Entries from May 2011

Lake: Gitmo Likely to Stay Open

May 31st, 2011 at 11:55 pm Comments Off

Eli Lake writes

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that military prosecutors have reinstated charges against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four others for their role in plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The new charges strongly suggest that for the foreseeable future the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba will remain open, despite public promises by President Obama from his second day in office to close the prison that is closely linked to his predecessor’s war on terrorism.

The decision to formally charge Mohammed as well as Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi through a military commission also is a setback for Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who favors civilian trials.

Mr. Holder led a campaign within the administration to conduct civilian trials for Mohammed in New York City, and his prosecutors secured a grand jury indictment. But the plan for the trial of the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind faced strong political opposition from Republicans, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and many Democrats.

The indictment was dropped last month, paving the way for the military charges to be reinstated.

Last month, Mr. Holder said he believed the U.S. government could have won the case against Mohammed in civilian court, but he blamed Congress for passing legislation that led to his referring the case back to the military commissions.

“Unfortunately, members of Congress have intervened and imposed restrictions blocking the administration from bringing any Guantanamo detainees to trial in the United States,” Mr. Holder said in an April statement. “While we will continue to seek to repeal those restrictions, we cannot allow a trial to be further delayed for the victims of the 9/11 attacks or their families. I have full faith and confidence in the reformed military commission system to appropriately handle this case as it proceeds.”

A Defense Department statement Tuesday said the five men will be charged with “conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, destruction of property in violation of the law of war, hijacking aircraft, and terrorism.”

If convicted, the charges could result in the death penalty.

Robert Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin and an expert in national security law, said the announcement was not surprising.

“Setting aside the possibility that an inspection of the sworn charges reveals something unexpected, this isn’t exactly a surprising development,” Mr. Chesney said.

“We’ve known since early April that the administration was giving up on the civilian prosecution option in the face of determined congressional resistance, and that these persons would instead be prosecuted by military commission after all.”

IL GOP Takes Redistricting Hit

May 31st, 2011 at 11:49 pm 3 Comments

The Hill reports

Triggering Republican outcries, Democrats have put at least half a dozen House GOP seats into play by redrawing Illinois’s congressional map.

The new House districts were released Friday and resulted in a rare joint statement, issued by all 11 Republican members of the delegation, condemning the plan.

Republicans now enjoy an 11-8 edge over their Democratic counterparts in Illinois, which includes five GOP freshmen, but the new map — which could be legally challenged — will likely shift the delegation’s balance of power.

Several members of the delegation told The Hill they plan on running for reelection, but a slew of questions remains.

Illinois law doesn’t require a member to live in the district he or she represents, which could be a factor, given that many Republicans now find themselves living in more Democratic-friendly areas.

Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) took the biggest hit. The seven-term lawmaker saw her district cut into bits and pieces, with parts of it ending up in Rep. Mike Quigley’s (D-Ill.) district, formerly represented by now-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

If she doesn’t want to face the two-term Democrat, she could run in the new 11th district, which is also where freshman Rep. Randy Hultgren (R) could run. Both lawmakers saw parts of their old districts end up in the newly drawn 11th.

Biggert’s office has voiced doubt that Friday’s map will hold up.

Biggert “does not believe that this map will stand, and she has every intention of running again,” spokesman Zachary Cikanek said in an email.

Hultgren could face a primary challenge from fellow freshman Republican Joe Walsh, who also got drawn into the district.

Democrats already have a candidate for the 11th. Former Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) said Tuesday he is running for the seat. The original holder of the 11th district, freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R), had his home drawn into the district held by longtime Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

Kinzinger is said to be gearing up for a run in the newly drawn 16th district. Livingston County Republican Party Chairman John McGlasson told the Decatur Herald-Review that Kinzinger “has called to say he intends to run for election in our new district.”

Palin and Trump Bond Over Pizza

May 31st, 2011 at 11:40 pm 2 Comments

The Washington Post reports

On day three of Sarah Palin’s unconventional bus tour came the most surprising moment by far. The former Alaska governor and her daughter Piper dined tonight with media mogul Donald Trump and his wife Melania at a pizza place in Times Square. Palin met Trump at his apartment in Trump Tower, near Rockefeller Center; they rode from there in his limo to the restaurant, part of a New York City chain.

Asked on her way into the restaurant about Trump’s past political donations, Palin responded, “I think I’ll go change his mind and make sure he’s contributing to constitutional conservatives.’’

“She didn’t ask me [to run with her] but I’ll tell you, she’s a terrific woman,” Trump said as they walked in. Trump’s special counsel, Michael Cohen, told reporters that the pair had talked in the past about meeting up whenever Palin found herself in New York.

The group shared pepperoni, sausage, and meatball pizzas.

How Palin Taps the GOP’s Economic Fears

David Frum May 31st, 2011 at 10:38 pm 85 Comments

This is part three in a series. Click here for part one and part two.


Not every Republican lives in Greenwich and earns millions.

For non-wealthy Republicans – as for non-wealthy Americans generally – the past half-decade has been a terrible time. Perhaps they have seen their house collapse in value. Perhaps they have lost their home altogether. Perhaps their retirement portfolio lost its value. Perhaps they have lost a job. Perhaps their child cannot start a job. Perhaps they have been hit by all of the above.

Or maybe they got lucky. Maybe they escaped any particular disaster. Yet they still face a reduced future. To repay its debts, the nation will need to export more. That means a reduced dollar, which in turn means that Americans will find it more expensive to buy globally traded goods like gasoline, grain, and coffee. Their state government is raising fees and cutting services to balance its books, so they can expect to pay more for worse roads, schools, parks, and hospitals. A big question mark hangs over the retirement guarantees extended by the federal government. Will Social Security and Medicare be there for them in anything like their current form?

Nor were things going so well even before the disaster.

Now they feel themselves living in a hostile culture, under a president who describes himself as a Christian but never goes to church, and who manages to symbolize both the ascendency of the educated elite and the displacement of native-born whites by non-white immigrants.

In this inhospitable climate, they have had many reasons to feel that the GOP does not speak for them.

They had reason to feel that the GOP did not speak for them during the years leading up to the disaster, when they were told that the Bush economy was “the greatest story never told,” despite the stagnation of their wages.

They had reason to feel that the GOP did not speak for them during the crisis, when Republicans bailed out Wall Street and the big car companies, while leaving distressed homeowners to fend for themselves.

They have reason now to feel that the GOP does not speak for them, as it coalesces around a plan to eliminate their deductions and curtail their Medicare in order to enact a big tax cut for people much higher on the income ladder.

They feel victimized, embittered, deeply mistrustful of every established institution except the military. And they are hungry for a candidate who pungently expresses their victimhood, bitterness and mistrust: Donald Trump? Herman Cain? Michele Bachmann? But of course, nobody does it better than the candidate who has made victimhood her core message: Sarah Palin.


A Debt Fight the GOP Can’t Win

May 31st, 2011 at 9:52 pm 15 Comments

Congress’ rejection of a “clean” debt ceiling increase isn’t surprising and probably won’t have many short-term consequences. Largely because most people don’t really understand what the debt ceiling is or the consequences of default, voting against raising it is and will probably remain popular.  On the other hand, the calamitous consequences of default combined with Democratic control of the White House and Senate means that Republicans cannot score a “clean” victory and use the debt ceiling alone to achieve a laundry list of conservative priorities. There’s a real possibility that asking for too much may result in total defeat: a deal that gives Republicans nothing to speak of and opens the door to huge tax increases in the near future.

If Republicans want to avoid this and get a real victory for spending restraint, they should follow the path that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has laid out and call for immediate cuts in Medicare spending coupled, perhaps, with cuts in Social Security benefits for wealthy near-future beneficiaries. None of this would be popular, of course, and it might well cost a fair number of members their seats. But going for near future cuts in big entitlement programs (and being willing to take the political heat for it) would make a big difference for the country. Such cuts, focused on Medicare, were key to the budget deals that gave the United States a run of budget surpluses in the 1990s. It’s worth trying the same thing again.

The entire debate over the debt ceiling is, and will remain, a bad idea. But if Republicans want to eek out a victory for the country and good public policy, they should focus on near future cuts to entitlement programs.


Extreme Weather: A Climate Change Wake Up Call?

May 31st, 2011 at 9:50 pm 18 Comments

Bill McKibben, founder of the global climate campaign 350.org, recently wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post titled A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never!

Using rather effective sarcasm, McKibben makes the case that the spate of recent extreme weather events should be a wake-up call on the urgency of addressing climate change. He correctly points out that climate scientists have been predicting for years that carbon loading in our atmosphere will create droughts, floods and other extreme weather events.

Does that scientific concurrence absolutely prove cause and effect? No, but it does distinguish McKibben’s hysterics from those of climate deniers who point to every cold snap or snowstorm as evidence that global warming is a hoax.

Because “climate” represents long-term trends, and day-to-day weather relies on multiple variables, it is wrong to say that any one weather event or abnormal season either proves or disproves climate change. However, weather trends that are demonstrated over time, and that track with other well-documented scientific evidence, should indeed be a wake-up call. We ignore them at our own peril.

The more important question that McKibben’s op-ed begs is: How much evidence will it take to convince the American public and its elected representatives that action on climate change is warranted?

It is hard to imagine that most Americans who have been watching news reports over the past few months of numerous extreme weather events—the unusually powerful tornadoes wreaking havoc across much of the South and Midwest, the record-breaking flooding along the Mississippi River, the extreme droughts in the Southwest, and the record snowfalls in the Midwest and Northeast—have not begun to suspect that something is amiss and that climate change may be responsible.

The problem is that action to address climate change not only requires the belief that it is happening; it also requires the belief that we can do something about it. This is where the climate change deniers—along with some narrowly focused folks in the oil and coal industries—do their most damage.

As the deniers’ assertion that climate change is a hoax begins to falter under the weight of reality, they have begun to pivot to the argument that climate change is a natural occurrence that mankind cannot alter, only adapt to. It is an argument designed to lull people into a state of complacency—similar to the tactics totalitarian regimes use to lull their subjects into passivity and government dependency.

Perhaps President Reagan recognized such tactics when he rejected the arguments of those who were trying to forestall action to address another climate problem, ozone depletion. He consulted with climate scientists, looked honestly at the evidence, accepted mankind’s role, and took prudent action to solve the problem.

Reagan faced ozone depletion with the same clear-eyed realism that he faced the threats posed by the Soviet Union and communism.

In an interview last year, Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz recalled that the President believed action on ozone depletion was necessary because he recognized the huge potential for damage. Shultz noted that Reagan viewed acting on the best available science in the same light as taking out an insurance policy.

Reagan’s leadership resulted in the Montreal Protocol Treaty, which began the phase out of chlorofluorocarbons.  Today the threat from ozone depletion is greatly diminished and our stratospheric ozone layer is healing.

Reagan once said, “Facts are stubborn things.”

With today’s climate threat, let’s hope that like Reagan, we are wise enough to face the facts honestly—and courageous enough to accept our responsibility to act.


House Votes Against Clean Debt Limit Hike

May 31st, 2011 at 9:42 pm 2 Comments

The Hill reports:

The House overwhelmingly voted down an unconditional increase to the $14.3 trillion debt limit Tuesday, as the Republican majority delivered a symbolic rebuke to President Obama ahead of a meeting at the White House.

The vote was 318-97, with 82 Democrats joining every Republican in rejecting legislation that would have authorized $2.4 trillion in additional borrowing by the federal government. Seven Democrats voted present on the legislation.


House Republicans scheduled the vote, which occurred after the close of the American markets, to demonstrate to Senate Democrats and the White House that Congress would not increase the debt limit without significant spending cuts and reforms.

The lopsided result was expected after Vice President Biden began bipartisan negotiations on a long-term debt-reduction plan, essentially acceding to the GOP demand that an increase in the debt ceiling be paired with fiscal reforms.

In an unusual twist, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), sponsored the bill only to oppose it.

“This vote, a vote based on legislation I have introduced, will and must fail,” Camp said in a floor speech. “Now, most members aren’t happy when they bring a bill to the floor and it fails, but I consider defeating an unconditional increase to be a success, because it sends a clear and critical message that the Congress has finally recognized we must immediately begin to rein in America’s affection for deficit spending.”

The bill put House Democrats in an awkward position after 114 members of the caucus signed a letter by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) calling on Republicans to bring a “clean” debt-limit measure to the floor. Many of those Democrats reversed themselves when it became clear that Republicans were granting their request only to see the legislation fail.

Hours before the vote, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he was advising Democrats to oppose the measure to avoid political attacks from Republicans. Members, he said, should not “subject themselves to a political 30-second ad attack.”

“My advice to them would be not to play this political charade,” Hoyer said at his weekly press briefing.

Edwards Grand Jury Delayed

May 31st, 2011 at 5:10 pm 2 Comments

WRAL reports:

A federal grand jury in Raleigh expected to hear the case against former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards won’t meet until next week, sources tell WRAL News.

The former U.S. senator faces a possible criminal indictment if the grand jury decides enough evidence exists that he violated campaign finance laws.

When Edwards met last week with the aging donor who contributed money that was allegedly used to cover up Edwards’ affair with a campaign staffer, those familiar with the case questioned the timing.

Former Edwards aide Andrew Young wrote in his tell-all book, “The Politician,” that heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon gave Edwards a total of $700,000 as a gift. The so-called “Bunny money” helped fund the cover-up the candidate’s affair with video producer Rielle Hunter, who was pregnant with the his child during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Federal agents have interviewed Mellon at least twice during the course of the investigation, sources told WRAL News. Her attorney acknowledged that Edwards visited Mellon’s Virginia estate last week but told the Associated Press that they did not discuss the case.

Young told WRAL News in a 2010 interview that Edwards’ campaign finance chairman, wealthy Texas lawyer Fred Baron, also financed flights and paid rent on a California home for Hunter and Young’s family during the period when Young pretended to be the father of Hunter’s baby.

Feds Hit KSM With New Charges

May 31st, 2011 at 4:56 pm Comments Off

Reuters reports:

U.S. military prosecutors have filed new charges against the self-described mastermind of the September 11 attacks in 2001, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four alleged co-conspirators held at the Guantanamo detention camp.

The conspiracy and mass murder charges were expected to be announced later on Tuesday, according to sources involved in the war crimes tribunals at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

During President George W. Bush’s administration, all five defendants had been charged in the tribunals with plotting the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people in the United States.

The charges, which carried the death penalty, were dropped while President Barack Obama’s administration tried to move the trials into the federal civilian court in New York, near the site of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the attacks by hijacked aircraft.

WH Brushes Off Palin Bus Tour

May 31st, 2011 at 4:45 pm 4 Comments

The Hill reports:

White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday brushed aside questions about former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R) nationwide bus tour.

Asked about the tour, which began in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Carney said that the president has been busy with other matters.

“I don’t think he’s paying much attention to that,” he told reporters during his daily briefing.