DeLay-tied fund took Russian money to attack Dems
The Washington Post reports on the cash-and-carry politics of Tom DeLay's Congress:
The U.S. Family Network, a public advocacy group that operated in the 1990s with close ties to Rep. Tom DeLay and claimed to be a nationwide grass-roots organization, was funded almost entirely by corporations linked to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to tax records and former associates of the group.
During its five-year existence, the U.S. Family Network raised $2.5 million but kept its donor list secret. The list, obtained by The Washington Post, shows that $1 million of its revenue came in a single 1998 check from a now-defunct London law firm whose former partners would not identify the money's origins.
Two former associates of Edwin A. Buckham, the congressman's former chief of staff and the organizer of the U.S. Family Network, said Buckham told them the funds came from Russian oil and gas executives. Abramoff had been working closely with two such Russian energy executives on their Washington agenda, and the lobbyist and Buckham had helped organize a 1997 Moscow visit by DeLay (R-Tex.).
The former president of the U.S. Family Network said Buckham told him that Russians contributed $1 million to the group in 1998 specifically to influence DeLay's vote on legislation the International Monetary Fund needed to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy. ...
In addition to the million-dollar payment involving the London law firm, the Post reports, half a million dollars came from the owners of textile companies in the Mariana Islands in the Pacific who sought and received DeLay's commitment to block legislation that would boost their labor costs. And a quarter of a million dollars was donated over two years by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Abramoff's largest lobbying client, which counted DeLay as an ally in fighting legislation allowing the taxation of its gambling revenue.
The money went to, among other things, Buckham and his lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group, and ads attacking vulnerable Democrats. Buckham's firm employed DeLay's wife, Christine, and paid her a salary of at least $3,200 each month for three of the years the group existed. Other funds were used to finance the cash purchase of a townhouse three blocks from DeLay's congressional office, which DeLay used as a political office and his associates called it "the Safe House."
Josh Marshall offers a good summary and context. He concludes:
It's like we've been telling you for months. This is a slush fund. Lots of secret money, often from overseas, that can get spread around off the books in DC. That's how this sort of political machine works.
Look at the sums of money involved and the what they were being used for -- off-the-books political activity and individual personal enrichment. A lot of attention has been focused on 'hard money' contributions from Abramoff and his associates and clients. But these hard money (i.e., federally regulated contributions) pale in comparison to the sums of money talked about here. They're not the real story or the heart of the money lubricating the cogs of this machine. They're more like the initial ante up. As in the case with Duke Cunningham, the above-board hard money contributions were more like a clue to the real action going on either out of the regulated money system or through straight out cash bribes.
ACLU: NSA spying on Americans is illegal
What if it emerged that the President of the United States was flagrantly violating the Constitution and a law passed by the Congress to protect Americans against abuses by a super-secret spy agency? What if, instead of apologizing, he said, in essence, "I have the power to do that, because I say I can." That frightening scenario is exactly what we are now witnessing in the case of the warrantless NSA spying ordered by President Bush that was reported December 16, 2005 by the New York Times.
According to the Times, Bush signed a presidential order in 2002 allowing the National Security Agency to monitor without a warrant the international (and sometimes domestic) telephone calls and e-mail messages of hundreds or thousands of citizens and legal residents inside the United States. The program eventually came to include some purely internal controls - but no requirement that warrants be obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as the 4th Amendment to the Constitution and the foreign intelligence surveillance laws require.
In other words, no independent review or judicial oversight.
That kind of surveillance is illegal. Period.
(See the rest.)
CIA'S SECRET 'ANTI-TERROR' PROGRAM GROWS: Dana Priest reports in the Washington Post that the effort President Bush authorized shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, to fight al Qaeda has grown into the largest CIA covert action program since the height of the Cold War, expanding in size and ambition despite a growing outcry at home and abroad over its clandestine tactics.
The broad-based effort, known within the agency by the initials GST, includes programs allowing the CIA to capture al Qaeda suspects with help from foreign intelligence services, to maintain secret prisons abroad, to use interrogation techniques that some lawyers say violate international treaties, and to maintain a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe. Other compartments within GST give the CIA enhanced ability to mine international financial records and eavesdrop on suspects anywhere in the world.
MANY STILL THINK SADDAM BACKED 9/11 ATTACKS: Sizeable minorities of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein had "strong links to al Qaeda," a Harris poll for the Wall Street Journal shows, though the number has fallen substantially this year.
About 22% of U.S. adults believe Mr. Hussein helped plan 9/11, the poll shows, and 26% believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded. Another 24% believe several of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis, according to the online poll of 1,961 adults.
However, all of these beliefs have declined since February of this year, when 64% of those polled believed Mr. Hussein had strong links to al Qaeda and 46% said Mr. Hussein helped plan 9/11. At that time, more than a third said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and 44% said several of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis.
Currently, 56% of adults believe Iraqis are better off now than they were under Mr. Hussein, down from 76% in February. Nearly half of those polled say they believe Iraq, under Mr. Hussein, was a threat to U.S. security, down from 61% in February.
WSJ story (sub required)
See more at WashingtonMonthly.com. Note the 2003 survey that found Fox News viewers the most likely to have misperceptions about Iraq's purported links to al Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers, weapons of mass destruction and the US security threat
Workers won transit strike
Matt Stoller of MyDD.com notes that it's official: The much-maligned New York TWU local won the strike.
They have to pay something for their health care, but instead of having to contribute to their pension they receive reimbursements for the overfunding of the pension. And they get raises above the inflation rate.
More importantly, we all kept the right to organize, and kept the leverage of being able to strike.
We note: The union might still have to pay $3 million in fines for staying on strike after a court ordered it back to work. But at a time when US troops are putting their lives on the line to defend the right of Iraqis to set up a fundamentalist Islamic state ruled by Medieval-era religious laws, it's good to know that workers retain a little clout in at least some of the US of A.
IN OTHER UNION NEWS, David Sirota also notes that under pressure from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which owns stock in the corporation, the Coca-Cola Company adopted a new policy requiring that its stockholders approve any future executive severance agreements that amount to at least 2.99 times the recipient's annual salary and bonus. "Before the shareholder vote, Coca-Cola's management recommended a 'no' vote on the proposal ... But with more than 40 percent of the shares cast in favor of the proposal, Coca-Cola's board approved the change in October."
This is a big win - and highlights the power of shareholder activism in helping to put a leash on out of control corporate power. Shareholders are, after all, the owners of the company. But don't think for a second greedy corporate executives aren't going to fight back against their companies' owners - as I noted a few weeks ago, executives are actually using company money to begin surveillance operations against shareholders they think might cause them trouble. Stay tuned - the battle between shareholders and executivs is quietly getting underway.
While Fox News continues its War on Hannukah, Eric Alterman reprints a December 2004 editorial from The Forward, "Hannukah, Forever New," which puts the Jewish holiday of lights in context that even Bill O'Reilly, if he cared, might be able to understand.
Foreign Policy fantasies about Venezuela
Mark Weisbrot fact-checks Foreign Policy's new (January/February 2006) cover story, "Hugo Boss: "How Chavez is refashioning dictatorship for a democratic age," which reflects the Bush administration's distaste for the populist president of Venezuela who since his 1999 election has survived sabotage of the nation's oil industry, a brief US-supported coup and an attempted recall election (which Chavez won with 58% of the vote) ...
The idea that Venezuela is a dictatorship is absurd, as anyone who has been there in the last six years can attest to. All you have to do is go there, turn on the TV and listen to denunciations of the government on the biggest TV stations, pick up the biggest newspapers and see the same - in fact the media plays a non-journalistic oppositional role in politics that would not be allowed in most European democracies. Even in the United States, the long-lapsed Fairness Doctrine would quickly be brought back, if our media ever got to one-tenth the level of partisan political activity exhibited by Venezuela's major broadcast and print media, which make Fox news look impeccably "fair and balanced" by comparison. ... (see the rest.)
Maureen Dowd gets Dick Cheney's number
On Maureen Dowd, we run hot and cold. But today, she's hot.
Dems win MN holiday elections again
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has failed in two more election stunts as Democratic-Farm-Labor candidates won special state House and Senate elections Pawlenty called for two days after Christmas, apparently hoping to suppress DFL turnout. He also recently scheduled a special election two days before Thanksgiving, but the Dem won that one too. DavidNYC at SwingStateProject relays a DLCC press release:
Tonight, Democrats were victorious in two special elections in Minnesota.
The decision by Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty to schedule two special elections during the holidays - a move many view as politically motivated - did not stop voters from coming out to support Tarryl Clark (DFL) for State Senate in the 15th District and Larry Haws (DFL) for the Minnesota House election in District 15B.
The win by Clark expanded the Democratic majority in the Minnesota Senate to 38 seats while the GOP holds only 29. Haws' victory in the uncontested election in Minnesota House District, allowed the Democrats to maintain their hold on 66 seats to the Republicans' 68.
Matt Stoller at MyDD notes that the Minnesota special elections also were victories of grassroots-oriented populists over mass-media political operatives.
Unions back single-payer health care
Robert Fitch in an op-ed in the New York Times blames unions for failing to support national health insurance programs in the past, but Ezra Klein at Tapped says that's old news:
The union movement is changing. And it's not just the new guard. The older unions, UAW included, are rapidly realizing that the corporate welfare state they so lovingly constructed is readying to collapse, with them beneath it. Today, the transit workers grudgingly accepted a deal that cuts into health benefits -- they had no other choice. Corporations have established similar beachheads in the benefit packages at Ford, GM, Delphi, and countless others. Where Old Labor used to focus on preserving what they'd already won, the swift disintegration of those gains is forcing them to search out more durable delivery mechanisms for health care, pensions, and the like. Their hostile posture from decades back isn't sustainable, but unions aren't stubbornly clinging to it, something Fisk fails to mention. No reason to let facts obstruct a perfectly good point, I guess.
Indeed, Klein notes the Service Employees International Union, United Food and Commercial Workers and other unions that represent service and low-wage workers have long been enthusiastic supporters of national health care. Some of them are throwing their resources behind statewide efforts to universalize coverage, as AFCSME is doing in California and SEIU is doing in Massachusetts.
The older unions should spearhead similar efforts, particularly in Michigan, where benefit insecurity is most acute. Nationally, the union movement simply lacks the strength to overcome the conservative entrenchment, but more locally, unions could be the prime movers in creating statewide templates for a secure welfare state. And so they should.
We add: If the Republican president and Congress won't get off the dime, Democrats, unions and small-business groups should take the initiative in promoting universal health coverage in progressive states, operating on the Medicare model. It could be financed by a modest payroll tax that in most cases would cost less than what responsible businesses now pay to insure their employees.
Universal health plans would help progressive states compete with uninsured states for businesses. A program where neither workers nor their bosses have to worry about insurance coverage would be an attractive component of a state's economic development package. It also would help small businesses compete with chains.
Top 10 myths about Iraq in 2005
Juan Cole, "one of the most incisive analysts of the situation in Iraq," as Salon notes, is "a fierce critic of the war and the administration that is waging it, but he's also a nuanced thinker who challenges conventional wisdom on all sides." He debunks some of the most widely misreported myths about that troubled country.
Iraq's situation is extremely complex. It is not a black and white poster for an American political party. Good things and bad things are happening there. The American public cannot help make good policy, however, unless the myths are first dispelled.
Chicago economists bearish on Bush
Even at the conservative University of Chicago Graduate School of business, economists doing a year-end assessment of the president's fiscal management for the Chicago Tribune weren't inclined to cut the Bush regime much slack after years of unchecked spending, increasing deficits, the widening gap between rich and poor, inequities in health care, stagnant jobs, an energy policy that ignores demand and a disastrous disaster recovery program. (They like his trade policy.)
Universal health care: Good policy, good politics
Matt Stoller at MyDD.com notes:
There are a lot of reasons to work for universal health care. There's the moral -- health care is essential for a democratic society. There's the economic -- universal health care is cheaper than what we have now. And there's the political. First of all, it hurts the right, badly. Two huge funding sources for Republicans are doctors and insurance companies, which are basically massively inefficient companies designed to deny you care. In addition, being able to deny Americans the ability to change jobs is key to promoting the economic instability that allows fear-based politics to flourish. And then there's the union piece [as public and private employers cut back on health care coverage] ...
Universal health care. $8/hour minimum wage. These are the issues that not only are good for society, but help Democrats. Power is accretive, and we must constantly seek to change the playing field. That's why pushing on health care, crushing the insurance companies in the process, is the right strategy.
1) If Republicans can run against Big Government, Democrats should run against Big Insurance Companies.
2) Expansion of Medicare to cover every American would help workers and their families, it would help small businesses who can't afford health insurance for their employees and level the playing field with stingy corporations such as Wal-Mart, it would help state and local governments that are wrestling with unwieldy Medicaid plans for the poor, and it would hurt a major Republican funding source. What's not to like?
3) No Democrat in 2006 should let a speaking engagement pass without calling for expansion of Medicare to cover every American.
Fair Play for Right Wingers?
Josh Marshall writes…
The Post has a profile of John Yoo out today. Cass Sunstein, while disagreeing with Yoo, calls him "a very interesting and provocative scholar" who "doesn't deserve the demonization to which he has been subject." And Yoo himself makes the fair point that he himself was hardly in a position, as DOJ lawyer, to make policy.
All that aside, there's something deeply pernicious about this man's work. The Post gives some sense of the cadre of lawyers and ideological incubators he comes out of. Provocative as Yoo's ideas may be, they are deeply authoritarian. And his claim that there is any historical basis for such absolute presidential authority is laughable. I try not to get too deep into legal arguments because I lack the necessary expertise. But on the historical points I'm on my own professional ground.
Democracy can be lost in a lot of ways. This is one of them. These theories of executive power deserve a thorough airing and discussion quite apart from the particular abuses they may have been used to justify.
We agree. Yoo has been at the leading edge of a radical Republican effort to reinterpret the Constitution to support the authoritarian will of the Bush White House. His memo that claims the White House was not bound by a federal law prohibiting warrantless eavesdropping on communications that originated or ended in the United States defies a plain reading of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, not to mention the Fourth Amendment. These are not theoretical debates; they are part of government policy and our democracy is diminished by the authoritarian policies John Yoo helped put in place.
UPDATE: Marshall also points us to an article by David Cole in the New York Review of Books on "What Bush Wants to Hear."