Friday, March 11, 2005

News for March 11th: How to Become an Indentured Servant Edition

Man, is big business on the prowl or what? First the class-action lawsuit bill, and now this. The bankruptcy bill passed the senate yesterday by a wide margin, meaning that our representatives in Congress are now completely in the hands of big business. If you’re saying there’s no proof that Americans oppose this, or that this is a partisan issue, you couldn’t be more wrong: a bipartisan (imagine that in the world of blogs!) coalition has formed amongst the blogs to oppose this horrendous bill. Check it out at

So what does this bill do? Pretty simple:

I’m okay with the part about child support. What I’m not okay with is the obligatory Chapter 13 ruling and requiring people to pay for credit counseling. This is putting another onerous debt on people who already have too many. But of course, like all bad ideas, this too will pass (the House, that is)…

Senate Passes Bill To Restrict Bankruptcy
Credit Card Business Backed Measure to Collect More Debt

By Kathleen Day
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page E01

The Senate approved a measure yesterday backed by the credit card industry that would make it harder for people to wipe out debt through bankruptcy, setting a path for quick passage of the bill by the House within weeks.

The 74 to 25 vote in favor of the bill, which would make the most significant changes in bankruptcy law in more than 25 years, was propelled by a 55-member Republican majority that voted in unison, joined by 18 Democrats and one independent.

House Republican leaders have promised to take up the bill next week and to deliver the votes to pass it. That commitment was based on the Senate keeping the bill free of major new amendments that would have undone scores of compromises made over several years in an effort to get it passed.

President Bush has said he would sign the bill. It would be the second major victory for big business in Bush's second term, after passage last month of legislation intended to curb class-action lawsuits against corporations.

More at the Washington Post.

This is some good news: Senators are looking to block a vote on Social Security should it come up. I’d like to be hopeful, but look at the guys who jumped the fence for cloture with the bankruptcy bill. I worry that Democrats are just too scattered to make a difference on this one.

Senators May Block Social Security Vote

By Charles Babington and Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page A01

President Bush's bid to add individual accounts to Social Security faces such formidable opposition in the Senate that its supporters may be unable to bring it to a vote, according to a Washington Post survey of senators.

An overwhelming majority of Democratic senators said they will oppose, under any circumstances, Bush's plan to allow younger workers to divert a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes into individual investment accounts that would follow them into retirement. A few others said they will not support such accounts if they require substantial government borrowing. Even many Republicans say that is inevitable because the alternative involves unacceptably large cuts in benefits or tax increases to replace the diverted taxes or both.

Combined, these Democrats form a coalition large enough -- more than 41 members -- to use delaying tactics to keep the proposal from reaching a vote in the 100-member chamber. The Post survey of the Senate's 44 Democrats and one Democratic-leaning independent indicates there are at least 42 -- and perhaps 44 -- who firmly oppose personal investment accounts, particularly if they are financed with borrowed money.

Vice President Cheney has said the Bush accounts would cost "trillions of dollars." Democrats put the price tag at $5 trillion over 20 years.

In the clearest sign yet that Bush's efforts to win bipartisan support are flagging, several Democrats whom the White House has been courting said they will not support the accounts at all. They include Sens. Thomas R. Carper (Del.) and Mary Landrieu (La.). Three other Bush targets -- Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.), Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) -- said they will not support individual accounts financed by heavy borrowing.

More at the Washington Post.

Now to the Middle East, where efforts to tame the region continue unabated. Syria is the first one up…looks like the UN has decided to take a hard line on this, following Bush’s cue. We’ll see how it works.

Top U.N. Envoy to Present Syria With Ultimatum
Nation Must Withdraw From Lebanon or Face Isolation

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page A01

A top U.N. envoy will tell President Bashar Assad that Syria will face political and economic isolation if he does not completely and quickly withdraw from Lebanon, U.N. and U.S. officials said yesterday.

In a meeting set for tomorrow, Terje Roed-Larsen plans to inform Syria that the international community is united in insisting that Damascus comply with U.N. Resolution 1559 -- and is prepared to impose wide punitive sanctions if it does not act quickly, the officials said.

"If he doesn't deliver, there will be total political and economic isolation of his country. There is a steel-hard consensus in the international community," a senior U.N. official said.

In preparation for the diplomatic confrontation, Roed-Larsen has met over the past week with top U.S., European and Arab officials to determine the positions and parameters of action. In a final round of talks, he met yesterday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and also won backing from the Arab League in talks with its secretary general, Amr Mousa, earlier this week -- discussions aimed at leaving Syria no political escape routes, the source said.

More at the Washington Post.

I’m surprised, but not disheartened, to see that Rice is going to announce the US is backing EU policies on Iran. I’d like to see our administration pursue a diplomatic route, but I can’t help but feel that there’s an iron fist is inside this velvet glove. I can’t imagine the neocons would see this as anything other than appeasement.

U.S. to Back Europeans on Incentives for Iran
Rice to Announce Shift on Nuclear Issue

By Robin Wright and Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page A14

President Bush has decided to back European allies in their plan to offer economic incentives to persuade Iran to abandon any effort to build nuclear weapons, a sharp shift in policy for a government that had long refused to bargain for Tehran's cooperation, senior administration officials said yesterday.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plans to announce the decision as early as today, culminating an intense negotiation over recent weeks that brought U.S. and European leaders together in their approach to Iran after a long split. By agreeing to try incentives first, U.S. officials believe they will later gain European support for taking the matter to the U.N. Security Council if talks fail.

Rice hinted at the decision yesterday before traveling to Mexico. "I think we're really coming to a common view of how to proceed," she said of her discussions with the Europeans, who have taken the lead in negotiating with Iran. "We're looking for ways to more actively support that diplomacy. But I want to be very clear that this is really not an issue of what people should be giving to Iran. This is an issue of . . . keeping the spotlight on Iran, which ought to be living up to its international obligations."

Rice said Iran would have to commit to not using its civilian nuclear power program as a cover for secret weapons development and would have to submit to intensive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. She did not discuss particular incentives, but those on the table include accelerating membership for Iran in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and permitting Tehran to purchase badly needed spare parts for its aging passenger jets.

More at the Washington Post.

Looks like I wasn’t the only one miffed at the contents of the Church Report.

Senators Question Absence of Blame in Abuse Report
By Josh White and Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page A17

Senators expressed dismay yesterday that no senior military or civilian Pentagon officials have been held accountable for the policy and command failures that led to detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Navy admiral who wrote the most recent review of U.S. detention policies was largely unable to say where that accountability should lie.

Vice Admiral Albert T. Church III's review of interrogation policy and detention operations did not place specific blame for the confusing interrogation policies that migrated from Washington to the battlefield, and he told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing that no high-level policy decisions directly led to the abuse. But Church said he did not interview top officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, nor did he make conclusions about individual responsibility, saying it was not part of his mission.

Still, Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, one of the officers in charge of detention operations in Iraq at the time of the abuse, said yesterday that she has been issued an administrative reprimand, the first such action against a top officer since the abuse allegations surfaced last year.

So far, only a handful of enlisted soldiers have faced courts-martial for their actions at the Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere, while others have faced administrative punishment. The main open question in the abuse cases is how far up the chain of command official discipline or criminal charges will reach.

Church's report called the development of interrogation policies for use in the fight against terrorism a series of "missed opportunities" to eliminate confusion and clearly spell out doctrine. But his report concluded that even clear policies might not have stopped dozens of abuse cases.

Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said a "major gap" in Church's report and in nine other Pentagon reviews is the issue of senior-leadership responsibility for the creation of an environment that contributed to or condoned abusive behavior.

In a sparsely attended hearing -- only 10 of the 24 panel members were there -- senators from both parties, including Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), offered strong criticism of the findings. Sen. James M. Talent (R-Mo.), praising the report, said he did not "need an investigation to tell me that there was no comprehensive or systematic use of inhumane tactics by the American military, because those guys and gals just wouldn't do it."

More at the Washington Post.

And isn’t it funny how these things keep turning up, but no one’s to blame? I’m not surprised at the CIA’s involvement in the shenanigans, as they’ve been pulling this kind of crap for almost 50 years, but I am a little surprised at the Army for getting itself dragged into the mud with this.

Army, CIA Agreed on 'Ghost' Prisoners
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page A16

Top military intelligence officials at the Abu Ghraib prison came to an agreement with the CIA to hide certain detainees at the facility without officially registering them, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. Keeping such "ghost" detainees is a violation of international law.

Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, who was second in command of the intelligence gathering effort at Abu Ghraib while the abuse was occurring, told military investigators that "other government agencies" and a secretive elite task force "routinely brought in detainees for a short period of time" and that the detainees were held without an internment number, and their names were kept off the books.

Guards who worked at the prison have said that ghost detainees were regularly locked in isolation cells on Tier 1A and that they were kept from international human rights organizations.

Jordan, in a statement that was included in the abuse investigation of Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, said that it was difficult to track ghost detainees and that he and other officers recommended that a memorandum of understanding be drafted between his 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, the CIA and the 800th Military Police Brigade "to establish procedures for a ghost detainee." An Army major at the prison "suggested an idea of processing them under an assumed name and fingerprinting them," but Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the top military intelligence officer there, "decided against it."

Instead, Jordan's statement said, Pappas "began a formalized written MOU [memo of understanding] procedure" in November 2003, with the CIA and members of Task Force 1-21, "and the memorandum on procedures for dropping ghost detainees was signed."

In his statement to investigators, also obtained by The Post, Pappas said that in September 2003, the CIA requested that the military intelligence officials "continue to make cells available for their detainees and that they not have to go through the normal inprocessing procedures." Pappas also said Jordan was the one who was facilitating the arrangement with the CIA.

More at the Washington Post.

For a broader view, here’s how the two documents, both the Church Report and the document mentioned above, contradict each other:

Admiral's report, document differ on detainee plans
By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff | March 11, 2005

WASHINGTON -- A Pentagon official told Congress yesterday that his investigation into detention operations found no evidence of written agreements between the military and the Central Intelligence Agency about ''ghost detainees" who were hidden from the Red Cross. But a military document released separately yesterday refers to the existence of such an agreement.

The apparent contradiction between the findings of Navy Vice Admiral Albert Church and the military document, one in a trove made public through a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union, underscored complaints by Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee that the admiral's investigation was not sufficiently thorough.

''Regrettably, Admiral Church's report falls short of the mark," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. ''Although it provides some useful information, it is notable more for what is absent than what it contains."

The Pentagon has touted Church's 368-page report, most of which remains classified, as the most comprehensive in a series of investigations launched after the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq became public last spring.

The investigation concludes there was no official policy, ''written or otherwise," permitting interrogators to abuse detainees in Cuba, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Instead, Church attributed isolated instances of abuse to wartime stress and insufficient oversight.

An examination of 70 substantiated cases found that ''no approved interrogation techniques caused these criminal abuses," Church wrote. But Democrats on the committee were skeptical, and reiterated their calls for an outside investigation with full subpoena powers and a mandate to examine the actions of individual high-ranking officials.

''The Defense Department is not able to assess accountability at senior levels, particularly when investigators are in the chain of command of the officials whose policies and actions they are investigating," said Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and the committee's ranking member.

Much of the Church report apparently documents the evolution of official interrogation policy in 2002 and 2003. During the hearing yesterday, Kennedy focused on the role of the Defense Department's general counsel, William Haynes, President Bush's nominee for a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

More at The Boston Globe.

Michael Powell calling for a return to civil discourse? The world truly has gone bizarro. The hypocrisy is strong with this one…

Powell Leaves FCC Admonishing Uncivil America
By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page E01

Michael K. Powell -- who presided over a partisan Federal Communications Commission that clashed internally and was pilloried by interest groups and lawmakers in both parties -- closed his last commission meeting yesterday by calling for a return to civil discourse.

"It saddens me when public officials and bureaucrats are criticized for ulterior motives, none of which I have ever found in a government bureaucrat, or when someone personalizes disagreements," said Powell, 41, who has not landed his next job. "This country needs to disagree civilly and continue to recommit itself to the welfare of its citizens -- which is all we are sent here to do."

Powell, appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and elevated to chairman in 2001, served at a time when the FCC cleared away regulations and helped speed Internet telephony to market and pushed for faster digital television conversion. At the same time, he was hammered by the likes of Howard Stern for cracking down on indecency and attacked by public-interest advocates for attempting to craft new media ownership rules that some feared would let big media companies grow bigger.

At least three strong contenders are vying for the White House appointment to succeed Powell. The next chairman will oversee issues such as the continuing conversion to digital broadcast, the rollout of new technologies including those involving Internet telephony, and further change in the telephone and cable industries.

Fellow Republican FCC Commissioner Kevin J. Martin is still considered by many to have the inside track. Martin was deputy general counsel for President Bush's 2000 campaign, and his wife, Catherine, works in the White House.

However, an outsider, Republican Michael D. Gallagher -- assistant secretary of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the president's principal adviser on telecommunication policies -- also wants the job and is said to be a favorite of Powell's. The two have worked closely on several issues, while Powell and Martin have disagreed on matters of policy and style during their time together on the commission. Through a spokesman, Gallagher declined to comment yesterday.

More at the Washington Post.

Here’s an interesting piece on the uneasy alliance between Disney and the Ultraconservative, Religious Right. Why am I not surprised that Grover Norquist is involved? I’m also not surprised to see that the far right hates P2P technology. Smacks a little too much of communism, I’d bet.

D.C. Schoolmarms Build Better Mousetrap
P2P paranoia leads Disney into the culture warriors' den
Radley Balko

Last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an odd logo peered out from the maze of exhibitor booths—that of the Walt Disney Company.

Disney's holding a booth at CPAC was puzzling for a couple of reasons. First, it was to my knowledge the only corporate booth in the exhibitor hall. Second, Disney has a long and bloody history with conservative activists. Family values groups have criticized and launched boycotts of the Mouse for, among other things, hiring gay men and women to work at its theme parks, extending benefits to the spouses of gay employees, and even for allowing homosexuals into its parks at all, particularly as part of coordinated gay pride celebrations. Disney has also come under fire for some of the entertainment programming put out by its various subsidiaries, including the ABC Network and Miramax.

As it turns out, Disney was invited by Grover Norquist, the noted alliance-builder and influential strategist among grassroots conservatives. Norquist says he invited Disney because he saw the potential for a partnership between the entertainment giant and culture warriors.

The gist of that partnership? Stamping out peer-to-peer technology.

Many conservatives apparently don't like peer-to-peer because it facilitates the distribution of pornography. Disney doesn't like that it facilitates the distribution of copyrighted content. So they've allied.

It's a devil's bargain for both parties, and reveals a willingness on the part of each to forsake principles of free expression and limited government when those interfere with the desire to see the state protect more valued interests: Conservatives are betraying an allegiance to free markets, technology and innovation. Disney is lining up with avowed censors.

More at Reason.

Last, anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge baseball fan. I’ve contemplated covering the sport on my blog a few times, but rejected the idea to focus on my first most passionate hobby, politics. Well, for once, the two are converging, so I get to put a little something here. It’s even cooler that this guy is my representative. I don’t care if he’s a Republican, I’ve heard him speak around here and seen him on TV, and I have to admit that I like his style.

As a fan, I also have zero problem with Congress investigating this. Baseball is run far too much like a crime syndicate, and it would be nice to see someone hold them responsible for once. And for the record, I believe owners and officials were burying their head in the sand with the steroid issue – it’s been obvious for years.

The Fan With Subpoena Power
Hearings on Steroid Use in Baseball Put Political Spotlight on Davis

By Spencer S. Hsu and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 11, 2005; Page B01

If it weren't for his love of baseball, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III once joked, he never would have entered politics. When the Washington Senators left the capital for Minneapolis in 1960, the jilted 11-year-old transformed his fascination with box scores into an obsession with campaigning.

These days, his critics from the major leagues charge, if it weren't for his love of politics, Davis (R-Va.) would not be driving Congress's investigation into baseball. The steroid investigation has thrust the usually cautious Davis -- known more for backroom compromises and an ability to please diverse constituencies -- into the national spotlight.

Davis, 56, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, and the committee's ranking Democrat, Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), issued subpoenas this week to seven star ballplayers and four executives to testify Thursday and to produce documents and steroid-testing data.

Baseball's leaders have responded with unusually pointed attacks. Stanley Brand, an attorney for Commissioner Bud Selig, accused Davis and colleagues of trying "to satisfy their prurient interest" in drug use. Phillies pitcher and union representative Randy Wolf told Philadelphia area newspapers, "It's chemical McCarthyism."

In fact, the headline-grabbing inquest reflects a neat alignment of Davis's political, policy and personal interests. The issue fits the agenda of Davis's Democratic counterpart and signals a tough-on-drugs message to the GOP's socially conservative base while raising the national profile of the panel and its chairman, analysts said. Plus, Davis remains an avid sports fan.

More at the Washington Post.

Oh, and I got this in my email the other day. I have to admit I was quite amused…the Human Rights Campaign credit card? There are so many jokes…so many…I just don’t know which to choose. I think the image itself provides enough comedy. Let’s just say I find it particularly humorous that they’re aligned with Providian, notorious for their card-sharking techniques.

Your quote of the day: “It’s Chemical McCarythism” – Randy Wolf, MLB Pitcher

Posted by crimnos @ 8:54 AM