Friday, May 12, 2006So...beautiful... should have sent a poet.
Rove Informs White House He Will Be Indicted
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report
Friday 12 May 2006
Within the last week, Karl Rove told President Bush and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, as well as a few other high level administration officials, that he will be indicted in the CIA leak case and will immediately resign his White House job when the special counsel publicly announces the charges against him, according to sources.
Details of Rove's discussions with the president and Bolten have spread through the corridors of the White House where low-level staffers and senior officials were trying to determine how the indictment would impact an administration that has been mired in a number of high-profile political scandals for nearly a year, said a half-dozen White House aides and two senior officials who work at the Republican National Committee.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, sources confirmed Rove's indictment is imminent. These individuals requested anonymity saying they were not authorized to speak publicly about Rove's situation. A spokesman in the White House press office said they would not comment on "wildly speculative rumors."
Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, did not return a call for comment Friday.
Rove's announcement to President Bush and Bolten comes more than a month after he alerted the new chief of staff to a meeting his attorney had with Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in which Fitzgerald told Luskin that his case against Rove would soon be coming to a close and that he was leaning toward charging Rove with perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators, according to sources close to the investigation.
A few weeks after he spoke with Fitzgerald, Luskin arranged for Rove to return to the grand jury for a fifth time to testify in hopes of fending off an indictment related to Rove's role in the CIA leak, sources said.
That meeting was followed almost immediately by an announcement by newly-appointed White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten of changes in the responsibilities of some White House officials, including Rove, who was stripped of his policy duties and would no longer hold the title of deputy White House chief of staff.
The White House said Rove would focus on the November elections and his change in status in no way reflected his fifth appearance before the grand jury or the possibility of an indictment.
But since Rove testified two weeks ago, the White House has been coordinating a response to what is sure to be the biggest political scandal it has faced thus far: the loss of a key political operative who has been instrumental in shaping White House policy on a wide range of domestic issues.
Late Thursday afternoon and early Friday morning, several White House officials were bracing for the possibility that Fitzgerald would call a news conference and announce a Rove indictment today following the prosecutor's meeting with the grand jury this morning. However, sources close to the probe said that is unlikely to happen, despite the fact that Fitzgerald has already presented the grand jury with a list of charges against Rove. If an indictment is returned by the grand jury, it will be filed under seal.
Rove is said to have told Bolten that he will be charged with perjury regarding when he was asked how and when he discovered that covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson worked for the agency, and whether he discussed her job with reporters.
Rove testified that he first found out about Plame Wilson from reading a newspaper report in July 2003 and only after the story was published did he share damaging information about her CIA status with other reporters.
However, evidence has surfaced during the course of the two-year-old investigation that shows Rove spoke with at least two reporters about Plame Wilson prior to the publication of the column.
The explanation Rove provided to the grand jury - that he was dealing with more urgent White House matters and therefore forgot - has not convinced Fitzgerald that Rove has been entirely truthful in his testimony.
Sources close to the case said there is a strong chance Rove will also face an additional charge of obstruction of justice, adding that Fitzgerald has been working meticulously over the past few months to build an obstruction case against Rove because it "carries more weight" in a jury trial and is considered a more serious crime.
Some White House staffers said it's the uncertainty of Rove's status in the leak case that has made it difficult for the administration's domestic policy agenda and the announcement of an indictment and Rove's subsequent resignation, while serious, would allow the administration to move forward on a wide range of issues.
"We need to start fresh and we can't do that with the uncertainty of Karl's case hanging over our heads," said one White House aide. "There's no doubt that it will be front page news if and when (an indictment) happens. But eventually it will become old news quickly. The key issue here is that the president or Mr. Bolten respond to the charges immediately, make a statement and then move on to other important policy issues and keep that as the main focus going forward." Kacey found this one on Daily Kos... I just...there are no words to convey how ridiculous this is, so I'll let Maryscott OConnor do the talking in her diary...
This is absolutely absurd.
The marvelous film criticism site Pajiba (for which I was briefly a critic) is shut down...
As you can see, Pajiba.com is a mess. We were as surprised as anyone when the site went down yesterday, but based on the limited information we have, it looks like the Department of Homeland Security has seized the disk drive on which our site was hosted, and apparently they've also taken the backup files. So for the time being, Pajiba.com has no data, and we don't think DHS has any intention of returning the hard drive to our hosting company anytime soon. I suppose we shared server space with some punk who threatened the President or something, and now anyone on that server has to suffer the consequences. Frankly, the entire debacle is pretty heart-wrenching for us, and thus far, completely out of our control. We have no idea when, or if, the disk drives will be returned.
In the meantime, we've decided to copy all of our old reviews from their Google caches (thank God for Google), and do our best to rebuild the entire site from scratch, bottom up; (which, for me, means relearning a lot of things on Movable Type). So for the next few days, the place is gonna look like Oprah's couch after Tom Cruise has had his way with it. We'll do our best to get the most recent reviews up in as timely a manner as possible, and then we will start adding the archives. I'm not sure what that will mean for this weekend's reviews yet, unfortunately, but I'm not resting until I get this place back into a respectable place to visit.
Anyway, thanks for your patience ... thanks for dropping by ... and we do hope you'll return after we get our shit together. In the meantime, I suppose we can all thank either the Bush Administration or the dumbass terrorists threatening our government, depending on your politics.
I don't know WHAT the fuck to make of it. These people make a goddamned LIVING off that site, and now, with no explanation, the DHS fucking SEIZES their work material?
Can you imagine the ramifications of shit like this? Imagine pissing off someone in the DHS and coming in to the office to discover your livelihood has just been shattered because you pissed off the wrong fucking Politburo asswipe.
THAT'S what this fucking is, man. Remember those Russian bad guys we vilified throughout the Cold War in decades of movies and television? THEY'RE WORKING IN THE BUSH REGIME, NOW.
Congratulate the Bush Administration, man. They've turned us into the fucking KGB-riddled Soviet fucking Union. This just in, most Americans are goddamned stupid. This kind of thing is why I was so depressed after the 2004 elections. Seriously, America, what the fuck?
Poll: Most Americans Support NSA's Efforts
By Richard Morin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 12, 2006; 7:00 AM
A majority of Americans initially support a controversial National Security Agency program to collect information on telephone calls made in the United States in an effort to identify and investigate potential terrorist threats, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The new survey found that 63 percent of Americans said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism, including 44 percent who strongly endorsed the effort. Another 35 percent said the program was unacceptable, which included 24 percent who strongly objected to it.
A slightly larger majority--66 percent--said they would not be bothered if NSA collected records of personal calls they had made, the poll found.
Underlying those views is the belief that the need to investigate terrorism outweighs privacy concerns. According to the poll, 65 percent of those interviewed said it was more important to investigate potential terrorist threats "even if it intrudes on privacy." Three in 10--31 percent--said it was more important for the federal government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats.
Half--51 percent--approved of the way President Bush was handling privacy matters.
The survey results reflect initial public reaction to the NSA program. Those views that could change or deepen as more details about the effort become known over the next few days.
USA Today disclosed in its Thursday editions the existence of the massive domestic intelligence-gathering program. The effort began soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Since then, the agency began collecting call records on tens of millions of personal and business telephone calls made in the United States. Agency personnel reportedly analyze those records to identify suspicious calling patterns but do not listen in on or record individual telephone conversations.
Word of the program sparked immediate criticism on Capitol Hill, where Democrats and Republicans criticized the effort as a threat to privacy and called for congressional inquiries to learn more about the operation. In the survey, big majorities of Republicans and political independents said they found the program to be acceptable while Democrats were split.
President Bush made an unscheduled appearance yesterday before White House reporters to defend his administration's efforts to investigate terrorism and criticize public disclosure of secret intelligence operations. But he did not directly acknowledge the existence of the NSA records-gathering program or answer reporters' questions about it.
By a 56 percent to 42 percent margin, Americans said it was appropriate for the news media to have disclosed the existence of this secret government program.
A total of 502 randomly selected adults were interviewed Thursday night for this survey. Margin of sampling error is five percentage points for the overall results. The practical difficulties of doing a survey in a single night represents another potential source of error. Day late and a dollar short, but give me a break, I was in meetings all day yesterday. Nice, though...guess we're all Al Qaeda suspects now. What was it I said about democracy the other day? Oh, we hardly knew ye.
The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.
The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.
"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.
For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.
The three telecommunications companies are working under contract with the NSA, which launched the program in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the sources said. The program is aimed at identifying and tracking suspected terrorists, they said.
The sources would talk only under a guarantee of anonymity because the NSA program is secret.
Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, nominated Monday by President Bush to become the director of the CIA, headed the NSA from March 1999 to April 2005. In that post, Hayden would have overseen the agency's domestic call-tracking program. Hayden declined to comment about the program.
The NSA's domestic program, as described by sources, is far more expansive than what the White House has acknowledged. Last year, Bush said he had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international calls and international e-mails of people suspected of having links to terrorists when one party to the communication is in the USA. Warrants have also not been used in the NSA's efforts to create a national call database.
In defending the previously disclosed program, Bush insisted that the NSA was focused exclusively on international calls. "In other words," Bush explained, "one end of the communication must be outside the United States."
As a result, domestic call records — those of calls that originate and terminate within U.S. borders — were believed to be private.
Sources, however, say that is not the case. With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.
Don Weber, a senior spokesman for the NSA, declined to discuss the agency's operations. "Given the nature of the work we do, it would be irresponsible to comment on actual or alleged operational issues; therefore, we have no information to provide," he said. "However, it is important to note that NSA takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law."
The White House would not discuss the domestic call-tracking program. "There is no domestic surveillance without court approval," said Dana Perino, deputy press secretary, referring to actual eavesdropping.
She added that all national intelligence activities undertaken by the federal government "are lawful, necessary and required for the pursuit of al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists." All government-sponsored intelligence activities "are carefully reviewed and monitored," Perino said. She also noted that "all appropriate members of Congress have been briefed on the intelligence efforts of the United States."
The government is collecting "external" data on domestic phone calls but is not intercepting "internals," a term for the actual content of the communication, according to a U.S. intelligence official familiar with the program. This kind of data collection from phone companies is not uncommon; it's been done before, though never on this large a scale, the official said. The data are used for "social network analysis," the official said, meaning to study how terrorist networks contact each other and how they are tied together.
AT&T recently merged with SBC and kept the AT&T name. Verizon, BellSouth and AT&T are the nation's three biggest telecommunications companies; they provide local and wireless phone service to more than 200 million customers.
The three carriers control vast networks with the latest communications technologies. They provide an array of services: local and long-distance calling, wireless and high-speed broadband, including video. Their direct access to millions of homes and businesses has them uniquely positioned to help the government keep tabs on the calling habits of Americans.
Among the big telecommunications companies, only Qwest has refused to help the NSA, the sources said. According to multiple sources, Qwest declined to participate because it was uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants.
Qwest's refusal to participate has left the NSA with a hole in its database. Based in Denver, Qwest provides local phone service to 14 million customers in 14 states in the West and Northwest. But AT&T and Verizon also provide some services — primarily long-distance and wireless — to people who live in Qwest's region. Therefore, they can provide the NSA with at least some access in that area.
Created by President Truman in 1952, during the Korean War, the NSA is charged with protecting the United States from foreign security threats. The agency was considered so secret that for years the government refused to even confirm its existence. Government insiders used to joke that NSA stood for "No Such Agency."
In 1975, a congressional investigation revealed that the NSA had been intercepting, without warrants, international communications for more than 20 years at the behest of the CIA and other agencies. The spy campaign, code-named "Shamrock," led to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was designed to protect Americans from illegal eavesdropping.
Enacted in 1978, FISA lays out procedures that the U.S. government must follow to conduct electronic surveillance and physical searches of people believed to be engaged in espionage or international terrorism against the United States. A special court, which has 11 members, is responsible for adjudicating requests under FISA.
Over the years, NSA code-cracking techniques have continued to improve along with technology. The agency today is considered expert in the practice of "data mining" — sifting through reams of information in search of patterns. Data mining is just one of many tools NSA analysts and mathematicians use to crack codes and track international communications.
Paul Butler, a former U.S. prosecutor who specialized in terrorism crimes, said FISA approval generally isn't necessary for government data-mining operations. "FISA does not prohibit the government from doing data mining," said Butler, now a partner with the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C.
The caveat, he said, is that "personal identifiers" — such as names, Social Security numbers and street addresses — can't be included as part of the search. "That requires an additional level of probable cause," he said.
The usefulness of the NSA's domestic phone-call database as a counterterrorism tool is unclear. Also unclear is whether the database has been used for other purposes.
The NSA's domestic program raises legal questions. Historically, AT&T and the regional phone companies have required law enforcement agencies to present a court order before they would even consider turning over a customer's calling data. Part of that owed to the personality of the old Bell Telephone System, out of which those companies grew.
Ma Bell's bedrock principle — protection of the customer — guided the company for decades, said Gene Kimmelman, senior public policy director of Consumers Union. "No court order, no customer information — period. That's how it was for decades," he said.
The concern for the customer was also based on law: Under Section 222 of the Communications Act, first passed in 1934, telephone companies are prohibited from giving out information regarding their customers' calling habits: whom a person calls, how often and what routes those calls take to reach their final destination. Inbound calls, as well as wireless calls, also are covered.
The financial penalties for violating Section 222, one of many privacy reinforcements that have been added to the law over the years, can be stiff. The Federal Communications Commission, the nation's top telecommunications regulatory agency, can levy fines of up to $130,000 per day per violation, with a cap of $1.325 million per violation. The FCC has no hard definition of "violation." In practice, that means a single "violation" could cover one customer or 1 million.
In the case of the NSA's international call-tracking program, Bush signed an executive order allowing the NSA to engage in eavesdropping without a warrant. The president and his representatives have since argued that an executive order was sufficient for the agency to proceed. Some civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, disagree.
The NSA's domestic program began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the sources. Right around that time, they said, NSA representatives approached the nation's biggest telecommunications companies. The agency made an urgent pitch: National security is at risk, and we need your help to protect the country from attacks.
The agency told the companies that it wanted them to turn over their "call-detail records," a complete listing of the calling histories of their millions of customers. In addition, the NSA wanted the carriers to provide updates, which would enable the agency to keep tabs on the nation's calling habits.
The sources said the NSA made clear that it was willing to pay for the cooperation. AT&T, which at the time was headed by C. Michael Armstrong, agreed to help the NSA. So did BellSouth, headed by F. Duane Ackerman; SBC, headed by Ed Whitacre; and Verizon, headed by Ivan Seidenberg.
With that, the NSA's domestic program began in earnest.
AT&T, when asked about the program, replied with a comment prepared for USA TODAY: "We do not comment on matters of national security, except to say that we only assist law enforcement and government agencies charged with protecting national security in strict accordance with the law."
In another prepared comment, BellSouth said: "BellSouth does not provide any confidential customer information to the NSA or any governmental agency without proper legal authority."
Verizon, the USA's No. 2 telecommunications company behind AT&T, gave this statement: "We do not comment on national security matters, we act in full compliance with the law and we are committed to safeguarding our customers' privacy."
Qwest spokesman Robert Charlton said: "We can't talk about this. It's a classified situation."
In December, The New York Times revealed that Bush had authorized the NSA to wiretap, without warrants, international phone calls and e-mails that travel to or from the USA. The following month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T. The lawsuit accuses the company of helping the NSA spy on U.S. phone customers.
Last month, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales alluded to that possibility. Appearing at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Gonzales was asked whether he thought the White House has the legal authority to monitor domestic traffic without a warrant. Gonzales' reply: "I wouldn't rule it out." His comment marked the first time a Bush appointee publicly asserted that the White House might have that authority.
The domestic and international call-tracking programs have things in common, according to the sources. Both are being conducted without warrants and without the approval of the FISA court. The Bush administration has argued that FISA's procedures are too slow in some cases. Officials, including Gonzales, also make the case that the USA Patriot Act gives them broad authority to protect the safety of the nation's citizens.
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., would not confirm the existence of the program. In a statement, he said, "I can say generally, however, that our subcommittee has been fully briefed on all aspects of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. ... I remain convinced that the program authorized by the president is lawful and absolutely necessary to protect this nation from future attacks."
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., declined to comment.
One major telecommunications company declined to participate in the program: Qwest.
According to sources familiar with the events, Qwest's CEO at the time, Joe Nacchio, was deeply troubled by the NSA's assertion that Qwest didn't need a court order — or approval under FISA — to proceed. Adding to the tension, Qwest was unclear about who, exactly, would have access to its customers' information and how that information might be used.
Financial implications were also a concern, the sources said. Carriers that illegally divulge calling information can be subjected to heavy fines. The NSA was asking Qwest to turn over millions of records. The fines, in the aggregate, could have been substantial.
The NSA told Qwest that other government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and DEA, also might have access to the database, the sources said. As a matter of practice, the NSA regularly shares its information — known as "product" in intelligence circles — with other intelligence groups. Even so, Qwest's lawyers were troubled by the expansiveness of the NSA request, the sources said.
The NSA, which needed Qwest's participation to completely cover the country, pushed back hard.
Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.
In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.
Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.
The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. "They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them," one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. A second person confirmed this version of events.
In June 2002, Nacchio resigned amid allegations that he had misled investors about Qwest's financial health. But Qwest's legal questions about the NSA request remained.
Unable to reach agreement, Nacchio's successor, Richard Notebaert, finally pulled the plug on the NSA talks in late 2004, the sources said.
Thursday, May 11, 2006Ah, democracy. It was nice while it lasted.
WASHINGTON - The government has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the National Security Agency refused to grant Justice Department lawyers the necessary security clearance to probe the matter.
The inquiry headed by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR, sent a fax to Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., on Wednesday saying they were closing their inquiry because without clearance their lawyers cannot examine Justice lawyers’ role in the program.
“We have been unable to make any meaningful progress in our investigation because OPR has been denied security clearances for access to information about the NSA program,” OPR counsel H. Marshall Jarrett wrote to Hinchey. Hinchey’s office shared the letter with The Associated Press.
Jarrett wrote that beginning in January 2006, his office has made a series of requests for the necessary clearances. Those requests were denied Tuesday.
“Without these clearances, we cannot investigate this matter and therefore have closed our investigation,” wrote Jarrett.
Hinchey is one of many House Democrats who have been highly critical of the domestic eavesdropping program first revealed in December.
In February, the OPR announced it would examine the conduct of their own agency’s lawyers in the program, though they were not authorized to investigate NSA activities.
Bush’s decision to authorize the largest U.S. spy agency to monitor people inside the United States, without warrants, generated a host of questions about the program’s legal justification.
The administration has vehemently defended the eavesdropping, saying the NSA’s activities were narrowly targeted to intercept international calls and e-mails of Americans and others inside the U.S. with suspected ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006For perspective, that's about as many executions as were held during a one month period at the very peak of the French Reign of Terror. It's hard to believe when anyone says that the violence is being overblown when you're faced with such a figure.
Baghdad sees 1,100 executions in one month
President urges calm, says killings ‘no less dangerous’ than bombings
BAGHDAD, Iraq - President Jalal Talabani said Wednesday that nearly 1,100 bodies were found in Baghdad last month, the victims of executions, and urged Iraq’s feuding factions to unite against surging crime and terrorism.
Talabani said in a statement that the 1,091 bodies found in the Baghdad area in April were the tip of the iceberg.
“We feel shock, dismay and anger over the daily reports of the discovery of unidentified corpses and those of others killed” around the capital, he said.
“If we add this to the number of corpses that are not discovered, or to similar crimes in other provinces, then the total number ... reflects that we are confronting a situation no less dangerous than the results of terrorist acts” such as car bombings and other attacks.
Scores of unidentified bodies turn up around the capital on a daily basis, many bound, tortured and shot execution style in what officials say is an unwavering tide of reprisal sectarian killings.
At least 3,525 Iraqis have been killed in war-related violence this year. These numbers include civilians, government officials, and police and security officials, and are considered only a minimum based on Associated Press reporting.
Sunni Arabs, who form the minority in the country but were once the power brokers under Saddam Hussein, say they are being targeted by so-called Shiite death squads operating either from within the Shiite-led Interior Ministry, or with the ministry’s tacit approval.
Shiites say thousands of their community have had to flee their homes to escape threats by Sunni extremists.
Leadership of the Interior Ministry — a key to securing the country against the steadily escalating wave of violence — has been a main stumbling block in the formation of the new national unity government.
Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki has said the interior and defense portfolios will be filled by independents unaffiliated with individual parties or militias.
But many lawmakers say that the next interior minister will likely be a Shiite, and several have floated the name of the current minister, Bayan Jabr, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
Saying that behind every unidentified corpse is “an orphan, a starving father or a grieving wife,” Talabani, himself a Kurd, warned that these daily abductions and murders are stoking a “climate of suspicion among the sons of the nation.”
He said terrorists are capitalizing on the weakness of government institutions and stressed that the formation of the new government will help create a climate in which such attacks can be halted. But Talabani also called on all factions “to issue a fatwa (religious edict) condemning these crimes, irrespective of who perpetrated them.”
Meanwhile, attacks continued around Iraq on Wednesday.
Near Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Iraqi civilians to work, then planted a bomb aboard the vehicle that exploded when rescue workers arrived. In all, 11 Iraqis were killed and six wounded.
Thirteen Iraqis were killed in other attacks, including four off-duty policemen in Ramadi, officials said.
Casualties from a suicide truck bombing in the northern city of Tal Afar on Tuesday night rose to 22 dead and 134 wounded. The U.S. military flew some of the wounded to other cities when the local hospital was overwhelmed.
Also Wednesday, American and Iraqi forces were searching for five people who escaped from a U.S. detention center in northern Iraq, the U.S. command. Ugh...I just... Okay, the alternative minimum change was actually overdue. That was an error in the tax code to start with, but come on.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans in Congress reached agreement Tuesday on a five-year, $70 billion measure to extend tax breaks for investors and prevent more middle-income families from being hit by a tax aimed at the wealthy.
The bill would hand President Bush one of his top tax priorities, a two-year extension of the reduced 15 percent tax rate for capital gains and dividends, currently set to expire at the end of 2008. Republicans credit the tax cuts, enacted in 2003, with boosting economic growth and creating many jobs.
Treasury Secretary John Snow said the 2003 bill "by reducing the taxes on investment, ushered in a period of rising business investment, strong (gross domestic product) growth. ... When you get investment occurring and strong GDP growth, you get jobs."
The measure also would keep 15 million families from being hit this year with the alternative minimum tax, which was designed to make sure the wealthy paid taxes but is ensnaring more and more middle-income families because it is not indexed for inflation.
The accord paves the way for House approval of the measure Wednesday. The Senate could clear the bill for Bush's desk by week's end.
"This is a responsible bill that protects families and small business owners from tax increases, while also providing investors with a bigger window of certainty -- critical to continued economic growth," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-California
Critics, including many Democrats, have attacked the tax rate reductions on dividends and capital gains as being largely tilted to the wealthy and have argued that the provisions should not be extended at a time of large budget deficits and massive spending for the war in Iraq.
The development capped weeks of often difficult talks between GOP lawmakers as they wrangled over how to advance their party's tax agenda. Under budget rules, up to $70 billion in cuts can be advanced under fast-track rules that would prevent a possible filibuster by Senate Democrats.
That rule prompted Republicans to devise a strategy under which they would advance the investor tax breaks and alternative minimum tax relief in a first, filibuster-proof bill while using a second bill to approve various tax changes left out of the main legislation.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, had been holding off on finalizing the main measure to preserve negotiating leverage on the second bill, which is to contain a number of widely backed tax breaks.
They include a popular education tuition tax deduction, a tax break for teachers who buy their own school supplies and a research and development tax credit for businesses. That measure also would preserve tax deductions for state and local sales taxes.
Democrats said the framework put together by Republicans chose wealthy investors over regular taxpayers and that it is more important to extend tax cuts that have already expired rather than provisions that won't run out for more than two-and-a-half years.
Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, top Democrat on the Finance panel, said Republicans should have "chosen to renew important tax provisions like the R&D tax credit, the college tuition tax deduction, and the credit for teachers who spend their own money to improve our children's education.
"Instead, they chose to extend capital gains and dividends tax breaks that have not expired and won't expire for years to come."
As talks dragged on the second measure, pressure built from GOP leaders and the White House to complete the main measure. Thomas said negotiations continue on the second bill.
Grassley added that the second bill would contain provisions sought by both Republicans and Democrats such as Baucus, including "relief for college students paying tuition, teachers buying supplies for their classrooms and the research and development of innovative ideas that benefit our society."
The main bill would allow wealthier people to transfer retirement savings into Roth IRAs, providing a shorter-term revenue boost that helped lawmakers fit more provisions within the bill. That's because money moved from traditional IRAs into Roth accounts is taxed immediately, instead of later, when taxpayers withdraw their invested money.
Opponents say the Roth plan would help the Treasury now but shortchange the government in future years because funds saved in a Roth IRA grow tax free.
The bill also would extend for two years provisions sought by small businesses to let them write off up to $100,000 in investments in equipment.
Monday, May 08, 2006Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't part of the point that the CIA is a civilian organization? Why would they nominate a general to take the place over, unless it's to continue the consolidation of all intelligence activities under the aegis of military control, where it can continue in a new, less accountable fashion? I smell a rat, especially since this particular one has defended domestic spying.
Hayden Nominated to Head CIA
By Dafna Linzer and Fred Barbash
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 8, 2006; 9:45 AM
President Bush named Gen. Michael V. Hayden as CIA director today in the face of heavy criticism from Republicans as well as Democrats.
Bush cited Hayden's background of "more than 20 years of experience" as he announced the nomination, which was widely reported over the weekend.
For two years, Air Force general Michael Hayden has waged a secret struggle to overhaul the world's most powerful spy agency. Nothing's riding on his success but the future of America's national security.
Anticipating the fight ahead, the administration began defending the appointment even before it was made. Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, said on NBC's "Today" show and on ABC's "Good Morning America" today that Hayden is a "change agent," the "best person" for the job, "the right man at the right time."
Responding to concerns about having a military officer in the key civilian intelligence job, Hadley said that "the military background is in many ways a plus. . . . But make no mistake," Hadley said, "when he steps in, he will not be reporting to Don Rumsfeld," the secretary of defense.
Hayden is a four-star Air Force general, a former director of the National Security Agency and currently deputy director of national intelligence serving under director John Negroponte in the new office created by Congress in response to criticism of the CIA's failure to anticipate the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Republican chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence panels raised serious concerns Sunday about Hayden, whose name surfaced for the job immediately after the abrupt resignation of Porter Goss on Friday, with Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) calling him "the wrong man at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Other Republicans and Democrats, appearing on Sunday talk shows, praised Hayden's credentials but said they, too, are troubled by President Bush's decision to place a military officer at the helm of a civilian intelligence agency. Hayden has defended Bush's domestic eavesdropping program, run by the NSA under Hayden's leadership, since its disclosure in December. Intriguing. I'm curious as to just what the offer might be.
Iranian President Writes Letter to Bush
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 8:06 a.m. ET
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's leader has written to President Bush proposing ''new solutions'' to their differences in the first letter from an Iranian head of state to an American president in 27 years, a government spokesman said Monday.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki delivered the letter to the Swiss ambassador on Monday, ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told The Associated Press. The Swiss Embassy in Tehran houses a U.S. interests section.
In the letter, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposes ''new solutions for getting out of international problems and the current fragile situation of the world,'' spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham told a news conference.
Elham declined to reveal more, stressing ''it is not an open letter.'' Asked whether the letter could lead to direct U.S.-Iranian negotiations, he replied: ''For the time being, it's just a letter.''
Elham did not mention the nuclear dispute -- the main obstacle between Washington and Tehran. The United States is leading Western efforts to pass a U.N. Security Council motion censuring Iran for refusing to cease enrichment of uranium.
It is the first time that an Iranian president has written to his U.S. counterpart since 1979, when the two countries broke off relations after Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy and held the occupants hostage for more than a year.
In Washington, Bush's National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, said Monday that he was not aware of any such letter, and he reiterated the administration's position on Iran's nuclear program.
''The international community has been very clear to Iran what it needs to do,'' Hadley said on NBC's ''Today'' show. ''It needs to return to the suspension of its nuclear activities in order to open the door for a diplomatic resolution.''
Before the announcement by Iran, Bush said he was paying close attention to threats made against Israel by Ahmadinejad, who recently questioned Israel's right to exist and said the country should be wiped off the map.
''I think that it's very important for us to take his words very seriously,'' he told the German newspaper Bild on Friday, according to a transcript released Sunday. ''When people speak, it is important that we listen carefully to what they say and take them seriously.''
Iran's top nuclear negotiator also said Monday that Tehran would like to see a peaceful solution to growing tensions with the United States. Ali Larijani was in Turkey as part of efforts to rally support for Iran's nuclear program ahead of possible Security Council action.
Ahmadinejad arrives in Indonesia on Tuesday for a six-day trip to do the same.
Last week, Larijani went to the United Arab Emirates to reassure its government about Iran's nuclear program, and last month former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani made a similar visit to Kuwait.
The United States is backing efforts by Britain and France to win Security Council approval for a U.N. resolution that would threaten possible further measures if Iran does not suspend uranium enrichment -- a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity or material for nuclear warheads.
The Western nations want to invoke Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter that would allow economic sanctions or military action, if necessary, to force Iran to comply with the Security Council's demand that it cease enrichment.
But Russia and China, the other two veto-holding members of the Security Council members, oppose such moves.
Iran claims its nuclear program is strictly for generating electricity and that it requires enrichment to be self-reliant in fuel for nuclear reactors. But the United States and its allies believe that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.
On Sunday, Ahmadinejad renewed Iran's threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty if the Security Council imposes sanctions on Tehran.
Ahmadinejad told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that Washington and its allies ''don't give us anything and yet they want to impose sanctions on us.'' He called the threat of sanctions ''meaningless.''
Elham said Monday that Iranians had endured sanctions before. ''We're not concerned'' about the prospect of U.N. sanctions, he added. Porter Goss's ouster has something to do with the Cunningham prostitution scandal. I guess the important question is how much this will be dug out, and how much coverage it will get.
Behind the Goss Toss
By Richard Sisk
The New York Daily News
Sunday 07 May 2006
Washington - A little-known White House advisory board convinced a reluctant President Bush to launch yet another high-profile shakeup of the nation's intelligence community and can CIA Director Porter Goss, sources said yesterday.
Bush had already gotten an earful from Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte on the shortcomings of Goss, but the final push came from the "very alarmed" President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, intelligence and Congressional sources said.
Alarms were set off at the advisory board by a widening FBI sex and cronyism investigation that's targeted Kyle (Dusty) Foggo, the No.3 official at the CIA, and also touched on Goss himself.
The 16-member bipartisan board, now headed by former Goldman Sachs executive Stephen Friedman, has the mandate to conduct periodic assessments on "the quality, quantity and adequacy of intelligence collection."
The board, which includes longtime Bush confidant and former Commerce Secretary Don Evans, joined in the growing chorus inside and outside the CIA calling for Goss' ouster, persuading Bush to act, sources said.
The result was the awkward Oval Office announcement Friday at which neither Goss nor Bush gave a specific reason for Goss' return to Florida. Goss told CNN yesterday his resignation was "just one of those mysteries."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perrino said a "collective agreement" led to the decision to find a new CIA director, but "reports that the President had lost confidence in Porter Goss are categorically untrue."
Bush was expected to name a new spy chief, possibly as early as tomorrow, with Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, Negroponte's top deputy, and White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend heading up a short list.
But the spillover from the continuing FBI investigation, coupled with a parallel probe by the CIA's inspector general, could impact on what were already expected to be difficult Senate confirmation hearings for the new director.
The investigations have focused on the Watergate poker parties thrown by defense contractor Brent Wilkes, a high-school buddy of Foggo's, that were attended by disgraced former Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham and other lawmakers.
Foggo has claimed he went to the parties "just for poker" amid allegations that Wilkes, a top GOP fund-raiser and a member of the $100,000 "Pioneers" of Bush's 2004 reelection campaign, provided prostitutes, limos and hotel suites to Cunningham.
Cunningham is serving an eight-year sentence after pleading to taking $2.4 million in bribes to steer defense contracts to cronies.
Wilkes hosted regular parties for 15 years at the Watergate and Westin Grand Hotels for lawmakers and lobbyists. Intelligence sources said Goss has denied attending the parties as CIA director, but that left open whether he may have attended as a Republican congressman from Florida who was head of the House Intelligence Committee.