s economic policies.”
Connections to the Koch Family - Ames and Levine write that Santelli’s CNBC “rant” was “a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a ‘Chicago Tea Party’ was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest right-wing oligarch clans this country has ever produced.” Ames and Levine are referring to the Koch family, headed by Fred Koch (see 1940 and After), the billionaire co-founder of the extremist John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) and whose sons are heavy donors to right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups such as the Cato Institute (see 1977-Present) and FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After).
ChicagoTeaParty.com - On the air, Santelli said, “We’re thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July, all you capitalists who want to come down to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.” Within minutes, Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report had posted headlines about the “tea party” rant on his Web site. Within hours, a new Web site, chicagoteaparty.com, had appeared, featuring a YouTube video of Santelli’s rant and calling itself the official home of the Chicago Tea Party. The domain name had been registered months before by right-wing media figure Zack Christenson (see August 2008), but had remained dormant until after Santelli spoke on CNBC. Ames and Levine note that Christenson bought the domain around the same time that Milt Rosenburg, the Chicago talk show host whom Christenson produces, began attempting to link then-presidential candidate Barack Obama with “left-wing terrorist” William Ayers (see August 2008). Ames and Levine write: “That Rosenberg’s producer owns the ‘chicagoteaparty.com’ site is already weird—but what’s even stranger is that he first bought the domain last August, right around the time of Rosenburg’s launch of the ‘Obama is a terrorist’ campaign. It’s as if they held this ‘Chicago tea party’ campaign in reserve, like a sleeper-site. Which is exactly what it was.”
The Sam Adams Alliance - The ChicagoTeaParty.com Web site, Ames and Levine report, is part of a larger network of conservative Web sites set up over the last few months under the auspices of the “Sam Adams Alliance” (SAA), an organization linked to the Koch family and to FreedomWorks, a public relations group funded by Koch and headed by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey (see April 14, 2009). The SAA is a Chicago-area libertarian/conservative group named for Samuel Adams, who led the Boston Tea Party protest in 1773. (Ames and Levine 2/27/2009) In 2008, the New York Times described the SAA as having “started an ambitious project this year to encourage right-leaning activists and bloggers to get online and focus on local and state issues.” (Phillips 7/19/2008)
OfficialChicagoTeaParty.com - Another Web site, officialchicagoteaparty.com, went live on February 19 as well. That site is registered to Eric Odom, a Republican specializing in faux-grassroots PR campaigns sometimes called “astroturf” (see April 15, 2009). Odom has worked with Koch Industries, a large oil and natural gas corporation and the source of the Koch family fortune, in supporting offshore oil-drilling legislation. Odom was, until January 2009, the “new media coordinator” for the Sam Adams Alliance. Upon his departure, the SAA removed Odom’s name from its Web site. The SAA also removed any mention of Koch’s funding, or any other connections between Koch and the organization, from its site. Two of the SAA’s board members, Eric O’Keefe and Joseph Lehman, are tied both to Koch and to FreedomWorks.
FreedomWorks - In the hours after Santelli’s rant, FreedomWorks posted a large photo of Santelli on its Web site’s front page with the caption: “Are you with Rick? We are. Click here to learn more.”
Other Sites - In the hours after Santelli’s rant, other Web sites such as Right.org, promoting a tea party support group that purports to be a citizen-launched organization “created by a few friends who were outraged by the bailouts” and headed by “Evan and Duncan,” and numerous pro-tea party Facebook pages, were launched. Right.org is sponsoring a $27,000 prize for an “anti-bailout video competition.” Ames and Levine ask: “Who are Evan and Duncan? Do they even really exist?”
No Connections on the Surface - Ames and Levine note that the numerous Web sites and Facebook pages have remarkable similarities in language and appearance, “as if they were part of a multi-pronged advertising campaign planned out by a professional PR company. Yet, on the surface, they pretended to have no connection. The various sites set up their own Twitter feeds and Facebook pages dedicated to the Chicago Tea Party movement. And all of them linked to one another, using it as evidence that a decentralized, viral movement was already afoot. It wasn’t about partisanship; it was about real emotions coming straight from real people.”
Santelli and the Tea Party Organizers - Ames and Levine ask why Santelli, and CNBC, would “risk their credibility, such as it is, as journalists dispensing financial information in order to act as PR fronts for a partisan campaign.” Santelli’s contract with CNBC is about to expire, they note. Until the “tea party” rant, Santelli was an obscure financial commentator with few prospects. Now, though, he is a “hero” of the right. As another Chicago tea party organization, the Daily Bail, wrote on its site: “Rick, this message is to you. You are a true American hero and there are no words to describe what you did today except your own. Headquartered nearby, we will be helping the organization in whatever way possible.” Ames and Levine speculate that Santelli may have been brought into the fold by one of his CNBC colleagues, Lawrence Kudlow, who himself has strong connections to FreedomWorks. (Ames and Levine 2/27/2009) Steve Megremis of the Daily Bail will call Ames and Levine’s allegations about his Web site’s involvement “categorically untrue,” writing: “It’s unfortunate because I believe that the article did some great investigative work and then at the end they threw me under the bus for no apparent reason. Apparently, the authors just assumed we were part of this conspiracy because of my own personal excitement about the prospect of a mid-summer tea party.” Megremis will post a response on his site, but the response will soon disappear. (Barry Ritholtz 2/28/2009)
Playboy Removes Article - By March 2, Playboy will remove the Ames and Levine article from its Web site. No explanation is offered. The article will instead become available on a Web site called “The Exiled,” which bills itself as an “alternative” press outlet. (Jeffrey Feldman 3/2/2009)
According to media reports, the Obama administration intends to reverse the “right of conscience rule,” formally called the Provider Refusal Rule, for health care workers enacted by President Bush in the last weeks of his term. In December 2008, Bush issued an executive order allowing health care workers to deny care based on their personal beliefs. The order was issued to target doctors and nurses who do not want to provide abortions, even if they work in a facility that offers abortions to clients. Specifically, the rule denies Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funding to institutions that do not allow workers to refuse care that goes against their beliefs. Now the Obama administration says President Obama will override that order. Seven states have already challenged the rule, claiming it sacrifices the health of patients in order to satisfy the religious or moral beliefs of medical personnel. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has reported cases such as that of a Virginia mother of two who became pregnant because she was denied emergency contraception; in Texas, the group said, a rape victim had her prescription for emergency contraception rejected by a pharmacist. Obama has already overturned a ban on US funding for international aid groups that provide abortion services. However, administration officials say the administration may consider a rule that would clarify what health care workers can reasonably refuse. An HHS spokesman says: “We recognize and understand that some providers have objections to providing abortions. But we do not want to impose new limitations on services that would allow providers to refuse to provide to women and their families services like family planning and contraception that would actually help prevent the need for an abortion in the first place.” Dr. Suzanne Poppema of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health praises Obama “for placing good health care above ideological demands,” and says: “Physicians across the country were outraged when the Bush administration, in its final days, limited women’s access to reproductive health care. Hundreds of doctors protested these midnight regulations and urged President Obama to repeal them quickly. We are thrilled that President Obama took the first steps today to ensure that our patients’ health is once again protected.” Tony Perkins of the anti-abortion Family Research Council (FRC) counters: “Protecting the right of all health care providers to make professional judgments based on moral convictions and ethical standards is foundational to federal law and is necessary to ensure that access to health care is not diminished, which will occur if health care workers are forced out of their jobs because of their ethical stances. President Obama’s intention to change the language of these protections would result in the government becoming the conscience and not the individual. It is a person’s right to exercise their moral judgment, not the government’s to decide it for them.” (Levey 2/27/2009; Young 2/27/2009; Stout 2/27/2009) The liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) writes in April 2009: “Conservatives have criticized the Obama administration for infringing upon the conscience of health care professionals and ‘forcing’ them to provide abortion services.… Yet this assertion could not be further from the truth. President Obama’s proposal to rescind Bush’s last-minute rule restores the pre-existing compromise established through decades of debate.” CAP notes that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act disallows employers from firing or harassing workers who decline to fulfill assigned tasks due to moral or religious objections. “Obama’s proposal to rescind the Bush ‘conscience’ rule simply restores the prior balance that existed on matters of conscience,” CAP concludes. “It once again guides the health care system to value the consciences of health care providers and patients.” (Jessica Arons and Sarah Dreier 4/28/2009) However, for reasons never made publicly clear, the Obama administration will never actually rescind the order. It is possible that Obama or HHS officials bow to pressure from a number of organizations such as the FRC and the Christian Medical Association, which have continually pressured the administration not to rescind the order. (Bream 4/8/2009; Sullivan 2/4/2010; Megan Sullivan 7/13/2010)
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that Iran is not close to having a nuclear weapon, which gives the US and other nations time to persuade Tehran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program. Gates tells NBC’s David Gregory, “They’re not close to a stockpile, they’re not close to a weapon at this point, and so there is some time.” Gates’s statement contradicts a recent warning from Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told a CNN audience that he believes Iran has enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb (see March 1, 2009). Tehran insists that its nuclear program is strictly about producing electricity for peaceful purposes. Gates says there is “a continuing focus on how do you get the Iranians to walk away from a nuclear weapons program” in the Obama administration, just as had been in the Bush administration. Obama officials have called Tehran’s nuclear development program an “urgent problem,” and have said they favor a balance between economic sanctions and incentives for engagement. (Zabarenko 3/1/2009)
The Justice Department defies a recent court order (see February 27, 2009) and refuses to provide a document that might prove the Bush administration conducted illegal wiretaps on a now-defunct Islamic charity. The Justice Department files a brief with a California federal district court challenging the court’s right to carry out its own decision to make that evidence available in a pending lawsuit. Even though the document is critical to the lawsuit, the lawyers can obtain the necessary top-secret clearances, and the document would not be made public, the Justice Department claims that the document cannot be entered into evidence. The lawyers for Al Haramain, the Islamic charity and the plaintiffs in the suit, calls the Justice Department’s decision “mind-boggling.”
Government's Position - For its part, the Justice Department writes in a brief that the decision to release the document “is committed to the discretion of the executive branch, and is not subject to judicial review.” The document has been in the possession of the court since 2004, when the government inadvertently released it to the plaintiffs. In the same brief, the Justice Department writes: “If the Court intends to itself grant access to classified information directly to the plaintiffs’ counsel, the government requests that the Court again provide advance notice of any such order, as well as an ex parte, in camera description of the information it intends to disclose, to enable the government to either make its own determination about whether counsel has a need to know, or to withdraw that information from submission to the Court and use in this case. If the Court rejects either action by the government, the government again requests that the Court stay proceedings while the government considers whether to appeal any such order.” The statement is an implied threat that the Justice Department lawyers will themselves physically remove the document from the court files if the judge says he has the right to allow Al Haramain’s lawyers to see it.
Response from Plaintiff's Attorney - Jon Eisenberg, a lawyer for Al-Haramain, says in an e-mail: “It’s a not-so-thinly veiled threat to send executive branch authorities (the FBI? the Army?) to Judge [Virginia] Walker’s chambers to seize the classified material from his files! In my view, that would be an unprecedented violation of the constitutional separation of powers. I doubt anything like it has happened in the history of this country.” Eisenberg says that the Obama administration, through the Justice Department, “seems to be provoking a separation-of-powers confrontation with Judge Walker.”
Administration's Second Use of State Secrets - This is the second time the Obama administration has invoked the “state secrets” privilege to keep information secret (see February 9, 2009). Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says: “In the Bush administration, the state secrets doctrine was used to buttress the power of the president and make it difficult if not impossible to contest such issues as presidential authority to conduct warrantless wiretapping in the United States. We would think that when such disagreements occur, it’s properly before the judiciary to resolve them. But the Bush administration asserted the state secrets doctrine for the purpose of making it effectively impossible for courts to review the matter.” The Al Haramain case is significant because of “the apparent willingness of the Obama administration’s Justice Department to carry further that same argument in federal court. It is of great concern.” (Eviatar 3/2/2009)
Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN—see October 17-22, 2008), interviewed by conservative radio host William Bennett, decries what she calls the Obama administration’s push for “socialized medicine” and a “new tax on energy,” and says: “If you want to look at economic history over the last 100 years, I call it punctuated equilibrium. If you look at FDR, LBJ, and Barack Obama, this is really the final leap to socialism.… And as the Democrats are about to institutionalize cartels—that’s what they’re very good at—they’re trying to consolidate power, so we need to do everything we can to thwart them at every turn to make sure that they aren’t able to, for all time, secure a power base that for all time can never be defeated.” (Aden 3/5/2009) Bachmann is joined by House colleague Zach Wamp (R-TN), who says of the Obama health care plan: “It’s probably the next major step towards socialism. I hate to sound so harsh, but… this literally is a fast march towards socialism, where the government is bigger than the private sector in our country and health care’s the next major step, so we oughta all be worried about it.” (Weiner 3/5/2009)
Karen Greenberg, the executive director of the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law, asks when the Obama administration intends on closing down the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base (see October 2001). The facility has been the site of repeated torture and brutalization of prisoners (see January 2002, March 15, 2002, April-May 2002, Late May 2002, June 4, 2002-early August 2002, June 5, 2002, July 2002, August 22, 2002, Late 2002-February 2004, Late 2002 - March 15, 2004, December 2002, December 2002, December 1, 2002, December 5-9, 2002, December 8, 2002-March 2003, December 26, 2002, Beginning 2003, February 2003, Spring 2003, October 2004, and May 20, 2005). Greenberg calls it a “far grimmer and more important American detention facility” than Guantanamo.
Little Information on Prisoners - Greenberg is unable to elicit specific information about how many prisoners are currently incarcerated at Bagram, who they are, where they are from, how they are classified—prisoners of war, enemy combatants, “ghost” detainees—how they are being treated, what human rights organizations have access to them, or what, if any, legal proceedings they have been put through. “It turns out that we can say very little with precision or confidence about that prison facility or even the exact number of prisoners there,” she writes. “News sources had often reported approximately 500-600 prisoners in custody at Bagram, but an accurate count is not available. A federal judge recently asked for ‘the number of detainees held at Bagram Air Base; the number of Bagram detainees who were captured outside Afghanistan; and the number of Bagram detainees who are Afghan citizens,’ but the information the Obama administration offered the court in response remains classified and redacted from the public record. We don’t even know the exact size of the prison or much about the conditions there, although they have been described as more spartan and far cruder than Guantanamo’s in its worst days. The International Committee of the Red Cross has visited the prison, but it remains unclear whether they were able to inspect all of it. A confidential Red Cross report from 2008 supposedly highlighted overcrowding, the use of extreme isolation as a punishment technique, and various violations of the Geneva Convention.”
Plans to Expand Facility - Greenberg says that the government is planning a large expansion of the Bagram facility, which is envisioned as holding up to 1,100 prisoners. She recommends:
The administration stop being secretive about Bagram and release complete information on the prisoners being held there, or at the very least admit why some information cannot be released. “Otherwise, the suspicion will always arise that such withheld information might be part of a cover-up of government incompetence or illegality.”
The reclassification of all detainees as “prisoners of war” who are protected under the Geneva Conventions. “Currently, they are classified as enemy combatants, as are the prisoners at Guantanamo, and so, in the perverse universe of the Bush administration, free from any of the constraints of international law. The idea that the conventions are too ‘rigid’ for our moment and need to be put aside for this new extra-legal category has always been false and pernicious, primarily paving the way for the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’”
The rejection of the idea of “ghost prisoners” at Bagram or anywhere else. “The International Committee of the Red Cross must be granted access to all of the prisons or prison areas at Bagram, while conditions of detention there should be brought into accordance with humane treatment and standards.”
The re-establishment of a presumption of innocence. “The belief that there is a categorical difference between guilt and innocence, which went by the wayside in the last seven years, must be restored. All too often, the military brass still assumes that if you were rounded up by US forces, you are, by definition, guilty. It’s time to change this attitude and return to legal standards of guilt.”
Greenberg concludes: “In the Bush years, we taught the world a series of harmful lessons: Americans can be as cruel as others. Americans can turn their backs on law and reciprocity among nations as efficiently as any tribally organized dictatorship. Americans, relying on fear and the human impulse toward vengeance, can dehumanize other human beings with a fervor equal to that of others on this planet. It’s time for a change. It’s time, in fact, to face the first and last legacy of Bush detention era, our prison at Bagram Air Base, and deal with it.” (Greenberg 3/5/2009)
John Boehner (R-OH), the House Minority Leader, calls on the Obama administration to implement a freeze on government spending, and for President Obama to veto a $410 billion spending bill. Boehner says recent spikes in unemployment figures are a sign of a worsening recession, and the only way to address the recession is to freeze government spending until the end of the fiscal year. He calls the spending bill, crafted in December with input from Congressional Democrats and Republicans as well as from the Bush White House, full of wasteful “earmarks” and “pork.” (Associated Press 3/6/2009) Boehner introduces a resolution calling for the freeze in the House; it fails, even though all House Republicans present for the vote and eight Democrats vote for it. (Hair 3/6/2008) Two days after Boehner’s call for a spending freeze, conservative columnist David Brooks calls the proposal “insane” and blames the influence of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh for the idea. Brooks says that Limbaugh and the Republican Party is fixated on repeating a Reagan-era economic agenda. “The problem with them and the problem with Limbaugh in terms of intellectual philosophy is they are stuck with Reagan,” Brooks says. “They are stuck with the idea that government is always the problem. A lot of Republicans up in Capitol Hill right now are calling for a spending freeze in a middle of a recession/depression. That is insane. But they are thinking the way they thought in 1982, if we can only think that way again, that is just insane. And there are a lot of Republicans like David Frum… who are trying to say Reagan was right for his era, but it is time to move on. And there are just not a lot of them on Capitol Hill right now, and I think the party is looking for that kind of Republican.” (Huffington Post 3/8/2009)
Republican House member Patrick McHenry (R-NC) admits that his party’s resistance to Democratic initiatives are designed to bring down the approval numbers for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the Congressional Democratic leadership. Speaking of Republican resistance to the Democrats’ recent budget proposal and other economic initiatives from the Obama administration and House Democrats, McHenry says: “We will lose on legislation. But we will win the message war every day, and every week, until November 2010. Our goal is to bring down approval numbers for Pelosi and for House Democrats. That will take repetition. This is a marathon, not a sprint.” McHenry belongs to a group of Congressional Republicans helping to shape the party’s message in opposition to Obama and Congressional Democrats. Washington Post pundit Greg Sargent writes, “It’s likely that Dems will grab on to [McHenry’s] quote today to bolster their charge that Congressional Republicans aren’t interested in playing a constructive role in governing and see their hope for political revival in the eventual failure of the Democratic majority’s policies.” The article also cites a recent statement by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who told a group of reporters that House Republicans would not bother crafting bills to provide alternatives to Democratic economic legislation: “I have been trying to get my Republican colleagues to understand that we are not in the legislative business. We will spend more time communicating [with the American people], because that is what we can do.” (Cohen 3/7/2009; Sargent 3/9/2009)
Minority Leader: Comments 'Largely Correct, but Incomplete' - Through a spokesman, Boehner says of McHenry’s statement: “I think that’s largely correct, but incomplete. Obviously, as Leader Boehner has said repeatedly, we stand ready to work with the Speaker and the president when it is in the best interest of the American people. When we cannot work together, Republicans will offer better solutions—rooted in our principles—to the problems facing our country. If House Democrats push for the same tired liberal agenda of higher taxes to pay for more ineffective government spending, I imagine that their standing in the polls will suffer, but our first priority is doing the right thing for the American people, and we hope it is theirs as well.” Sargent notes: “My parsing of this is that Boehner believes that McHenry’s description of the party’s strategic goal as winning the message war and dragging down Dem poll numbers is ‘largely correct,’ but that McHenry left out the GOP’s willingness on principle to work with Dems and that the GOP’s ‘first priority is doing the right thing for the American people.’ That would appear to stop short of disagreeing with or criticizing McHenry.” (Sargent 3/10/2009)
McHenry's Previous Utterances - In April 2008, McHenry was reprimanded by the Pentagon for breaching operational security and and giving terrorists potentially useful information (see April 4-7, 2008). In February 2009, McHenry joined in falsely accusing the Obama administration of funding a “levitating train from Disneyland to Las Vegas” (see February 13, 2009 and After).
President Obama lifts restrictions on federal funding for research on new stem cell lines. Promising to “vigorously support” new research, Obama’s decision reverses the Bush administration’s policy of blocking government spending for researching human embroynic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001. “When it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced into what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values,” Obama says during the signing ceremony. “In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering.” Obama says the decision authorizes the change “so many scientists and researchers and doctors and innovators, patients and loved ones have hoped for and fought for these past eight years.” Scientists say the new research will lead to a variety of medical breakthroughs, and polls show most Americans support the research. Some religious and social conservative groups oppose the research, as does the Vatican. Obama promises that the government will never fund research into human cloning or other such controversial areas of study. Using discarded embryos for stem cell research is routine in private clinics, but illegal under Bush’s 2001 executive order. Analysts say that the policy change is part of Obama’s pledge to make clear that his administration wants scientific research to be free from political interference. (BBC 3/9/2009; Nasaw 3/10/2009)
Praise for Decision - The co-director of Harvard University’s stem cell research institute, Doug Melton, says: “It is a relief to know that we can now collaborate openly and freely with other scientists in our own university and elsewhere, without restrictions on what equipment, data, or ideas can be shared.… Science thrives when there is an open and collaborative exchange, not when there are artificial barriers, silos, constructed by the government.” Harvard spokesman B. D. Colen says that the practical effects of the Obama reversal will be dramatic: “This will mean the end of the quite onerous bookkeeping and segregation of supplies, equipment, and people that were necessary under the Bush executive order,” he says. “Literally, you could not pick up a pencil off a bench if you were working with embryonic stem cells.” (Nasaw 3/10/2009) Peter Wilderotter, president of the Christopher and Dana Foundation, praises Obama for “removing politics from science” and freeing researchers. Wilderotter leads a foundation created by actor Christopher Reeve, whose fall from a horse paralyzed him and led him to die at a relatively early age. Reeve believed that stem cell research could find a treatment for his condition. Obama says that Reeve dreamed of being able to walk again, and adds: “Christopher did not get that chance. But if we pursue this research, maybe one day—maybe not in our lifetime, or even in our children’s lifetime—but maybe one day, others like him might.” (BBC 3/9/2009; Nasaw 3/10/2009)
Republican Criticism - House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) decries the decision, and accuses Obama of undermining “protections for innocent life, further dividing our nation at a time when we need greater unity to tackle the challenges before us.” Political correspondent and pundit Chris Cillizza writes: “The stem cell signing—like the economic stimulus bill—is an example of the two different tracks that Obama and Republicans are currently on. Obama, with his base solidly on his side, is making policy with broad support among independents. Republicans, on the other hand, remain in the wilderness and are looking to rebuild from core principles.” (BBC 3/9/2009)
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that the Obama administration’s policies endanger America, and defends his administration’s actions, including warrantless wiretapping, torture of suspected terrorists, and its economic policies. Using torture against suspected terrorists and wiretapping Americans without court orders were both “absolutely essential” to get information needed to prevent terrorist attacks similar to that of 9/11, Cheney tells a CNN audience, though he does not use the word “torture.” But Obama’s new policies are putting America at risk, he says: “President Obama campaigned against it all across the country, and now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”
'Pre-9/11 Mindset' - Cheney says to return to a pre-9/11 mindset of treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue, rather than a military problem, is a mistake: “When you go back to the law enforcement mode, which I sense is what they’re doing, closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) and so forth… they are very much giving up that center of attention and focus that’s required, that concept of military threat that is essential if you’re going to successfully defend the nation against further attacks.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), appearing after Cheney, counters Cheney’s arguments, saying that the Bush/Cheney policies undercut “what is actually the source of America’s greatness—our principles.” Sestak asks, “How can we say that keeping a man in a black hole forever—perpetually in a black hole—and saying, ‘Let’s torture when we decide to,’ is what America stands for?” Sestak is a retired admiral who led the Navy’s anti-terrorism efforts.
Iraq a Success - As for Iraq, Cheney says that while his administration had to spend more money than it had anticipated, and although over 4,200 US soldiers have lost their lives fighting in that country, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is an almost-unvarnished success. The US has “accomplished nearly everything we set out to do” in Iraq, including establishing a democratic government in the Middle East, Cheney says. Cheney answers questions about the threat of supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction by saying, “We’ve eliminated that possibility.” Sestak disagrees, saying the problems the Bush/Cheney policies in Iraq created have overshadowed the “whole fabric” of US national security: “The cost of this war is something that I strongly believe has far, far hurt us. We’re going to recover, because we’re Americans. But Iraq was just one piece of our security, and this administration failed to realize that.”
Opposition to Hill as Iraqi Ambassador - Cheney says he does not support the Obama administration’s choice of Christopher Hill as the ambassador to Iraq (see March 18, 2009). Hill successfully concluded negotiations with North Korea during the last years of the Bush administration, but Cheney repudiates his accomplishments. “I did not support the work that Chris Hill did with respect to North Korea,” he says, and adds that Hill lacks the Middle East experience necessary for him to represent the US in Baghdad. “I think it’s a choice that I wouldn’t have made,” he says. (CNN 3/15/2009)
Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum, host of Fox’s “straight news” show The Live Desk, airs clips of Vice President Joseph Biden taken during a September 2008 campaign event to falsely imply that Biden is contradicting the Obama administration’s current stance on the economy. MacCallum tells viewers that “after weeks of economic doom and gloom, the Obama administration is now singing a slightly different tune. Take a look at what was said in recent interviews this weekend.” Fox then airs a clip of Biden telling an audience, “The fundamentals of the economy are strong.” The clip is not from an interview held over the weekend, but from a campaign event held seven months before. MacCallum does not inform her viewers of the timing of the clip, nor does she note that Biden was criticizing Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s economic views, which he characterized as unrealistically rosy. Instead, she goes on to claim that the administration has fundamentally, and dishonestly, shifted its views on the economy from a positive campaign outlook to a more “doom and gloom” viewpoint. In the September 2008 campaign rally, Biden told a Michigan audience: “I believe that’s why John McCain could say with a straight face, as recently as this morning—and this is a quote, ‘The fundamentals of the economy are strong.’ That’s what John says. He says that ‘we’ve made great progress economically’ in the Bush years.… I could walk from here to Lansing, and I wouldn’t run into a single person who thought our economy was doing well, unless I ran into John McCain.” Alongside the Biden clip, Fox also airs footage of Austan Goolsbee, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. On March 15, Goolsbee told a Fox News Sunday audience that “the core strength of the economy is middle-class workers.” Fox airs that clip immediately after the Biden clip. What it does not air is Goolsbee’s statement just after the broadcast statement, in which he said, “Over the last eight years, before this president came into office, we saw an unbelievable squeeze on the middle class like nothing we have seen in decades.” MacCallum uses the clips to accuse the Obama administration of “singing… a bit of a different tune” now than during the campaign. (Media Matters 3/16/2009) The next day, MacCallum apologizes for asserting the seven-month-old clip was recent. She tells viewers that Fox News “inadvertently used a piece of video of Vice President Biden saying that, quote, the fundamentals of the economy are strong. This video was from the campaign trail, when the vice president was a candidate, and was actually quoting Senator John McCain. When we get something wrong, we admit it. We did so yesterday, and for that, we apologize” (see October 13, 2009). (Media Matters 3/17/2009)
According to the Boston Globe, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is preparing to announce sweeping cuts in weapons programs over the following months. Gates, the only holdover in the Obama administration from the Bush cabinet, said before President Bush left office that the US “cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets, to do everything and buy everything.” Whoever President Obama’s new defense secretary might be, he then said, would have to eliminate some costly hardware and invest in new tools for fighting insurgents. At that point, Gates did not know that he would be asked to stay on as defense secretary.
Scope of Cuts - Senior defense officials say that the impending program cuts will be the largest since the end of the Cold War, during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. About a half-dozen programs will be canceled, including the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet, a new Navy destroyer, Army ground combat vehicles, and other programs such as aircraft carriers and new nuclear weapons.
Gates' Role - The Globe reports: “As a former CIA director with strong Republican credentials, Gates is prepared to use his credibility to help Obama overcome the expected outcry from conservatives. And after a lifetime in the national security arena, working in eight administrations, the 65-year-old Gates is also ready to counter the defense companies and throngs of retired generals and other lobbyists who are gearing up to protect their pet projects.” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, “He has earned a great deal of credibility over the past two years, both inside and outside the Pentagon, and now he is prepared to use it to lead the department in a new direction and bring about the changes he believes are necessary to protect the nation’s security.”
Support - James Shinn, who served under Gates as an assistant defense secretary in the Bush administration, says Gates is perhaps the only person in Washington who can make such drastic cuts happen: “He obviously has huge credibility as something of a hawk. No one can even remotely challenge Gates in terms of his well-informed and conservative approach toward threats and the weapon systems associated with threats.” Longtime Washington official Brent Scowcroft, one of Gates’ closest friends and mentors, says: “He is going to have a hard time. The resistance in the system is heavy. But that what Bob is trying to take on.”
Potential Opposition - However, any cuts will face strong opposition from defense contractors and members of Congress whose districts rely on defense monies. “There are so many people employed in the industry and they are spread across the country,” says William Cohen, a Republican who served as defense secretary in the Clinton administration. “Even though members of Congress may say, ‘It’s great that you are recommending the termination of X, Y, and Z,’ they will also say ‘that means 4,000 jobs in my state. Frankly, I can’t go along with that.’” The declining economy makes such arguments even more compelling, Cohen adds. (Bender 3/17/2009)
Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, joined by National Review deputy managing editor Kevin Williamson, asserts that Obama administration members are working behind the scenes to move towards what they call a “one-world government.” Williamson tells Beck and their viewers that Carol Browner, assistant to the president for energy and climate change, belongs to a group that is “arguing for… the same stuff that the left is always arguing for, which is transferring wealth and power out of citizens’ hands and into the government’s hands.” Williamson continues: “You know, the left always needs an emergency because they can’t get this stuff done through normal democratic means. So, in the ‘30s, it was the Depression, and then it was World War II. Then it was the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation. And then after the Soviet Union fell apart, it became the environmental movement.” Beck responds: “Right. Let me—I’m going to have them take you someplace that I like to call ‘one-world government.’” Beck later says that Browner “was involved in a socialist organization” that “wants one-world government.” Williamson agrees: “Yeah, they’re big on what they call, you know, global architecture, transnational architecture, which is just another way of saying sort of UN-style bureaucracies that would be international in nature and would de-emphasize American power and global leadership.” (Media Matters 4/10/2009) Beck and Williamson are echoing claims made in the ‘90s and later by extremist militia groups, which warned that the US government intended to implement a “new world order” (see September 11, 1990) of a one-world government that would result in the confiscation of Americans’ guns, and a general replacement of democracy for tyranny (see 1994, January 1994, February 1995, July 4-11, 1997, October 20, 1999, April 14-15, 2009, January 21, 2010, and October 11, 2010).
Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff and now chairs the New America Foundation/US-Cuba 21st Century Policy Initiative, writes an op-ed titled “Some Truths about Guantanamo Bay” for the Washington Note. Wilkerson explains why he believes so many people were captured and so many of those were tortured, for so little gain, and in the process covers several other issues regarding the Bush administration.
Handling of Terror Suspects - Wilkerson writes that the entire process of capturing, detaining, and processing suspected Islamist militants was marked by incompetence and a casual, improvisational approach. Most of the “suspects” captured during the first weeks and months of the Afghanistan invasion (see October 7, 2001) were merely picked up in sweeps, or bought from corrupt regional warlords, and transported wholesale to a variety of US bases and military camps, and then sent to Guantanamo, mostly in response to then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s exhortation to “just get the b_stards to the interrogators.” Wilkerson blames the civilian leadership, for failing to provide the necessary information and guidance to make sensible, informed decisions about who should and should not have been considered either terror suspects or potential sources of information. When detainees were found not to have had any ties to Islamist radical groups, nor had any real intelligence value, they were kept at Guantanamo instead of being released. Wilkerson writes that “to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough.… They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released.” He writes that State Department attempts to rectify the situation “from almost day one” experienced almost no success.
Data Mining Called for Large Numbers of Detainees - Wilkerson notes what he calls “ad hoc intelligence philosophy that was developed to justify keeping many of these people,” a data mining concept called in the White House “the mosaic philosophy.” He explains: “Simply stated, this philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance (this general philosophy, in an even cruder form, prevailed in Iraq as well, helping to produce the nightmare at Abu Ghraib). All that was necessary was to extract everything possible from him and others like him, assemble it all in a computer program, and then look for cross-connections and serendipitous incidentals—in short, to have sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified. Thus, as many people as possible had to be kept in detention for as long as possible to allow this philosophy of intelligence gathering to work. The detainees’ innocence was inconsequential. After all, they were ignorant peasants for the most part and mostly Muslim to boot.” Unfortunately for this data mining effort, the gathering, cataloging, and maintenance of such information was carried out with what he calls “sheer incompetence,” rendering the information structure virtually useless either for intelligence or in prosecuting terror suspects.
No Information of Value Gained from Guantanamo Detainees - And, Wilkerson adds, he is not aware of any information gathered from Guantanamo detainees that made any real contribution to the US’s efforts to combat terrorism: “This is perhaps the most astounding truth of all, carefully masked by men such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney in their loud rhetoric—continuing even now in the case of Cheney—about future attacks thwarted, resurgent terrorists, the indisputable need for torture and harsh interrogation, and for secret prisons and places such as Gitmo.”
Hindrance to Prosecution - This incompetence in gathering and storing information had a powerful impact on the ability of the US to prosecute the two dozen or so detainees who actually might be what Wilkerson calls “hardcore terrorists.” For these and the other detainees, he writes, “there was virtually no chain of custody, no disciplined handling of evidence, and no attention to the details that almost any court system would demand” (see January 20, 2009).
Shutting Down Guantanamo - Wilkerson writes that the Guantanamo detention facility could be shut down much sooner than President Obama’s promised year (see January 22, 2009), and notes he believes a plan for shutting down the facility must have existed “[a]s early as 2004 and certainly in 2005.”
War on Terror Almost Entirely Political - Wilkerson charges that the Bush administration’s driving rationale behind the “never-ending war on terror” was political: “For political purposes, they knew it certainly had no end within their allotted four to eight years,” he writes in an op-ed about the US’s detention policies. “Moreover, its not having an end, properly exploited, would help ensure their eight rather than four years in office.”
Cheney's Criticisms of Obama 'Twisted ... Fear-Mongering' - Wilkerson excoriates former Vice President Dick Cheney for his recent statements regarding President Obama and the “war on terror” (see February 4, 2009). Instead of helping the US in its fight against al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism, Wilkerson writes, Cheney is making that fight all the more difficult (see February 5, 2009). “Al-Qaeda has been hurt, badly, largely by our military actions in Afghanistan and our careful and devastating moves to stymie its financial support networks. But al-Qaeda will be back. Iraq, Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, heavily-biased US support for Israel, and a host of other strategic errors have insured al-Qaeda’s resilience, staying power, and motivation. How we deal with the future attacks of this organization and its cohorts could well seal our fate, for good or bad. Osama bin Laden and his brain trust, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are counting on us to produce the bad. With people such as Cheney assisting them, they are far more likely to succeed.” (Wilkerson 3/17/2009)
The Obama administration’s choice to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen, is endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. All the committee Democrats vote to endorse her, and all but one Republican committee member vote against her; Arlen Specter (R-PA) abstains. After the endorsement, Senate Republicans use a variety of parliamentary procedures to delay or block her appointment. Legal expert and columnist Scott Horton writes, “The real reason for their vehement opposition is that Johnsen is committed to overturning the Bush administration’s policies on torture and warrantless surveillance that would clip the wings of the imperial presidency.” Johnsen formerly worked for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), earning her the enmity of social conservatives who have made her the target of a massive opposition campaign. Anti-abortion groups call her a “radical, pro-abortion activist.” However, Horton notes, observations from Republican officials and opinion leaders show that the GOP’s real concern is not over Johnsen’s support for abortion, but for her apparent intent to roll back Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless surveillance. Even worse, Horton writes, is her intention to reveal secret information from the Bush years about those subjects. But it is politically difficult to attack Johnsen on these issues, Republicans say, so instead she is being targeted for her views on abortion. President Obama’s choice of Johnsen’s two deputies—Harvard law professor David Barron and Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman (see January 20, 2009)—are, like Johnsen, experienced in both academia and politics, and have been vehement critics of the OLC during the Bush years. (Horton 3/26/2009)
Senior White House and Pentagon officials tell the New York Times that President Obama is expected to approve a Pentagon plan to vastly expand Afghanistan’s security forces to about 400,000 troops and national police officers: more than twice the forces’ current size. The officials say the plan is part of a broader Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy to fill a void left by the weak central government and to do more to promote stability. The new proposal would authorize a doubling of the army to 260,000 soldiers in addition to around 140,000 police officers, commandos, and border guards. The Times notes that presently the army has 90,000 troops and the Afghan National Police numbers about 80,000 officers.
Program Costs a Concern for Administration Officials - The Times reports that members of Obama’s national security team appeared taken aback by the cost projections which dwarf the budget currently provided to the Afghan government; cost projections to establish and train the forces range from $10 billion to $20 billion over the next six or seven years, and officials have yet to determine costs to sustain the security forces over the long term. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, endorses the goal and justifies the costs of expanding Afghan security forces saying, “The cost is relatively small compared to the cost of not doing it—of having Afghanistan either disintegrate, or fall into the hands of the Taliban, or look as though we are dominating it.”
Concerns over the Power of an Expanded Security Force Dismissed - The former commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, Lieutenant General David Barno, now the director of Near East and South Asian security studies at National Defense University, dismisses concerns that either the Afghan army or the Ministry of Defense would challenge the authority of the central government in Kabul. Other military analysts cite Pakistan, Egypt, and Turkey as models where the United States supports civilian governments in which military and security forces are at least as powerful as those governments. (Shanker and Schmitt 3/18/2009)
President Barack Obama releases a video message directed at Iran. The White House sends the message to commemorate the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, or “New Day,” the Iranian New Year. Obama begins by lauding the history and culture of the Iranian people. He acknowledges that the US and Iran continue to have strained and difficult relations, but says, “[A]t this holiday we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together.” Obama promises that the US will work to build a strong relationship through honest, respectful diplomacy. To Iran’s governmental leaders, he says: “You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right—but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.” He concludes by quoting a famous Iranian poet and giving holiday greetings in Farsi: “I know that this won’t be reached easily. There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences. But let us remember the words that were written by the poet Saadi, so many years ago: ‘The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence.’ With the coming of a new season, we’re reminded of this precious humanity that we all share. And we can once again call upon this spirit as we seek the promise of a new beginning. Thank you, and Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak [Happy New Year].” (White House 3/19/2009; Obama 3/19/2009; Erdbrink and Kessler 3/20/2009)
'Groundbreaking' Message May Force Iranian Hardliners to Give Ground - Reaction to the message is mixed. The New York Times calls the message “groundbreaking,” and notes that Obama’s use of the proper name of the country—“The Islamic Republic of Iran”—acknowledges the nation’s theological governance in a respectful manner not done by members of the Bush administration and, the Washington Post observes, “signaling an apparent break from President George W. Bush’s unstated promotion of a change of leadership.” Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, says of the message: “That wording is designed to demonstrate acceptance of the government of Iran. The message is dripping with sincerity and directly addresses one of the things they are most concerned about.” Iranian officials acknowledge the message, but say that Obama’s actions must live up to his words, and past grievances, such as the US 1988 downing of an Iranian airliner, must be redressed. A senior government official, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, says: “This cannot only be done by us, we cannot simply forget what the US did to our nation. They need to perceive what wrong orientation they had and make serious efforts to make up for it.” A former Iranian ambassador to France, Sadegh Kharrazi, says: “Obama had no practical suggestion that we can work with. This is a lost opportunity.” But Iranian-American expert Karim Sadjadpour says that Obama’s message will force the Iranian government to, in the words of the Times, “put up or shut up on prospects for better relations with the United States.” Sadjadpour says: “What this message does is, it puts the hard-liners in a difficult position, because where the Bush administration united disparate Iranian political leaders against a common threat, what Obama is doing is accentuating the cleavages in Iran. It makes the hard-liners look increasingly like they are the impediment.” (Cooper and Sanger 3/20/2009; Erdbrink and Kessler 3/20/2009)
Neoconservative: Obama 'Kowtowing' to Iranian Government - Neoconservative William Kristol deplores the message, calling it little more than a “message of weakness” and criticizing Obama for not calling on the Iranian government to emphasize “liberty,” “freedom,” “democracy,” and “human rights.” Kristol writes, “[W]hat’s distinctive about Obama’s statement is his respect for the ‘leaders,’ the clerical dictatorship,” to whom Obama is “kowtowing.” Kristol deplores Obama’s failure to echo the Bush administration’s call for regime change in Iran, and criticizes Obama’s failure to call for an end to Iran’s nuclear program. “Obama doesn’t believe in threats,” Kristol writes. “He believes that we should speak nicely to our enemies, and carry no stick.” (Kristol 3/30/2009)
President Obama disagrees with recent statements from former Vice President Dick Cheney that his administration’s policies are endangering America (see February 4, 2009 and March 15, 2009). “I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney—not surprisingly,” Obama tells CBS reporter Steve Kroft. “I think that Vice President Cheney has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can’t reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don’t torture, with our national security interests. I think he’s drawing the wrong lesson from history. (CNN 3/22/2009; CBS News 3/22/2009) The facts don’t bear him out.” Cheney “is eager to defend a legacy that was unsustainable,” Obama says, and notes that Cheney’s politics reflect a mindset that “has done incredible damage to our image and position in the world.” (Edwards and Webster 3/22/2009; CBS News 3/22/2009) In response to Cheney’s advocacy of extreme interrogation methods—torture—of suspected terrorists, Obama asks: “How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn’t made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment.” (Martin 3/21/2009; CBS News 3/22/2009) “The whole premise of Guantanamo promoted by Vice President Cheney was that, somehow, the American system of justice was not up to the task of dealing with these terrorists,” Obama continues. “This is the legacy that’s been left behind and, you know, I’m surprised that the vice president is eager to defend a legacy that was unsustainable. Let’s assume that we didn’t change these practices. How long are we going to go? Are we going to just keep on going until, you know, the entire Muslim world and Arab world despises us? Do we think that’s really going to make us safer? I don’t know a lot of thoughtful thinkers, liberal or conservative, who think that was the right approach.” (Edwards and Webster 3/22/2009; CBS News 3/22/2009)
NATO wants to grow the Afghan National Army (ANA) from a force of 80,000 to 270,000 by 2016, an effort described as the heart of Afghan nation-building. “We’re building an army on an industrial scale,” British Brigadier Neil Baverstock tells The Atlantic correspondent Robert Kaplan. This target closely resembles Pentagon proposals for massively increased ANA numbers (see March 18, 2009), but has not been publicly mentioned or explicitly endorsed by the Obama Administration (see March 27, 2009) or NATO (see April 4, 2009). Kaplan reports that the American military is leading an effort to establish the Afghan equivalents of West Point and the National Defense University, in addition to basic training and advanced combat schools, a noncommissioned officer academy, an officer candidate school, and a counterinsurgency academy.
Brain Drain and the Threat of Future Coups - Kaplan writes that the budding Afghan military complex threatens to funnel Afghanistan’s educated elite away from civilian and government jobs, thus weakening the state’s capacity to maintain authority and control over the security forces. He suggests that this equation in Afghanistan increases the risk of the country facing African and Latin American-style coups in the future. When this possibility is raised with American generals, they tell Kaplan that the threat of a coup is a risk worth taking if it means more stability in the short term.
Afghan Public Protection Program - While the coalition builds an army from the top down, they also hope to improve security in the provinces and villages from the bottom up through the Afghan Public Protection Program (APPFP). American Brig. Gen. Mark Milley explains that the program recruits, trains, and arms locals across tribal and ethnic lines, making them answerable to provincial governors. A pilot APPFP is being developed in Wardak province, just south of Kabul. Kaplan notes that Wardak’s pro-American governor, Mohammed [Halim] Fidai, is one of a group of governors with whom the Americans are working, in effect, “to circumvent total reliance on Karzai.” (Kaplan 3/24/2009)
At least 19 Congressional Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), say that the Obama administration’s “cap-and-trade” proposal would cost American families $3,128 apiece in extra taxes.
Misrepresenting an MIT Study - Boehner, McConnell, and their fellow Republicans base their claim on a 2007 MIT study. However, one of the study’s researchers, John Reilly, says that the Republicans are misreading it. According to Reilly, any tax burden on American families would not be felt until 2015, and the cost would be closer to $31 per person and $79 per year. The controversial claim originates in a Web posting by the House Republican Conference on March 24, which says: “The administration raises revenue for nationalized health care through a series of new taxes, including a light switch tax that would cost every American household $3,128 a year. What effect will this have on Americans struggling to pay their mortgages?” The St. Petersburg Times explains that the GOP’s “light switch tax” is a reference to President Obama’s proposal to tax power companies for carbon dioxide emissions, and allow companies to trade emissions credits among themselves. The program is called cap-and-trade. Republicans say the power companies would pass the tax on to electricity consumers, thus creating what they call a “light switch tax”—a term the Times calls misleading in and of itself. According to the MIT study, such a program would raise around $366 billion per year; Republicans divide that figure by the 117 million households in the US and get $3,128 in additional costs. Reilly says the Republicans are “just wrong. It’s wrong in so many ways it’s hard to begin.”
Corrected by Study's Author - And, Reilly says, he told House Republicans so when they contacted him on March 20. “I had explained why the estimate they had was probably incorrect and what they should do to correct it, but I think this wrong number was already floating around by that time.” Republicans also claim that the Obama administration intends to use cap-and-trade money to pay for what they call “nationalized health care,” a claim refuted by details of the program released by Obama officials. (House Republicans later amend this claim to say that the program will pay for “increased spending.”) The Times notes that Boehner rebuffs a second attempt by Reilly to correct the claim that the program will cost American households over $3,000 per year.
Further Falsehoods - Instead, nine other Republicans and the neoconservative Weekly Standard begin echoing the claim, with the Standard claiming that their figures show an annual cost of over $3,900 and accusing Reilly of “low-balling the cost of cap-and-trade by using some fuzzy logic.” Reilly says the Standard “just completely twisted the whole thing.… It’s false.” Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) takes the claim even further, saying that the huge annual tax would be levied on “every living American.” Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) restates the cost to $4,500 per family, and fellow House colleague Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) raises the rate to $4,560. Fox News correspondent Jim Angle reports Gregg’s claim without refutation or examination; on a later Fox broadcast, Gregg says, “every time you turn on your light switch, you’re going to be paying a tax.”
Denouncing the Lies - Reilly has written to Boehner and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming to denounce the GOP’s distortion of the MIT study. Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) accuses the Republicans of “using an intentional misrepresentation of the study,” and says: “One of the things I find most distressing is their repeated falsehood about somehow a $3,000 increase in taxes on the American people based on a research done by MIT. They talked about it four times again last night!… The fact is that in the budget we have an opportunity for people who want to be legislators not communicators to help us allocate how those benefits will be utilized.” (Adair 3/30/2009; Armbruster 4/1/2009; Armbruster 4/2/2009)
Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, with former UN Ambassador John R. Bolton as his guest, says that the Obama administration is pushing for a “global currency.” The assertion is part of Beck’s larger claim that Obama wants to steer the US towards some sort of “one-world government.” Beck says: “Ambassador, everybody is calling for global currency. I think part of this is a game, but I think, also, part of it is a—I mean, now the UN is saying, you know what? We should have a global currency. It’s also a movement to tie the entire globe together into one big government. Am I wrong or right?” Beck adds later in the interview: “You’re known as a fighter. I mean, you are a guy in there, man, you were just taking the fight right to them. So, what does the average person do? I mean, the average person, they hear, you know, I might be losing my sovereignty.… What—who do—who’s on our side?” Bolton responds: “Well, you know, I think it’s important we understand what we mean by sovereignty. To Europeans and many left-wing intellectuals in this country, it’s just kind of an abstract concept that doesn’t mean much. But I think to most Americans, sovereignty means our control over our own government. It’s about self-government.” Beck later says: “Ambassador, when you say world government, it does sound nuts. And because everybody knows, nobody is for world government,” and Bolton responds: “That’s why they don’t call it world government anymore. And they’ll try and find these other phrases. But you have to look underneath of it. And it’s on a range of issues, not just the money supply, but gun control, the death penalty, abortion, all—global warming—all of which are issues we can and should debate in our—in our constitutional democratic framework. We don’t need to decide them internationally. But that’s what the agenda is of many people very close to the Obama administration.” (Media Matters 4/10/2009) Beck and Bolton are echoing claims made in the ‘90s and later by extremist militia groups, which warned that the US government intended to implement a “new world order” (see September 11, 1990) of a one-world government that would result in the confiscation of Americans’ guns, and a general replacement of democracy for tyranny (see 1994, January 1994, February 1995, July 4-11, 1997, October 20, 1999, April 14-15, 2009, January 21, 2010, and October 11, 2010), and that are echoed by Fox News pundits such as Glenn Beck (see March 17, 2009), Bill O’Reilly (see April 1-2, 2009), and others (see April 6, 2009).
Fox News contributor Charles Payne, appearing on Fox’s morning show Fox & Friends, tells viewers that under the Obama administration the US is moving towards a “one-world” government. Payne is echoing claims made in the ‘90s and later by extremist militia groups, which warned that the US government intended to implement a “new world order” (see September 11, 1990) of a one-world government that would result in the confiscation of Americans’ guns, and a general replacement of democracy for tyranny (see 1994, January 1994, February 1995, July 4-11, 1997, October 20, 1999, April 14-15, 2009, January 21, 2010, and October 11, 2010), and that will be echoed by Fox News pundits such as Bill O’Reilly (see April 1-2, 2009) and others (see April 6, 2009). Payne says: “Listen, one day I think that we are heading toward a one-world sort of government. I think Obama probably likes that,” and says moments later, “We’re taking itty-bitty steps towards that.” (Media Matters 3/24/2009; Media Matters 4/10/2009) Payne is following recent, similar claims by Fox News guest Alex Jones (see March 18, 2009) and Fox host Glenn Beck and his guests (see March 17, 2009 and March 24, 2009).
Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House Minority Whip, while appearing on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal,” agrees with a caller that the Obama administration is moving the US towards one-party fascist rule. The caller says: “But what really is scaring the rest of us, the other half of us, is the fascism. I mean the true fascism that is happening in this country today.… The belligerent takeover of a one-party system.” Without repeating the terminology, Cantor agrees: “Now as far as a one-party government in here, I think what the public is doing, they’re finally waking up and everybody is realizing that checks and balances are a part of the system and divided government is something that is beneficial to a balanced debate, and something that can produce a better outcome. Which is exactly why Republicans in the House have said, ‘Look, we want to work with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle. We want to try to bring this president back into the mainstream.’” (Armbruster 3/25/2009)
Fox News host Sean Hannity and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) join to accuse President Obama of attempting to impose a “dictatorship” in America. Discussing the Obama administration’s plans to implement new financial regulations and oversight, Hannity begins by accusing Obama of “mov[ing] America down the road to socialism.” He asks Gingrich to “explain” to the audience “how dangerous this power grab is.” Gingrich responds: “We are seeing the biggest power grab by politicians in American history. The idea that they would propose that the treasury could intervene and take over non-bank, non-financial system assets gives them the potential to basically create the equivalent of a dictatorship.… Look, it absolutely moves it towards a political dictatorship.” (Armbruster 3/26/2009)
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) produces a Republican alternative to the Obama administration’s $3.6 trillion budget proposal. Calling President Obama’s budget “completely irresponsible,” Boehner holds up a booklet on the floor of the House and says: “Two nights ago the president said, ‘We haven’t seen a budget yet out of Republicans.’ Well, it’s just not true because—Here it is, Mr. President.” Boehner calls the booklet a “blueprint for where we’re going.” However, the booklet contains almost no details and no actual numbers; the Associated Press calls it “a glossy pamphlet short on detail.” Boehner’s House colleague Paul Ryan (R-WI) says more details will be revealed next week. “We’re going to show a leaner budget, a budget with lower taxes, lower spending, and lower borrowing,” Ryan says. “Our plan curbs spending, creates jobs, and cuts taxes, while reducing the deficit,” says Boehner. When asked about specifics, including where the cuts would come from, Boehner tells a reporter, “We’ll wait and see next week.” (Keck 3/26/2009; Taylor 3/27/2009)
Cutting Deficits, Lowering Taxes for Wealthy Americans and Working Class - The proposal does not specify how it would reduce the federal deficit. It does advocate heavy cuts in domestic spending and lowering tax rates: the Republicans propose reducing the 35 percent, 33 percent, and 28 percent tax brackets to 25 percent, which would result in significant tax cuts for wealthier Americans. The proposal would also reduce the tax rate for those making below $100,000 to 10 percent. Liberal analyst Matthew Yglesias notes, “It’s strange that the Republicans railing about long-term deficits seem to love long-term deficits when the point of the deficits is to further enrich the rich.” (Garofalo 3/26/2009)
No Actual Numbers - Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) says “[i]t’s not likely” that the GOP budget will be adopted. However, Pence says he believes “that a minority in Congress plus the American people equals the majority.” Pence adds, “We intend to take our case for fiscal discipline, growth, and tax relief to the American people from sea to shining sea and if the American people will rise up, anything is possible on Capitol Hill.” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs laughs at the Republicans’ budget proposal, noting that the blueprint contains more pictures of windmills than charts. “It’s interesting to have a budget that doesn’t contain any numbers,” he says. “I think the ‘party of no’ has become the ‘party of no new ideas.‘… The administration is glad that the Republicans heard the president’s call to submit an alternative,” he says. “We just hope that next time it will contain actual numbers so somebody can evaluate what it means.” Obama’s proposal is likely to be modified by more conservative Democrats in the upcoming days. Senate Republicans later say that they do not intend to submit a specific alternate proposal to Obama’s budget, a decision that the Associated Press notes “spares them the need to make politically difficult choices.” (Keck 3/26/2009; Taylor 3/27/2009) Asked about the proposal’s effect on the federal deficit by MSNBC correspondent Norah O’Donnell, Pence is unable to answer the question. O’Donnell asks: “So you don’t have the numbers now? About what your plan would be in terms of how it would cut the deficit or add to the deficit? You don’t have any numbers on that?” Pence attempts to duck the question: “Well, it’s really a broad—when the White House a few minutes ago was attacking the numbers in this bill, the tax cut numbers. There’s plenty of numbers in the Republican recovery plan. And we just really believe the president’s plan to raise taxes by nearly 2 trillion dollars on almost every American… deserves a debate on Capitol Hill.” O’Donnell responds, “[H]ow is your plan credible?” Pence replies: “Well, I thought through this morning, we didn’t have a plan, so it may be progress our plan is being attacked.… This is the broad outline.” (Think Progress 3/26/2009)
'Marketing Document' - Five days later, Ryan will admit that the “budget proposal” being offered by Boehner is nothing more than a “marketing document” (see April 1, 2009).
President Obama formally announces his administration’s war strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, explicitly linking the two countries in a shared threat assessment requiring a comprehensive regional approach that commits US police and army trainers to Afghanistan, promises an enlargement of Afghan Security Forces, and a requests a boost in funding for Pakistan. The president specifically announces a deployment of 4,000 US troops to train Afghan Army and Police while calling for an accelerated effort to enlarge these forces to an army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000. The Interagency Policy Group White Paper on the strategy suggests the build-up of Afghan Security Force numbers is only a first step. “Initially this will require a more rapid build-up of the Afghan Army and police up to 134,000 and 82,000 over the next two years, with additional enlargements as circumstances and resources warrant,” reads the paper. (Obama 3/27/2009; Interagency Policy Group 3/27/2009 ) The New York Times, reporting a day in advance of the announcement, notes that the new strategy will not explicitly endorse the request from American commanders to increase the Afghan national security forces to 400,000 as it had reported earlier in the week (see March 18, 2009). (Baker and Shanker 3/26/2009) Commenting later on Obama’s strategy, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, one of the chief architects of the nation-building counterinsurgency doctrine, will say that Obama’s troop increase and trainer push falls short and is a merely a “down payment” on what needs to be done to secure Afghanistan (see March 31, 2009).
The New York Post publishes an article headlined “Scary! Obama nominee wants one world order.” The article, by Post reporter Meghan Clyne, attacks President Obama’s nomination of Yale Law School dean Harold Koh as legal adviser to the State Department. Clyne says Koh is a “fan of ‘transnational legal process,’ arguing that the distinctions between US and international law should vanish.” She says that according to Koh’s views, judges should put aside the Constitution in favor of “legal ‘norms’” from other nations’ laws. “Sharia law could apply to disputes in US courts,” she writes. “The United States constitutes an ‘axis of disobedience’ along with North Korea and Saddam-era Iraq.” The newly launched Fox Nation, the blog for Fox News, links to the article, which disappears from the Post’s Web archive shortly thereafter. (Fox Nation 3/31/2009; Media Matters 4/10/2009) An extraordinarily racist conservative blog, Chimpout, hosts a forum discussion of the article under the heading “Osambo picks another douche bag for his cabinet.” The forum’s thread is part of a larger discussion section entitled “N_gger College” and a subsection entitled “F_cked Up Facts about First Monkey,” an apparent reference to Obama. Commenters immediately begin launching “birther”-styled accusations of Obama being an illegal president because of his “Kenyan birth” (see October 8, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, November 10, 2008, August 1-4, 2009, and August 4, 2009), and say Obama should be relegated to “picking cotton.” (Chimpout 3/31/2009) Days later, Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, conservative editor Cliff Kincaid, and former Republican Senator Rick Santorum will join in attacking Koh (see April 1, 2009, April 6, 2009, and April 9, 2009).
One of the intellectual godfathers of President Barack Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy and an influential authority on counterinsurgency strategy warns that the White House is dangerously shortchanging efforts to create a viable Afghan Army. Retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security think tank, says he is worried that the Obama administration’s commitment to building local forces to secure the country wasn’t given enough emphasis in the president’s AFPAK strategy announcement speech a few days earlier (see March 27, 2009). Speaking at a seminar sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative think tank in Washington, Nagl asserts, “The long-term answer has to be an expanded Afghan National Army, and this is the policy I hoped to hear [at the speech] but did not.” He adds that the Afghan National Army, as the country’s most respected institution, must be expanded to 250,000 troops, which closely resembles a reported Pentagon plan to expand the Afghan National Army to 260,000 troops (see March 18, 2009). Nagl refers to Obama’s troop increase and trainer push as a “down payment” on what’s needed to prevent Taliban re-infiltration of the population and keep extremists from taking over Afghanistan. (Lowe 4/3/2009)
The Obama administration announces that the US will seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. The Bush administration had chosen not to participate in the council, saying that it would not countenance the influence of nations who repress their populations. “Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy,” says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “With others, we will engage in the work of improving the UN human rights system.… We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies.” Elections for three seats on the 47-member council will take place in May. The other countries on the ballot are Belgium and Norway. New Zealand agreed to withdraw from the ballot in favor of the US candidacy; New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, explained, “Frankly, by any objective measure, membership of the council by the US is more likely to create positive changes more quickly than we could have hoped to achieve them.” A human rights advocate tells the Washington Post: “This is a welcome step that gives the United States and other defenders of human rights a fighting chance to make the institution more effective. I think everybody is just desperate to have the United States and Barack Obama run for the human rights council, and countries are willing to bend over backward to make that happen.” Human rights activists have pressured the US to join the council since its inception in March 2006. The council took the place of the UN’s Human Rights Commission, which lost credibility when it allowed nations such as Sudan and Zimbabwe to join and thus thwart criticism of their treatment of their citizens. Bush officials had refused to join the new body, saying that they did not believe the new organization represented any improvement over its predecessor. Then-US ambassador to the UN John Bolton explained that the US would have more “leverage in terms of the performance of the new council” by not participating in it and thus signaling a rejection of “business as usual.” Bolton says of the Obama administration’s decision: “This is like getting on board the Titanic after it’s hit the iceberg. This is the theology of engagement at work. There is no concrete American interest served by this, and it legitimizes something that doesn’t deserve legitimacy.” Obama officials concede that the council has failed to do its job adequately, and focused too much on abuse allegations by Israel to the exclusion of allegations against nations such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Sri Lanka. US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice says: “Those who suffer from abuse and oppression around the world, as well as those who dedicate their lives to advancing human rights, need the council to be balanced and credible.” The US intends to join the council “because we believe that working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum to promote and protect human rights.” (Lynch 3/31/2009)
Congress sends the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act to President Obama, who will sign the act into law sometime in April. The bill passed both houses of Congress with large majorities. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who co-sponsored the Senate legislation, says the bill is “probably the most bipartisan bill we will see on the Senate floor this year.” House Republicans wrote in the House committee report: “[W]e applaud the inclusion of reforms that Committee Republicans have long championed to ensure that recipients of taxpayer funds are held accountable for results. We are pleased to join with the Majority in supporting bipartisan efforts to strengthen the national service laws and improve service delivery throughout the country.” The bill provides for the expansion of the AmeriCorps program from 75,000 to 250,000, creating new groups of volunteers focusing on health care, education, renewable energy, and veterans, and reauthorizing such AmeriCorps organizations as VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) and the National Civilian Community Corps. The Kennedy Act also calls for awarding college students who complete a full-time national service job an “educational award having a value equal to the maximum amount of a Federal Pell Grant.” AmeriCorps says this would increase the amount its members receive upon completion of service from $4,725 to $5,350, which they can use to pay for school or pay back student loans. First Lady Michelle Obama says the bill is of particular concern to her, as volunteerism is one of her priorities. The legislation was originally known as the “Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act,” but senators renamed it in honor of ailing Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who helped craft the bill. Kennedy says of its final passage in the House of Representatives: “Today’s House vote again demonstrates the high priority Congress gives to encouraging citizens of all ages in all communities across America to participate in public service. This legislation will enable many more Americans to do something for their country to meet the many challenges facing us. I look forward to the president signing this bill into law so that a welcome new era of national and community service can begin.” The bill also establishes September 11 as a national day of service. (Herszenhorn 3/31/2009; Annenberg Political Fact Check 3/31/2009)
'Re-Education Camps' - Some Republican lawmakers, along with a variety of conservative pundits and radio show hosts, have claimed that the bill is far more sinister than it seems. House Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) says the bill will allow the Obama administration to create what she calls “re-education camps for young people…” Bachmann tells a Minnesota radio audience: “It’s under the guise of—quote—volunteerism. But it’s not volunteers at all. It’s paying people to do work on behalf of government.… I believe that there is a very strong chance that we will see that young people will be put into mandatory service. And the real concerns is that there are provisions for what I would call re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward and then they have to go to work in some of these politically correct forums. (Steller 4/6/2009) The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org receives numerous letters asking questions such as: “Is Congress creating a mandatory public service system? Are participants not allowed to go to church?” One writer tells FactCheck: “I have been getting all kinds of e-mails from people claiming that bill calls for mandatory service and in violation of our 13th amendment, and that I should call my congressman and tell them that this bill is modern day slavery. I have also received e-mails saying that service would still be voluntary and that the bill is just expanding current volunteer opportunities.… There is a lot of confusion out there right now regarding this very important legislation and was hoping you guys could shed some light.”
Debunking Claims - FactCheck reports, “The national service bill does not mandate that youth must participate nor does it forbid anyone who does participate from going to church.” It notes that many conservative pundits and bloggers have claimed that the bill “requires the government to draw up plans for a ‘mandatory service requirement for all able young people.’ Others say the bill forbids participants from attending church. These claims are false. Neither the House-passed bill nor the Senate-passed version says these things.”
'Mandatory Service Requirement?' - Bachmann and others have also claimed that the bill provides for a “mandatory service requirement for all able young people,” but that provision is not in any version of the bill. The original House bill did advance that as an idea worthy of study, and called for a “Congressional Commission on Civil Service” to “address and analyze” several topics, including “issues that deter volunteerism” and how they can be overcome, how expanding international public service might affect diplomacy and foreign relations, and “[w]hether a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people could be developed, and how such a requirement could be implemented in a manner that would strengthen the social fabric of the Nation.” The proposed commission would also investigate “[t]he need for a public service academy, a 4-year institution that offers a federally funded undergraduate education with a focus on training future public sector leaders.” However, that entire section was removed from the final bill. Hatch has confirmed that the bill contains no such provisions, saying on the floor of the Senate: “Consistent with our All-Volunteer Army and volunteer opportunities and individuals’ choice in communities, nothing in this legislation is mandatory. This bill simply provides more Americans more choices and opportunities to give back to their neighborhoods and their country all through the means which they freely choose.” The bill does provide for the inclusion of service-learning programs in public schools.
Church Attendance Prohibited? - Perhaps the most inflammatory claim is the one promulgated on conservative blogs and talk radio shows claiming that the bill would prohibit volunteers from attending church. FactCheck notes that such a provision “would be an incredibly draconian law—and a clear violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion, upon which this country was founded…” The claim seems to originate from the Jonas Clark Ministries, which has made Web postings and sent out mass e-mails claiming that the language of section 125 of the bill “prohibited activities and ineligible organizations,” and as such volunteers would be prohibited from attending church. The bill makes no such prohibition. It does, however, says that national service volunteers cannot attempt to “influence legislation,” organize “protests, petitions, boycotts or strikes,” promote “union organizing,” engage in “partisan political activities, or other activities designed to influence the outcome of an election to any public office,” and engage in “religious instruction, conducting worship services, providing instruction as part of a program that includes mandatory religious instruction or worship, constructing or operating facilities devoted to religious instruction or worship, maintaining facilities primarily or inherently devoted to religious instruction or worship, or engaging in any form of religious proselytization.” The language is virtually identical to what AmeriCorps and Senior Corps has told their volunteers for years. FactCheck writes: “In other words, public service activities can’t include anything overtly religious or political. And this is nothing new.” AmeriCorps spokesman Sandy Scott later tells FactCheck: “Both House- and Senate-passed bills codify long-standing regulatory restrictions on engaging in certain activities while ‘on-duty’ as an AmeriCorps member. They do not cover what individuals do on their own time at their own initiative.” (Annenberg Political Fact Check 3/31/2009)
US presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke meets briefly and informally with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Mehdi Akhondzadeh. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representatative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Akhondzadeh are participants in a major international conference at The Hague convened to discuss the problem of Afghanistan. The two talk briefly during a lunch break. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will say of the meeting: “It was cordial, unplanned, and they agreed to stay in touch. I myself did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation.” Clinton says the US has asked the Iranian delegation to intercede in the cases of two American citizens being detained in Iran and a third who is missing. The New York Times calls the two contacts “another step in the Obama administration’s policy of engagement… a tentative process, in which the White House makes symbolic gestures, like President Obama’s recent video greeting to the Iranian people and government for their New Year (see March 19, 2009), while continuing to formulate its longer-term strategy.” Some experts believe that the meeting between Holbrooke and Akhondzadeh is not entirely fortuitous, but is the product of some planning. In the conference, Akhondzadeh says Iran will help reconstruction in Afghanistan as well as take part in efforts to curb the exploding Afghan drug trade. “The fact that they came today, that they intervened today, is a promising sign that there will be future cooperation,” Clinton says. “The Iranian representative set forth some very clear ideas that we will all be pursuing together.” The US and Iran have mutual interests in curbing Afghanistan’s drug trade, Clinton says: “The questions of border security, and in particular the transit of narcotics across the border from Afghanistan to Iran is a worry that the Iranians have, which we share.” (Landler 3/31/2009)
A proposal by two Senators, Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), to cut $250 billion in estate taxes for the children of multi-millionaires, garners what progressive think tank the Center for American Progress calls “a disturbing amount of support.” The New York Times writes that for Kyl and Lincoln: “[T]he most pressing [economic] issue is clear: America’s wealthiest families need help. Now.” The Kyl-Lincoln proposal would raise the estate tax exemption from $7 million to $10 million per couple and lower the top rate from 45 percent to 35 percent. Kyl, Lincoln, and other supporters say the estate tax cuts would protect small farms and businesses. This claim is refuted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which notes that “only 0.2 percent of the additional cost of the proposal, relative to [the Obama proposal for estate taxes], would go toward tax cuts for small businesses and farms.” Around $249.5 billion of that money would go to the inheritors of estates worth over $7 million. According to both the Times and the Center for American Progress, less than 0.3 percent of Americans would pay estate taxes under Obama’s proposal; only those households worth over $7 million. The Times observes: “In addition to creating the false impression that the estate tax eventually hits everyone—by mislabeling it a ‘death tax’—opponents routinely denounce the 45 percent top tax rate as confiscatory. In fact, the rate applies only to the portion of the estate that exceeds the exemption. As a result, even estates worth more than $20 million end up paying only about 20 percent in taxes. Another misleading argument is that the estate tax represents double taxation. In truth, much of the wealth that is taxed at death has never been taxed before. That’s because such wealth is often accrued in the form of capital gains on stocks, real estate, and other investments. Capital gains are not taxed until an asset is sold. Obviously, if someone dies owning an asset, he or she never sold it and thus never paid tax on the gain. If those arguments aren’t enough to stop the Lincoln-Kyl show, lawmakers should consider this: The estate tax creates a big incentive for high-end philanthropy, because charitable bequests are exempt.” (New York Times 4/1/2009; Furnas 4/1/2009)
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says that Israel’s new right-wing government will not be bound by a US-backed understanding to work towards establishing an independent Palestinian nation, the so-called “two-state solution.” Lieberman’s remarks outrage many Palestinian leaders, and indicate a sharp divide between the Obama administration and the government of newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The conservative Netanyahu has long opposed the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state, though he has recently said he supports an agreement towards limited Palestinian self-rule. Lieberman’s speech, described by the Los Angeles Times as “blunt and openly hawkish” and by the New York Times as “blunt and belligerent,” warns against giving concessions to the Palestinians, saying they “only bring pressure and more wars.” “[T]hose who wish for peace should prepare for war,” he adds. “Those who think that through concessions they will gain respect and peace are wrong. It is the other way around; it will lead to more wars.” The 2007 agreement, made at Annapolis, Maryland between then-US President George W. Bush, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, committed the parties to further “the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine.” Now, Lieberman says: “It has no validity. The Israeli government never ratified Annapolis, nor did parliament.” Palestinian spokesman Nabil abu Rudaineh calls Lieberman’s position dangerous, and recommends that the Obama administration “take a clear position against this policy before things get worse.” Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Lieberman has “closed the door on Annapolis and closed the door in the face of the international community.” An Obama spokesman says that the US remains committed to a two-state solution. Lieberman’s statement is contradicted by a warning from Israeli President Shimon Peres that “the majority of countries in the world” back the Palestinian quest for statehood, hinting that to withdraw support for a two-state solution will result in Israel’s isolation. “The outgoing government espoused the vision of two states for two peoples, which was initiated by the American government and accepted by the majority of countries in the world,” Peres states. “It is up to your government to decide the shape of the reality to come.” Netanyahu has privately told Western officials that he, not Lieberman, will set Israel’s foreign policy; Netanyahu gave Lieberman the position because Lieberman’s nationalist party, Israel Is Our Home, is a member of Netanyahu’s rightist coalition government. But Netanyahu’s own foreign policy adviser, Zalman Shoval, says that the prime minister also considers the Annapolis declaration nonbinding. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister now serving as an envoy to the Middle East peace negotiations, says the peace process is in “very great jeopardy.” (Kershner 4/1/2009; Boudreaux 4/2/2009)
Several media outlets report discredited Republican claims that the Obama administration’s “cap-and-trade” global warming initiative would cost American taxpayers over $3,000 per year. Fox News anchors Eric Shawn and Alisyn Camerota (see October 13, 2009), CNN producer Ted Barrett, and the Washington, DC, newspaper Roll Call repeat the claim, which originated in a March 23 House Republican Conference (HRC) “talking points” press release. (GOP (.gov) 3/23/2009; Media Matters 4/6/2009) The claim points to a 2007 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but one of the study’s authors, John Reilly, says the Republicans’ interpretation of it is wrong (see March 24 - April 2, 2009). Reilly says the average household cost of $3,128, as calculated by the HRC, is “nearly 10 times the correct estimate” based on his study’s cap-and-trade model. The HRC’s error is further shown by a March 30 analysis conducted by the St. Petersburg Times. (Adair 3/30/2009; Media Matters 4/6/2009) Both Reilly and the Times show that the average annual cost per household will be closer to $340. On Fox News’s America’s News HQ, Shawn claims “this cap-and-trade, or as the Republicans call it, cap-and-tax—could add $3,000 a year on our electric bills.… [T]hat’s about—$290 or so a month. I mean, imagine the American public, everyone watching right now—all of us—getting an extra 300 bucks or so a month tacked on to our utility bills.” Camerota tells viewers of Fox News’s America’s Newsroom that the cap-and-trade proposal “would be $3,100 per US household.” Roll Call’s Jay Heflin publishes a claim by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) that “the effort equates to a ‘light switch tax’ of up to $3,128 each year for families” without informing readers of Reilly’s and the Times’s differing analysis. (Media Matters 4/6/2009; Heflin 4/6/2009) Similarly, on CNN’s Political Ticker blog, Barrett repeats a similar claim, writing, “Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell praised the Senate for having ‘slammed the door on using the fast-track process to jam through a new national energy tax’ that Republicans say will cost families $3,000 a year in higher energy costs.” (Barrett 4/1/2009; Media Matters 4/6/2009)
A day before the NATO Summit on Afghanistan opens in Strasbourg, France, the New York Times reports that according to American military planners and NATO-nation diplomats, NATO has set a goal of producing an Afghan Army of up to 220,000 troops and an enlarged police force of 180,000. This echoes earlier reports (see March 18, 2009) and (see March 24, 2009) on planned Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) numbers. These reported targets remain, however, much greater than either the Obama administration (see March 27, 2009) or NATO (see April 4, 2009) has officially disclosed. In support of a central pillar of Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy focusing on security and an expansion of Afghan security forces, the US’s NATO allies are to focus on the training of the Afghan army and police by committing several thousand personnel, according to alliance military planners. (Shanker and Erlanger 4/2/2009)
Conservative radio host Mike Gallagher discusses an exchange between the Second Amendment Foundation’s Alan Gottlieb and MSNBC anchor David Shuster that occurred the night before, on MSNBC’s Hardball. Gallagher lauds Gottlieb’s “great job in explaining logically why people are worried about what the Obama administration wants to do with our guns,” and airs a clip from the conversation in which Shuster asked Gottlieb, “Do you believe that the Obama administration and the Feds are coming to take away everybody’s guns?” Gottlieb replied: “I believe that’s what they would like to do. I don’t think we’re going to let them get away with it.” Gallagher later tells his listeners: “[L]isten to the way Gottlieb leaves the liberal columnist stuttering and stammering, explaining very eloquently why so many of us are worried and scurrying to buy guns right now.… [I]f you think the government might take your rights away from you, you want to try and exercise them before that happens. It’s a normal reaction.” Gallagher suggests “a national movement to register as many people as we can… to become gun owners,” and continues: “We’re going to set up a Web site, we’re going to get listener participation on this, we’re going to register and create as many gun owners—new, first-time gun owners as possible. I don’t even want to set a number. I’m number one—I’ll be the first one.” However, Gallagher criticizes media reports that state Pittsburgh cop-killer Richard Poplawski killed three police officers for fear that government or law enforcement officials would take away his guns (see April 4, 2009). (Media Matters 4/7/2009; Media Matters 4/9/2009)
Republican lawmakers announce their intention to join with right-wing protesters on April 15, 2009, in what is envisioned as a nationwide protest against the Obama administration’s tax policies. The primary organizers are the think tanks Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, and right-wing bloggers such as Michelle Malkin. They say that under President Obama, taxes are “too high” and freedoms are being “eroded.” They have also called for Obama’s impeachment and refer to him as “Obama bin Lyin” and other derogatory nicknames.
Republicans, Neo-Nazis, Secessionists Joining in 'Tea Party Protests' - Malkin has called the movement the “Tea Party Protests,” in an attempt to connect the protests with the American Revolution’s Boston Tea Party. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is sponsoring legislation to honor the protests. Representatives David Davis (R-TN), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), John Fleming (R-LA), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Bob Latta (R-OH), John Shadegg (R-AZ), Sue Myrick (R-NC), Bill Posey (R-FL), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) will attend local protests, as will Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC) and former Representative J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ). Officials from Senator Bob Corker’s (R-TN) and Representative Sam Graves’s (R-MO) office will attend the rallies as well, and Representatives Denny Rehberg (R-MT), Jack Kingston (R-GA), and Tom Rooney (R-FL) are urging their constituents to attend tea party protests. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who heads American Solutions for Winning the Futures (ASWF) and who will speak at the New York City rally, is encouraging his supporters to join the protests, and has provided them with what he calls a “toolkit” of talking points. ASWF is funded by oil and energy interests, and led the recent “Drill Here, Drill Now” campaign. ASWF has been an official “partner” in the Tea Party campaign since March. The Tea Party Protests are being joined by gun rights militias, secessionists, and neo-Nazi groups.
Protests Orchestrated by Lobbyist Organizations and Promoted by Fox News - The protests are being heavily promoted on Fox News, which intends to hold all-day “news reports” on April 15 featuring several of its commentators, including Glenn Beck (see March 3, 2009), Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, and Greta Van Susteren, live at different venues. Many of the protest organizers’ Web sites feature one or more of the Fox commentators as part of their promotion efforts (see October 13, 2009). Beck is one of several Fox commentators and hosts who claims that the protests are “grassroots” organizations “spontaneously” led by “ordinary people,” but in reality, the protests are being orchestrated by two lobbyist-run and lobbyist-organized organizations, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. According to progressive news site Think Progress, “[t]he two groups are heavily staffed and well funded, and are providing all the logistical and public relations work necessary for planning coast-to-coast protests.” Freedom Works staffers are coordinating conference calls among protesters and working with conservative organizers to give them what it calls “sign ideas, sample press releases, and a map of events around the country” as well as guides featuring talking points and instructions on delivering a “clear message” to the public and the media. Freedom Works has set up numerous Web sites, some of which Think Progress claims are deliberately constructed to appear as the work of amateurs, to promote the protests. In Florida, Freedom Works took over the planning of events. Americans for Progress is writing press releases and planning events in New Jersey, Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kansas, and several other states. Think Progress calls these activities “corporate ‘astroturfing,’” which it defines as corporations’ attempts to orchestrate events appearing to be grassroots, citizen-led actions. Freedom Works is headed by former Texas Republican Representative Dick Armey, who is a lobbyist for the firm DLA Piper; Americans for Prosperity is headed by Tim Phillips, who is a former partner of right-wing activist Ralph Reed in the lobbying firm Century Strategies. Americans for Prosperity has organized numerous pro-oil company “grassroots” events. (Fang 4/8/2009; Media Matters 4/8/2009; Fang 4/9/2009)
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