Saturday, April 16

Guns for Terrorists?

GOP votes in lockstep against eliminating terrorist gun loophole
By Rep John Conyers

It is widely known by now that there is a massive loophole in our gun laws. Persons on the terrorist watch list, which prevents them from boarding airplanes, are permitting to buy guns -- even huge 50 caliber rifles that can shoot down planes. Thanks a recent GAO study by Sen. Lautenberg, we know the loophole exists and scores of persons on the list have bought guns.

Yesterday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and I offered a common sense amendment in the Judiciary Committee to a crime bill to close the loophole. All of the sudden, GOP members were quite concerned about due process and getting on the list and voted down our amendment. We responded that under current procedures, if a person is wrongly placed on the watch list, they can clear their name. But that was not good enough, and apparently gun rights trumped the rights of all Americans to be free of terrorism. Another bad day on the Committee.

Wednesday, April 13

Brinksmanship on Iran

Scott Ritter is a former U.S. marine and UNSCUM Weapons inspectors who has been anything but a wallflower over the past few years. As one of the most outspoken persons stating that Iraq did not have WMD capabilities or programs, he has a reputation as a straight-shooter who callsit how he sees it. Nevertheless it seems he still has a lot more to say about the Bush Administration and their plans for the Persian Gulf as this article originally published by al Jazeera describes.

By Scott Ritter
Republished from Aljazeera

Bush may say that he has no plans on attacking Iran, but after June 2005, he's made damn sure the Pentagon is prepared if he gives the order.

Late last year, in the aftermath of the 2004 Presidential election, I was contacted by someone close to the Bush administration about the situation in Iraq.

There was a growing concern inside the Bush administration, this source said, about the direction the occupation was going.

The Bush administration was keen on achieving some semblance of stability in Iraq before June 2005, I was told.

When I asked why that date, the source dropped the bombshell: because that was when the Pentagon was told to be prepared to launch a massive aerial attack against Iran, Iraq’s neighbour to the east, in order to destroy the
Iranian nuclear programme.

Why June 2005?, I asked. “The Israelis are concerned that if the Iranians get their nuclear enrichment programme up and running, then there will be no way to stop the Iranians from getting a nuclear weapon. June 2005 is seen as the decisive date.”

To be clear, the source did not say that President Bush had approved plans to bomb Iran in June 2005, as has been widely reported.

The president had reviewed plans being prepared by the Pentagon to have the military capability in place by June 2005 for such an attack, if the president ordered.

But when Secretary of State Condi Rice told America’s European allies in February 2005, in response to press reports about a pending June 2005 American attack against Iran, she said that “the question [of a military strike] is simply not on the agenda at this point – we have diplomatic means to do this”.

President Bush himself followed up on Rice’s statement by stating that “this notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous”. He quickly added: “Having said that, all options are on the table.”

In short, both the president and the secretary of state were being honest, and disingenuous, at the same time.

Truth to be told, there is no American military strike on the agenda; that is, until June 2005.

It was curious that no one in the American media took it upon themselves to confront the president or his secretary of state about the June 2005 date, or for that matter the October 2004 review by the president of military plans to attack Iran in June 2005.

The American media today is sleepwalking towards an American war with Iran with all of the incompetence and lack of integrity that it displayed during a similar path trodden during the buildup to our current war with Iraq.

On the surface, there is nothing extraordinary about the news that the president of the United States would order the Pentagon to be prepared to launch military strikes on Iran in June 2005.

That Iran has been a target of the Bush administration’s ideologues is no secret: the president himself placed Iran in the “axis of evil” back in 2002, and has said that the world would be a better place with the current Iranian government relegated to the trash bin of history.

The Bush administration has also expressed its concern about Iran’s nuclear programmes – concerns shared by Israel and the European Union, although to different degrees.

In September 2004, Iran rejected the International Atomic Energy Agency’s call for closing down its nuclear fuel production programme (which many in the United States and Israel believe to be linked to a covert nuclear weapons programme).

Iran then test fired a ballistic missile with sufficient range to hit targets in Israel as well as US military installations in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

The Iranian response triggered a serious re-examination of policy by both Israel and the United States.

The Israeli policy review was driven in part by the Iranian actions, and in part by Israel’s own intelligence assessment regarding the Iranian nuclear programme, made in August 2004.

This assessment held that Iran was “less than a year” away from completing its uranium enrichment programme. If Iran was allowed to reach this benchmark, the assessment went on to say, then it had reached the “point of no return” for a nuclear weapons programme. The date set for this “point of no return” was June 2005.

Israel’s Defence Minister, Shaul Mofaz, declared that “under
no circumstances would Israel be able to tolerate nuclear weapons in Iranian possession”.

Since October 2003 Israel had a plan in place for a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s major nuclear facilities, including the nuclear reactor facility in Busher (scheduled to become active in 2005).

These plans were constantly being updated, something that did not escape the attention of the Bush White House.

The Israeli policy toward Iran, when it comes to stopping the Iranian nuclear programme, has always been for the US to lead the way.

“The way to stop Iran”, a senior Israeli official has said, “is by the leadership of the US, supported by European countries and taking this issue to the UN, and using the diplomatic channel with sanctions as a tool and a very deep inspection regime and full transparency”.

It seems that Tel Aviv and Washington, DC aren’t too far removed on their Iranian policy objectives, except that there is always the unspoken “twist”: what if the United States does not fully support European diplomatic initiatives, has no interest in letting IAEA inspections work, and envisions UN sanctions as a permanent means of containment until regime change is accomplished in Tehran, as opposed to a tool designed to compel Iran to cooperate on eliminating its nuclear programme?

Because the fact is, despite recent warm remarks by President Bush and Condi Rice, the US does not fully embrace the EU’s Iran diplomacy, viewing it as a programme “doomed to fail”.

The IAEA has come out with an official report, after extensive inspections of declared Iranian nuclear facilities in November 2004, that says there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme; the Bush administration responded by trying to oust the IAEA’s lead inspector, Muhammad al-Baradai.

And the Bush administration’s push for UN sanctions shows every intention of making such sanctions deep, painful and long-lasting.

Curiously, the date for the Bush administration’s move to call for UN sanctions against Iran is June 2005.

According to a US position paper circulated in Vienna at the end of last month, the US will give the EU-Iran discussions until June 2005 to resolve the Iranian standoff.

“Ultimately only the full cessation and dismantling of Iran’s fissile material production efforts can give us any confidence that Iran has abandoned its nuclear weapons ambitions,” the US draft position paper said.

Iran has called such thinking “hallucinations” on the part of the
Bush administration.

The American media today is sleepwalking towards an American war with Iran

Economic sanctions and military attacks are not one and the same. Unless, of course, the architect of America’s Iran policy never intends to give sanctions a chance.

Enter John Bolton, who, as the former US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security for the Bush administration, is responsible for drafting the current US policy towards Iran.

In February 2004, Bolton threw down the gauntlet by stating that Iran had a “secret nuclear weapons programme” that was unknown to the IAEA. “There is no doubt that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons production programme,” Bolton said, without providing any source to back up his assertions.

This is the same John Bolton who had in the past accused Cuba of having an offensive biological weapons programme, a claim even Bush administration hardliners had to distance themselves from.

John Bolton is the Bush official who declared the European Union’s engagement with Iran “doomed to fail”. He is the Bush administration official who led the charge to remove al-Baradai from the IAEA.

And he is the one who, in drafting the US strategy to get the UN Security Council to impose economic sanctions against Iran, asked the Pentagon to be prepared to launch “robust” military attacks against Iran should the UN fail to agree on sanctions.

Bolton understands better than most the slim chances any US-brokered sanctions regime against Iran has in getting through the Security Council.

The main obstacle is Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council who not only possesses a veto, but also is Iran’s main supporter (and supplier) when it comes to its nuclear power programme.

Bolton has made a career out of alienating the Russians. He was one of the key figures who helped negotiate a May 2002 arms reduction treaty signed by Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

This treaty was designed to reduce the nuclear arsenals of both America and Russia by two-thirds over a 10 year period.

But that treaty – to Russia’s immense displeasure – now appears to have been made mute thanks to a Bolton-inspired legal loophole that the Bush administration had built into the treaty language.

Bolton knows Russia will not go along with UN sanctions against Iran, which makes the military planning being conducted by the Pentagon all the more relevant.

Bolton’s nomination as the next US Ambassador to the United Nations is as curious as it is worrying. This is the man who, before a panel discussion sponsored by the World Federalist Association in 1994, said: “There is no such thing as the United Nations.

For the United States to submit to the will of the Security Council, Bolton wrote in a 1999 Weekly Standard article, would mean that “its discretion in using force to advance its national interests is likely to be inhibited in the future.”

But Bolton doesn’t let treaty obligations, such as those incurred by the United States when it signed and ratified the UN Charter, get in the way. “Treaties are law only for US domestic purposes”, he wrote in a 17 November 1997 Wall Street Journal Op Ed. “In their international operation, treaties are simply political obligations.”

Bolton believes that Iran should be isolated by United Nations sanctions and, if Iran will not back down from its nuclear programme, confronted with the threat of military action.

And as the Bush administration has noted in the past, particularly in the case of Iraq, such threat must be real and meaningful, and backed by the will and determination to use it.

Bolton and others in the Bush administration contend that, despite the lack of proof, Iran’s nuclear intentions are obvious.

In response, the IAEA’s al-Baradai has pointed out the lack of a “smoking gun” which would prove Iran’s involvement in a nuclear weapons programme. “We are not God,” he said. “We cannot read intentions.”

But, based upon history, precedent, and personalities, the intent of the United States regarding Iran is crystal clear: the Bush administration intends to bomb Iran.

Whether this attack takes place in June 2005, when the Pentagon has been instructed to be ready, or at a later date, once all other preparations have been made, is really the only question that remains to be answered.

That, and whether the journalists who populate the mainstream American media will continue to sleepwalk on their way to facilitating yet another disaster in the Middle East.

Scott Ritter is the former UN Chief Weapons Inspector in Iraq, 1991-1998 and author of Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of America’s Intelligence Conspiracy, published by IB.

Emergency Message from Randi

Good morning, campers.

Do you know what an “emergency” is? It’s pretty self-evident, right? Something that has to be taken care of. Something everyone can agree on. Like finding Osama bin Laden is an “emergency.”

OK, so the Senate is debating President Bush's request for emergency supplemental spending, most of it military. But now they’re putting stuff into the bill like spending tax dollars for a new baseball stadium in D.C.

I kid you not. Our troops don’t have enough equipment. But there it is, a provision to let the District of Columbia spend $42 million on sports.

And then Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi sticks in a provision to open up oil drilling at a seashore. How is that an emergency? Is the oil going to grow legs and walk away? If it’s such a great idea, why doesn’t he just introduce a bill for it in the light of day? Probably because it’s not such a great idea at all. So he puts it into a bill that has to pass.

And by the way, in the Washington Post story about this, just to make it look like both sides are doing it, they mention an amendment from a Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein – $34.3 million to repair forest roads and facilities in her state damaged by floods.

But here’s the thing: That IS an emergency. As in “flood emergency.” California catches fire in a big way every couple of years. Fire crews need those roads.

That’s the kind of thing an emergency spending bill SHOULD cover. If you don’t have fire roads or extra money for soldiers, people die. I don’t think that’ll happen if Washington, D.C., has to wait an extra couple of months for a ballpark.

I’m Randi Rhodes and I approve this message.

Monday, April 11

Everybody is Lying!

With Friends Like These...
A lunchtime chat with a lobbyist close to Tom DeLay suggests he may be headed for hotter water.
And in this corner: DeLay remains a hero among the pro-life
Jason Reed / Reuters
And in this corner: DeLay remains a hero among the pro-life

By Michael Isikoff

April 18 issue - Jack Abramoff was somber, bitter and feeling betrayed. Once a Washington superlobbyist, Abramoff is now the target of a Justice Department criminal probe of allegations that he defrauded American Indian tribes of tens of millions of dollars in fees. As stories of his alleged excess dribble out—including the emergence of e-mails showing he derisively referred to his Native American clients as "monkeys" and "idiots"—some of Abramoff's old friends have abandoned him and treated him like a pariah. They claim they knew nothing of his questionable lobbying tactics. So last week, glumly sitting at his corner table at Signatures, the tony downtown restaurant he owns that remains his last redoubt, Abramoff lashed out in frustration.

"Everybody is lying," Abramoff told a former colleague. There are e-mails and records that will implicate others, he said. He was noticeably caustic about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. For years, nobody on Washington's K Street corridor was closer to DeLay than Abramoff. They were an unlikely duo. DeLay, a conservative Christian, and Abramoff, an Orthodox Jew, traveled the world together and golfed the finest courses. Abramoff raised hundreds of thousands for DeLay's political causes and hired DeLay's aides, or kicked them business, when they left his employ. But now DeLay, too, has problems—in part because of overseas trips allegedly paid for by Abramoff's clients. In response, DeLay and his aides have said repeatedly they were unaware of Abramoff's behind-the-scenes financing role. "Those S.O.B.s," Abramoff said last week about DeLay and his staffers, according to his luncheon companion. "DeLay knew everything. He knew all the details."

It is a Washington melodrama that has played out many times before. When political figures get into trouble and their worlds collapse, they look to save themselves by fingering others higher in the food chain. Will Abramoff attempt to bargain with federal prosecutors by offering up DeLay—and does he really have the goods to do so? Abramoff has at times hinted he wanted to bargain—possibly by naming members who sought campaign cash for legislative favors, says a source familiar with the probe. But Abramoff's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, says, "There have been no negotiations with the Justice Department." Lowell cryptically acknowledges that Abramoff has been "disappointed" and "hurt" by the public statements of some former friends, but insists his client is currently "not upset or angry with Tom DeLay." Still, if Abramoff's lunch-table claims are true, he could hand DeLay his worst troubles yet.

DeLay has plenty to explain already. Last week, still more questions about the congressman's ethics emerged when The New York Times reported that his wife and daughter have collected $500,000 in fees from DeLay's political-action and campaign committees since 2001. DeLay and his aides mounted a fierce counterattack, pointing to numerous examples of family members of Democrats who did the same thing. Potentially more troublesome was a Washington Post story that chronicled a six-day "fact-finding" trip to Moscow in August 1997 that was circuitously financed by Naftasib, a Russian oil company. Among those on the trip—besides DeLay, his wife and four of his staff members—was Abramoff, who joined the party in Moscow and dined and golfed with DeLay.

House rules require members to accurately report who pays for their travel. In this case, DeLay reported the $64,000 trip as being sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank whose board members included Abramoff. The National Center said it did finance the trip. But its lawyer confirmed to NEWSWEEK that it had received a substantial contribution from a "white shoe" law firm—which sources identified as Cadwalader, Wickersham Taft—to cover the cost. Cadwalader had been retained by Naftasib and a closely related firm, registered in the Bahamas. The New York law firm in turn hired Abramoff's firm to do the heavy lifting in Washington. Both firms were paid handsomely for their work, collecting more than $440,000 in fees in 1997, primarily to set up meetings for their Russian oil clients with members of Congress and federal agencies.

Aides to DeLay insist he was in the dark about the Russian money behind the trip. But one conservative think-tank analyst, Michael Waller, was aggressively trying to warn congressional staffers about the Naftasib connection. Even after the trip, he continued to press them. The excursion was "bankrolled by influence peddlers tied to [the then] Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin," Waller wrote in a bulletin faxed and e-mailed to congressional staffers shortly after the trip.

DeLay's spokesman, Dan Allen, said Naftasib's business interests were irrelevant to DeLay. "The main purpose of the trip was to talk about religious persecution," he said. But DeLay's many political enemies in Washington aren't likely to buy that explanation. And the one man who may know best so far isn't talking, except to those he invites to his restaurant for lunch.

Iraq: Two Years On

Insurgents kill 15 Iraqi soldiers

Insurgents have killed 15 Iraqi soldiers travelling in a convoy south of Baghdad, police and officials say. The attack happened near the town of Latifiya, in a lawless area known as the "triangle of death".

The violence came on the second anniversary of the fall of Baghdad to the US-led coalition.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis joined an anti-US protest in Firdus Square, where Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled on 9 April 2003 as millions watched on TV.

Pullout urged

News of the attack came as protesters poured into Firdus Square, carrying banners and chanting anti-US slogans, for a protest called by radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr.

They joined a group who had been in the square since Friday night.


More than 130,000 US troops remain in Iraq
Unofficial estimates of civilian deaths range from at least 15,000 to almost 100,000
Iraqis face fuel shortages and have to buy essential goods at black market prices
Unemployment is estimated at between 25% and 50%

The protest was a peaceful one aimed at urging US troops to leave and demanding quicker trials for Saddam Hussein and his aides, a spokesman for Mr Sadr said.

Sunni clerics from the Association of Muslim Scholars had asked their supporters to join the demonstration.

Two years since Saddam Hussein's statue was torn down, Iraq is now on the verge of having its first elected government in half a century.

Sunday, April 10

Tammy Bruce:Defiling the Dead

Tammy Bruce
Well, following my speaking On Air to Air America's Laura Flanders on KTLK 1150 AM last week about focusing on Positive Change for the Democratic Party. This week I had a chance to talk with KABC's Tammy Bruce Onair. The subject was the recent funeral of Johnnie L. Cochran. Bruce, who professes to be a Democrat, although KABC's "All Conservative Talk" format was quite obvious, was calling Cochran a "despicable, terrible human being" who would certainly "burn" for his deeds. What did he do to generate such ire? He won the O.J. Case and he dared to defend that obvious "pedophile" Michael Jackson.

Even if people disagree about OJ, lets at least all agree that Jackson has yet to be convicted of anything - and I suspect he won't be if the prosecution continues trotting out all these questionable and impeachable witnesses McMartin-Buckey style. Bruce railed at Jackson, she railed at O.J. for being "obviously guilty", at Cochran for daring to perform his sworn duty to defend his client to the best of his ability, at Al Sharpton who spoke at the funeral and stated that people cheered at the O.J. verdict not because of O.J., but because of Johnnie, and at L.A. mayor James Hahn who stated that "[Cochran] didn't just love justice or admire justice, he did justice, he achieved justice, he fought for justice"

When I spoke to Bruce, I pointed out that I understood how many people felt about the O.J. case - however, I felt that it was completely unfair to judge Cochran's life based on the one case - or one phrase "If it doesn't fit - you must acquit". (Never mind Dennis Fung's bumbling performance on the stand. Never mind the questionable exisgent circumstances used to enter O.J. premises without a search warrant. Never mind the testimony of one of the DNA experts that "False Positives" matches as a result of contamination were not only possible, but had occured at her own lab - which was one of several used to process the OJ samples - and that they would never have known that the matches were false if not for the fact that the samples processed were part of a test and the original sources where already known). The job of the DA is to do his best, it's not to become the judge and jury and decide if his client deserves his best or not. What I mentioned to Bruce was Cochrans many other clients - such as Ron Settles (a teen football star who was strangled to death by Signal Hill PD) , Geronimo Pratt (a former black panther who spent over 20 years behind bars for a murder, although the FBI had wiretap evidence that he was 400 miles away in Oakland at the time) Reginal Denny (the hapless truck driver who was pummelled on the corner in Florence and Normandie at the start of the Rodney King riots), and Leonard Deadwyler (a young black man shot to death by police after behing pulled over while speeding his pregnant wife to the hospital).

I'm not sure exactly where she cut me off and put me on hold permenently - probably right after I mentioned the name Reginal Denny - but her response to my point was still interesting. She claimed that "people who do wrong things sometimes turn around later - out of guilt - and do positive things to make up for it". That may be true, but all of these cases took place before the OJ. trial in 1994, and Cochran became "Defense attorney to the STARS" and began regularly pulling in cases like the P-Diddy nightclub shooting.

In the late 70's Johnnie Cochran was invited by then Los Angeles District Attorney John Van DeKamp to rejoin the office (he had started his carreer as an assistant DA in the late 60's) and head up a special office on police curruption with then up and coming ADA Gil Garcetti. Cochran was essentially the number two man in the entire office. Marsha Clarke's boss during the O.J. trial used to be one of Cochran's assistants.

On the day after his death, Marsha and Chris Darden were extremely gracious in their comments about Johnnie during an episode of Larry King on CNN. They had become good friends over the intervening years. Marsha almost came to tears. If Darden and Clarke can find a way to put their crushing defeat against Cochran behind them - then so should the rest of us. Many people remember the OJ trail with bitterness, but when they think of Johhnie they should also think of what he did for Ron Settles, Geronimo Pratt, Leonard Deadwyler, Reginald Denny and many countless others. I do.

Biography of Johnny Cochran.


Guckert at National Press Club

Video Courtesy of Media & C-Span
Click to View on Windows Media
or Quicktime
I watched this live on C-Span, and it was hilarious. Guckert's claim that Armstrong Williams should have been paid because there was nothing but negative "spin" coming out about the program was a coffee-spewer. This was a claim he used to support idea that he himself was justified in publishing the Administration and RNC press releases unvarnished. Fortunately the panel came back and pointed out that the President and RNC already have a Press Secratary, and anyone can already read there releases from their own website without someone like Guckert reprinting them in whole cloth. The issue of Adminstration agencies putting out their own releases to the satellites to be picked up and re-released as actual news reports by local stations was not addressed.

Lastly - during the Press Club Panel, Gannon/Guckert claimed to have "never been a political operative, or to have worked for a government or political official", yet CBSNews seems to have information that he may have been coordinating activities with campaign of Senator Thune in order to unseat Tom Daschle.

CBS news


Niger Forgeries - Made in USA?

A former counterterrorism chief claims that the now discredited documents that showed Iraq trying to purchase uranium were fabricated right here in the United States.

Well, Ambassador Wilson publicly refuted the claims — particularly the 16 words in the President’s State of the Union address that the Iraqis were trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Niger. That document, I understand, was fabricated ... it originally came out of Italian intelligence, I think SISME, or SISDE—I’m not sure which one.

It was SISME, yeah. ...

[D]uring the two-thousands when we’re talking about acquiring information on Iraq. It isn’t that anyone had a good source on Iraq—there weren’t any good sources. The Italian intelligence service, the military intelligence service, was acquiring information that was really being hand-fed to them by very dubious sources. The Niger documents, for example, which apparently were produced in the United States, yet were funneled through the Italians.