By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, April 8, 2008; 12:06 PM
President Bush yesterday continued his tone-deaf cheerleading on the economy, insisting that the modest stimulus bill he signed two months ago will reverse the current slowdown and result in a "stronger and better country."
Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "President Bush urged Congress on Monday to resist efforts by Democrats to pass a second economic stimulus package, saying that while the economy is 'in a rough time right now,' he is confident it will begin to rebound by the end of the year. . . .
"In pushing back against additional government intervention in the economy, Mr. Bush is drawing a sharp contrast between himself and Democrats, who intend to make rising unemployment and the economic downturn a centerpiece of their fall election campaigns.
"But he could be making life difficult for Republicans, who will face questions from voters about what they are doing to make life better for ordinary Americans and who will have to decide whether to stick with the White House or break with Mr. Bush when the housing and stimulus bills come up for votes."
Speaking for all of three minute about the issue that is increasingly alarming the American public, Bush said he had three bits of advice for Congress -- though it turned out his third bit of advice was the same as the first: "[M]y only advice to them is, one, make sure you give the pro-growth package that was passed overwhelmingly a chance to work, see what the effects are. Secondly, anything they do should not hurt the economy. And thirdly, I, you know, I think we ought to, in terms of pro-growth packages, I think we ought to, again I repeat, give this one a chance to kick in."
John D. McKinnon notes in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "Mr. Bush also sought to demonstrate his concern over high gasoline prices, saying that 'fuel is hurting people.' He was criticized after a news conference in February in which he said he was unaware of forecasts that gasoline prices soon could hit $4 a gallon. Aides later said he was suggesting doubts about those predictions."
McKinnon also explains: "The Bush administration is being forced into a delicate political balancing act -- one complicated by the slow-turning wheels of the federal bureaucracy. On one hand, the White House is anxious to demonstrate its concern over the shaky economy. On the other, it wants to gauge the impact of the big fiscal stimulus bill the president pushed for last winter before deciding on further action."
Bush explained the significance of surrounding himself with small business owners (hand-picked by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) who were taking advantage of new tax incentives to increase their capital investments: "[T]hat's important, because in times of economic uncertainty, we want people making investment, so when a person buys an apple press, somebody is going to have to manufacture that press. When somebody manufactures that press, it means there's more likely to be work and income."
Dee DePass writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about how local machine-shop owner Darlene Miller came to hear Bush speak. U.S. Chamber of Commerce spokesman Giovanni Coratolo told DePass: "We said, 'Look, Darlene, you have a great story. Let us share it with the White House. . . . The fact is that she is positive and she is going out and buying equipment. She is not reading the paper and sticking her head in the sand and waiting for the clouds to pass."
But Malia Rulon writes in the Cincinnati Enquirer about another Bush guest, Daniel Glier, the owner of Glier's Meats: "Glier's first purchase was a $100,000 clipping machine, which will allow him to automate the placing of metal fasteners at the end of each sausage. . . . Previously, employees would clip about 7,000 packages a day by hand."
Hmm. That doesn't sound like it'll stimulate job growth.Bush's Faith in Free Trade
Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush announced yesterday that he is sending a Colombian free-trade agreement to Congress, moving toward a confrontation with Democrats and labor unions that he could lose during a hotly contested election year. . . .
"The proposal prompted immediate and heated opposition from leading Democrats, who accused Bush of grandstanding and said the pact is certain to be rejected. Under 'fast-track' rules negotiated with Congress, Bush's move forces lawmakers to conduct an up-or-down vote on the proposed pact within 90 legislative days.
"Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called the agreement 'a continuation of failed policies' that 'have already cost countless American workers their jobs and have done profound harm to U.S. foreign policy.' Reid and other Democrats argue that Colombia has failed to protect labor activists, quell violence and shut down paramilitary groups."
David J. Lynch writes in USA Today: "The president opted to force a congressional vote over the objections of Democrats, who warned the deal may become the first trade agreement ever rejected by Congress. The president's move, which he said was needed to assure that Congress votes before adjourning this year, marked the first time a trade deal has been sent to Capitol Hill without congressional leaders' approval. . . .
"On Monday, some Democratic lawmakers pronounced the measure, which must be voted on before Sept. 26, dead on arrival. Others complained the president should tackle the nation's financial crisis instead. . . .
"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., reiterated their opposition to the agreement and called the president's action 'counterproductive.' They complained that Bush has rejected their proposals to extend unemployment benefits, expand children's health care programs, and help distressed homeowners."
James Gerstenzang writes in the Los Angeles Times: "No administration has lost a vote on a major free trade pact in Congress, although few have found the task easy.
"But Bush is facing a powerful challenge in seeking House and Senate approval as lawmakers prepare to go before voters concerned about foreign competition for jobs.
"The outcome is made more difficult by Bush's sagging popularity, opposition to the pact by the Democratic presidential contenders and concerns about the U.S. economy.
"All of which brings up this question: Why is he taking the step now, risking angering or embarrassing Colombia with a defeat and dooming the 16-month-old pact's approval?
"Because, Latin America experts and administration officials say, waiting would accomplish nothing, and the clock is running out on his opportunities."
Greg Hitt, Bob Davis and Jose de Cordoba write in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "The White House is betting that it will be able to peel away enough Democrats to win approval -- and if not, the White House can blame Democrats for the loss. Some Democrats may be willing to trade their vote for a Colombia deal as a way to extract White House support for a slew of Democratic initiatives, including expanded jobless benefits, an increase in spending on food stamps and support for a twice-vetoed bill that would expand a health program for low-income children."Iraq Watch
All eyes today are on the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, where Bush's chief Iraq standard-bearers, Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, are making the case for staying the course. (See yesterday's column, No Closer to Success in Iraq.)
Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post that "even some of the war's strongest supporters in Congress have grown impatient and frustrated. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, and Crocker will face many lawmakers who had expected more by now and who are wondering whether any real change will occur before the clock runs out on the Bush administration."
David Lightman and Margaret Talev write for McClatchy Newspapers: "Army Gen. David Petraeus' congressional testimony this week is likely to generate plenty of sound, fury and analysis in Washington, but not much change in America's policy in Iraq."Opinion Watch
The New York Times editorial board writes: "Americans this week get another chance to take stock of President Bush's war-without-end in Iraq. Gen. David Petraeus, the military commander in Baghdad, has already signaled his bottom line: there should be a pause in the withdrawal of American troops.
"We're not sure which specific argument the general will make: there is too much progress for American troops to leave now -- or not enough. Either way, it is clear that neither he nor Mr. Bush have a strategy for ending America's disastrous involvement in Iraq."Meanwhile, in Iraq
Tina Susman writes in the Los Angeles Times: "In one of the most intense days of fighting here involving U.S. troops in recent months, American helicopters fired at least four Hellfire missiles and an Air Force jet dropped a bomb on a suspected militia target. Rockets and missiles launched from militia strongholds pounded U.S. bases around the city, where U.S. troops also came under fire from small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. Targets included the Green Zone, where the U.S. Embassy and most Iraqi government buildings are located."
Sholnn Freeman writes in The Washington Post: "The Green Zone was once considered an American oasis -- a protected bubble of comfort food, large, American-made sport-utility vehicles and enforced speed limits. But intensified shelling has contributed to a growing sense of insecurity on the eve of testimony before Congress by the two highest-ranking U.S. officials in Iraq: Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker."
James Glanz and Stephen Farrell write in the New York Times: "A crackdown on the Mahdi Army militia is creating potentially destabilizing political and military tensions in Iraq, pitting a stronger government alliance against the force that has won past showdowns: the street power wielded by the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr. . . .
"Figures compiled by the American military showed that attacks specifically on military targets in Baghdad more than tripled in March, one of many indications that violence has begun to rise again after months of gains in the wake of an American troop increase. Overall attacks on Baghdad more than doubled, to 631 in March from 239 in February, reflecting new strikes against the Green Zone, the fortified headquarters for Iraqi and American officials, as well as renewed fighting in Sadr City between the Mahdi Army and American and Iraqi forces."The U.S-Iraq Agreement
Seumas Milne writes in the Guardian: "A confidential draft agreement covering the future of US forces in Iraq, passed to the Guardian, shows that provision is being made for an open-ended military presence in the country.
"The draft strategic framework agreement between the US and Iraqi governments, dated March 7 and marked 'secret' and 'sensitive', is intended to replace the existing UN mandate and authorises the US to 'conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security' without time limit.
"The authorisation is described as 'temporary' and the agreement says the US 'does not desire permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq'. But the absence of a time limit or restrictions on the US and other coalition forces - including the British - in the country means it is likely to be strongly opposed in Iraq and the US.
"Iraqi critics point out that the agreement contains no limits on numbers of US forces, the weapons they are able to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi citizens, going far beyond long-term US security agreements with other countries."
And what about an American commitment to defend Iraq in case of attack? "Administration officials have conceded that if the agreement were to include security guarantees to Iraq, it would have to go before Congress. But the leaked draft only states that it is 'in the mutual interest of the United States and Iraq that Iraq maintain its sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence and that external threats to Iraq be deterred. Accordingly, the US and Iraq are to consult immediately whenever the territorial integrity or political independence of Iraq is threatened.'"Iran Watch
Damien McElroy writes in the Telegraph: "British officials gave warning yesterday that America's commander in Iraq will declare that Iran is waging war against the US-backed Baghdad government.
"A strong statement from General David Petraeus about Iran's intervention in Iraq could set the stage for a US attack on Iranian military facilities, according to a Whitehall assessment."
Yochi J. Dreazen and Laura Meckler write in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about ongoing "disagreements between U.S. civilian and military policy makers about the true threat posed by Iran -- and what to do in response.
"Within the State Department, some senior officials believe that Iran has worked to curb the flow of advanced weaponry into Iraq and deserves some credit for the recent declines in violence there. Many top U.S. military commanders, by contrast, believe that Iran is supporting an array of militants inside Iraq and is actively working to destabilize the country.
"Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who served as the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said recently that Iran posed the greatest long-term threat to Iraq. The general said the U.S. had 'pretty clear' evidence that Iran continued to train Shiite extremists and provide them with rockets and other weapons."
Gary Kamiya writes for Salon: "It's blame-blame-blame, blame-blame Iran. We've heard this song before. The Bush administration warbles it every time it needs to justify its failed Iraq policies and rally a skeptical public. . . .
"The truth is that the Maliki government and its allied Shiite faction, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI, formerly known as SCIRI), are much closer to Iran than the Sadrists are. Maliki's campaign against Sadr isn't a noble crusade by the good Iraqi government against the bad Iranian-backed Sadrists, but a battle waged by a weak Shiite leader backed by one militia, ISCI's Badr Corps, against another, stronger Shiite leader, Sadr, with his own militia, the Mahdi Army. Not only that, the 'good' militia, the Badr Corps, was created in Iran by Iran's Revolutionary Guard -- the same organization whose Quds Force the United States notoriously declared to be a 'terrorist organization' last year. The maraschino cherry on this sundae of absurdity: It was the head of that Quds Force, an Iranian general, who bailed out Maliki after Maliki's assault on Basra ignominiously failed, forcing him to send officials to Iran to broker a truce."
Kamiya also notes that Middle East expert and blogger Juan Cole questions U.S. claims that Iran is intentionally supplying weapons to the Mahdi Army. "There's no proof for that, and whenever the U.S. Army is pressed for evidence, they always back off," Cole tells Kamiya, explaining that the weapons are available on the black market and the Mahdi Army, flush with funds, can easily buy them.Stonewall Watch
Carrie Johnson writes in The Washington Post: "The release last week of a Justice Department memo that authorized the military to pursue harsh interrogation techniques has ignited new demands for documents that underpin the Bush administration's most sensitive policies, including the treatment of detainees and the warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens.
"Despite repeated congressional requests, some made as long as three years ago, key legal opinions and other department documents remain under wraps. That has prompted Democrats to accuse the Bush administration of trying to run out the clock. . . .
"Justice Department officials have said that they deserve credit, however, for releasing -- last Tuesday -- a 2003 opinion approving harsh military interrogation tactics. . . .
"But the American Civil Liberties Union, which had sued to obtain the document under the Freedom of Information Act, maintains that it was released 'as the result' of that lawsuit, and that otherwise its existence would not be public."
Here's a list of some of the documents the Justice Department still refuses to release, including:
• An Oct. 23, 2001, Office of Legal Counsel opinion describing presidential authority for domestic military operations dealing with terrorism.
• An Aug. 1, 2002, Office of Legal Counsel memo spelling out interrogation techniques the CIA could apply to detainees.
• Documents and e-mail messages regarding the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.
• Records related to videotapes portraying the CIA's interrogation of detainees.
Lara Jakes Jordan writes for the Associated Press: "The Bush administration has delayed delivering documents to Congress explaining how a multibillion-dollar loophole exempting overseas work from scrutiny was slipped into a rule intended to crack down on fraud in government contracts.
"A House panel will hear April 15 from White House and other administration officials about the loophole, which drew protests from Democrats and Republican lawmakers alike and been disavowed by Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
"'If this loophole was a bureaucratic mistake as some in the administration have claimed, then our requests should be easy to meet,' Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said in a statement Monday. 'This should be simple. Someone in the administration made this change and it should be easy to explain why. A delay only raises more questions.'
"Jane Lee, a spokeswoman for the White House Office of Management and Budget, which oversees the government's contracts policy, said the office is working with the committee regarding the request and plans to provide a response to the inquiry 'in the near term.'"Warrantless Surveillance Watch
Ellen Nakashima writes in The Washington Post about "little-known electronic connections between telecom firms and FBI monitoring personnel around the country" that "are used to tell the government who is calling whom, along with the time and duration of a conversation and even the locations of those involved. . . .
"Wiretaps to obtain the content of a phone call or an e-mail must be authorized by a court upon a showing of probable cause. But 'transactional data' about a communication -- from whom, to whom, how long it lasted -- can be obtained by simply showing that it is relevant to an official probe, including through an administrative subpoena known as a national security letter. . . .
"Anxieties about whether such electronic links are too intrusive form a backdrop to the continuing congressional debate over modifications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs federal surveillance. . . .
"'When you're building something like this deeply into the telecommunications infrastructure, when it becomes so technically easy to do, the only thing that stands between legitimate use and abuse is the complete honesty of the persons and agencies using it and the ability to have independent oversight over the system's use,' said Lauren Weinstein, a communications systems engineer and co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility, a group that studies Web issues. 'It's who watches the listeners.'"Cheney's Security
Christopher Lee writes in The Washington Post: "The man code-named 'Angler' by the Secret Service will probably continue to receive the agency's protection long after he leaves office next year.
"The Secret Service is preparing to provide Vice President Cheney with agents, transportation, advance work and other security-related trappings of executive power for six months after the Bush administration packs up and moves out in January, the agency's director, Mark Sullivan, told Congress last week. The expected cost: $4 million.
"Although presidents and their spouses are entitled to Secret Service protection long after they depart the White House... [e]xtending Cheney's detail would require a directive from the president or a joint resolution of Congress....
"Cheney, a principal architect of the administration's foreign and national security policies, has been an unusually high-profile No. 2 -- and would remain a target long after his term."'Angler' Wins a Pulitzer
The Pulitzer jury called it a "lucid exploration of Vice President Dick Cheney and his powerful yet sometimes disguised influence on national policy." In its entry letter, The Post wrote that the series presented an unrivaled view of the inner workings of the White House and a revealing portrait of Cheney's "outsized and until now unsuspected influence on some of the president's signature domestic policies."Karl Rove Watch
Former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, who is out of prison pending appeal of federal corruption charges, told CBS's 60 Minutes on Sunday that his prosecution by the Justice Department was influenced by Karl Rove.
"What we need," Siegelman said, "is Karl Rove to get himself over to the Judiciary Committee and put his hand on a Bible and take an oath and give testimony. And he can either tell the truth or take the Fifth. Either one will satisfy me."
Faiz Shakir writes for ThinkProgress that Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, told MSNBC's Dan Abrams last night that Rove will testify if subpoenaed by Congress: "Abrams noted Karl Rove refused to testify when subpoenaed by Congress in the U.S. Attorney scandal, but appears willing to do so in this case. Siegelman responded, 'Well, then let's don't waste any time.'"Dubya, the Movie
Stephen Galloway and Matthew Belloni write in the Hollywood Reporter: "President George W. Bush is a foul-mouthed, reformed drunk obsessed with baseball, Saddam Hussein and the conflicted relationship with his dad. At least that's how he's portrayed in the script for Oliver Stone's upcoming feature 'W.'
"But how accurate is that depiction?
"As the film preps for its April 21 start date, The Hollywood Reporter sent a copy of the screenplay to four Bush biographers for their comments. . . .
"Reactions to the script from the biographers were mixed. They said specific scenes are largely based in fact but noted that the screenplay contains inaccurate and over-the-top caricatures of Bush and his inner circle.
"'It leaves you with the impression that the White House is run as a fraternity house with no reverence for hierarchy, the office itself or for the implications of policy,' said Robert Draper, author of 'Dead Certain: The Presidency of George Bush.' 'Everybody calling everybody else nicknames and chatting about whether to go to war as if they were chatting about how to bet on a football game really misses the mark of how many White Houses, including this one, are run.'"
Draper also insists: "This notion that his schedule is driven by what's on ESPN is ludicrous."
In Slate, Juliet Lapdos has the "juicy bits" of the screenplay, including:
"Page 3: Cheney suggests that Iraq may just be the beginning. 'Anyone can go to Baghdad. Real men go to Tehran,' says the VP. Pleased with this witticism, W. clinks his bottle of nonalcoholic beer against the VP's coffee mug."
And "Page 25: When press secretary Ari Fleischer reports that Helen Thomas is asking around 'about secret plans for military actions in Iraq' and wondering 'what makes Saddam any different from other dictators,' W. flips out: 'Did you tell her I don't like [expletive deleted] who gas their own people?! Did you tell her I don't like [expletive deleted] who try to kill my father?! . . . Did you tell her I'm going to kick his SORRY [EXPLETIVE DELETED] ASS ALL OVER THE MIDEAST?!'"Cartoon Watch
Mike Luckovich on what Bush and Cheney have done to the country.
And a new Walt Handelsman animation casts George and Dick as Edith and Archie singing about the good old days.
Bush: "They called Katrina a disgrace."
Cheney: "I shot my buddy in the face. We had your grandma's phone calls traced."
Both: "Those were the days!"