“A bipartisan group of House members is drafting a proposal to change the rules so the public can learn about legislative earmarks before they reach the floor.
ILLINOIS: Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) looks to California’s new emissions law to reduce greenhouse emissions in his own state.
MONTANA: Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) wants to spend $15 million to expand the state system of park and waterfront sites.
NEW YORK: “The New York City school system will open its first public school dedicated to teaching the Arabic language and culture in September, with half of its classes eventually taught in Arabic.”
WASHINGTON, DC: The metropolitan area has repeatedly missed EPA deadlines to fix its smog problem.
THINK PROGRESS: Vice President Cheney snubs Japanese Defense Minister for saying decision to go into Iraq was “wrong.”
THE OPEN HOUSE PROJECT: A new government transparency effort sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation and endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
MYDD: Exxon Mobil reaches out to liberal bloggers.
CLIMATE PROGRESS: A “must read” speech by NASA’s James Hansen, the government’s top global warming researcher.
“Asked directly if the administration is confident that the weaponry is coming on the approval of the Iranian government, [White House Press Secretary Tony] Snow said: ‘Yes.'”
— AP, 2/13/07
“We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran. What I would not say is that the Iranian government, per se [specifically], knows about this. … I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit.”
— Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace, 2/12/07
Politics with an Attitude: Everyone from Barack Obama to Stephen Colbert talks to Campus Progress. Right-wingers seem scared of us. Find out why here.
A Forgotten Genocide
“The term genocide is counter to the facts of what is really occurring in Darfur,” U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios told a group of Georgetown students last week. It’s unclear what “facts” Natsios is looking at, but here is an accounting of what is truly happening on the ground. “Atrocities are occurring daily in Sudan’s Darfur region and rape and pillage directed against civilians are at ‘a horrific level'” in a crisis that is “growing worse by the day.” The Darfur conflict has “spread to two neighboring countries and is now in ‘free fall’ with six million people facing the prospect of going without food or protection.” “Attacks on aid workers in Darfur almost doubled in 2006 and assaults on people displaced by the 4-year-old conflict in Sudan’s remote west more than tripled.” For over two years, the administration recognized the conflict for what it is — a genocide. The rhetorical shift — as well as slow movement on economic sanctions — shows the administration does not grasp urgent need for action. “This is more than a semantic change,” said Nii Akuetteh, executive director of Africa Action. “Natsios’ claim represents a calculated attempt to re-characterise the crisis, undermine its urgency, and obviate the need for new U.S. action to address.” Others have had to fill the leadership void. The ENOUGH campaign, a new initiative co-sponsored by the Center for American Progress and International Crisis Group, last week called on the U.S. and international community to support the “3 Ps” of stopping genocide: “promoting the peace, protecting the people, and punishing the perpetrators.” The Sudan Divestment Task Force is urging states and universities to use targeted divestment to change Sudanese behavior. (Learn what you can do to push for divestment here.)
DARFUR ON THE BRINK: Since 2003, the Sudanese government and the “government-sponsored Janjaweed militia have used rape, displacement, organized starvation and mass murder to kill more than 400,000 and displace 2.5 million.” Contrary to Natsios’ assessment, the genocide continues as Darfur teeters on the “brink of collapse.” Acting U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Margareta Wahlstrom said “500,000 people were displaced by the violence in 2006, followed by another 25,000 during January.” She said the “assaults on internally displaced people had risen to 414 in 2006, from 106 in 2005.” “I spoke recently with the head of operations for a major NGO [non-governmental organization] working in West Darfur,” the International Crisis Group’s (ICG) Colin Thomas-Jensen said, “and he told me that each month during 2006, humanitarian access got progressively worse in West Darfur.” The genocide is spilling over into neighboring Chad. “Humanitarian groups that we talked to estimate that anywhere from 75,000 to 100,000 Chadians have been driven from their homes in recent months and hundreds of villages burned and looted exactly in the same type of pattern that we see in Darfur,” Thomas-Jensen said. Frequent attacks on aid workers have made it much more difficult to deliver aid to the victims. Last month, 14 U.N. aid agencies working in Darfur “warned that their relief operations will collapse unless security improves.” David Rubenstein, the director of the “Save Darfur Coalition,” warned of the potential impact in a letter to President Bush: “It is not an exaggeration to fear that the degradation of the humanitarian situation in Darfur may soon result in a catastrophe dwarfing all that has gone before.”
NO ‘PLAN A’ OR ‘PLAN B’ FROM BUSH: Three months ago, Natsios warned the Sudanese government that if they did not accept negotiations to allow peacekeepers into Darfur by Jan. 1, the administration would implement a package of sanctions against the regime called “Plan B.” More than a month after the deadline passed, Bush finally “approved a plan for the Treasury Department to aggressively block U.S. commercial bank transactions connected to the government of Sudan, including those involving oil revenues, if Khartoum continues to balk at efforts to bring peace to Sudan’s troubled Darfur region.” “If a negotiated approach does not work,” Natsios said, “then we have to go to Plan B.” “The delays have increased skepticism that the administration is willing to risk potential diplomatic and commercial fallout from targeting Khartoum.” “Even Plan B, as it’s been reported, amounts to a naked bluff,” Eric Reeves, a leading Darfur activist, said. Reeves said even if the sanctions were applied, they would be nothing but a “short-term minor to medium-sized inconvenience for the regime.”
SOME HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF GENOCIDE: The Center for American Progress and the ICG have formed ENOUGH, an ongoing campaign meant to “tap into the grass-roots awareness and sense of rage generated by the Darfur crisis and create a social and political network that can identify potential wide-scale atrocities, particularly in Africa, and stop them before they occur.” At the group’s first public meeting, the ICG’s John Prendergast called for an end to the “part-time diplomacy” practice by the Bush administration in the region. “We have envoys that are part-time, staff that gets rotated regularly, we have no full-time,” Prendergast said. “You have to have dedicated staff working this stuff if it’s gonna happen.” Sixty-two percent of Americans think Darfur should be a priority, and 51 percent think the United States has a responsibility to act to end the violence there. Congress is pushing forward with new hearings that put the crisis at the forefront. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) — author of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act — recently called for stronger sanctions, the creation of a no-fly zone over Darfur, and increased NATO assistance. “As a survivor of the Holocaust, I cannot bear silent witness to the first genocide of the 21st Century,” Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said at a recent hearing. “Our Committee will demand action – from the Administration, from the United Nations, and from our friends and allies in Europe, Africa and Asia.” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is the head of the Judiciary Committee’s new Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law. Nineteen-year-old college student Jeremy Riddell-Kaufman has brought Darfur activism to Facebook.com. Riddell-Kaufman’s “400,000 Faces” campaign has “sparked a movement across college campuses around the world.” Join the group and help push him closer to his goal.
DIVESTING FROM GENOCIDE: “So is your Fidelity account underwriting genocide in Sudan? Is your pension fund helping finance the janjaweed militias that throw babies into bonfires in Darfur and Chad?” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asked. “The answer to both questions is complicated but may be yes, and that’s one reason a divestment campaign is gaining strength around America and abroad.” Six states — including California — and over 30 universities have sold investments related to Sudan. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Charlie Rangel (D-NY) “have introduced legislation that looks to use Congress’s budgetary powers” to halt the crisis. (Lee’s bill would “secure the ability of states” to divest from the Sudan.) Durbin has said he would prepare legislation in the Senate to examine how divestment could work as it did against South African apartheid. Yesterday, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) attended a rally in support of a Colorado bill to divest the state’s pension funds out of companies that deal with Sudan. (“If you want to get to the heart of a problem, find a way to stop the dollars from flowing,” Tancredo said.) Targeted divestment can work to stop the genocide in Sudan for two reasons. First, Sudan “relies heavily on foreign investment to fund its military and the brutal militias seeking to eliminate the non-Arab population of Darfur. For example, it is estimated that 70-80% of oil revenue in Sudan, fueled by foreign direct investment, goes to the country’s military.” Second, the “Sudanese government has shown an historic responsiveness to economic pressure.” Learn more about divestment at SudanDivestment.org, or call their divestment hotline at 1-800-GENOCIDE.
Under the Radar
ADMINISTRATION — FIRED U.S. ATTORNEYS RECEIVED POSITIVE JOB EVALUATIONS: The administration has recently forced at least seven U.S. attorneys to resign. Several of these prosecutors were working on high-profile corruption cases, such as Carol Lam, who successfully investigated the corruption of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham. In their places, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has appointed partisan administration allies. According to Senate testimony by Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, the Justice Department fired six of the U.S. attorneys for “performance-related” issues. But according to a new report by Knight-Ridder, “at least five of them received positive job evaluations before they were ordered to step down.” For example, Daniel Bogden, the former U.S. attorney in Nevada, “was described in his last job performance evaluation in 2003 as being a ‘capable’ leader who was highly regarded by the federal judiciary and investigators.” The 2005 evaluation for Lam described her as “well respected” by law enforcement officials, judges, and her staff. John McKay, the former U.S. attorney in Seattle, said that Michael A. Battle, head of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, called him on Dec. 7 to ask him to resign. But only months before, Battle “had sent him a congratulatory letter for the laudatory report issued by the Justice Department audit team.” Both Bogden and McKay have confirmed that the Justice Department didn’t cite any performance-related issues when they forced them to resign.
IRAN — PACE, CIA RAISING QUETIONS ABOUT IRAN INTEL: Last weekend’s anonymous briefing in Baghdad attempting to link Iran’s government to attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. But Chairman of the Joint Cheifs of Staff Peter Pace has come out saying he has seen no evidence of any links between the explosives killing Americans and “top Iranian officials.” He told reporters, “What I would not say is that the Iranian government, per se [specifically], knows about this.” Despite Pace’s statement, the administration continued to defend the “circumstantial” case, but declined to offer any hard evidence to suggest that the Iranian government “clearly knows or is complicit” in the attacks. Instead, White House press secretary Tony Snow suggested questions be directed to the Pentagon. The Pentagon, in turn, referred questions to the Washington office of the Multi-National Force-Iraq. That office declined to respond, aside from emailing a “copy of Sunday’s briefing slides.” The claims made in this anonymous briefing are not only at odds with Pace’s assessment, but also with that of the CIA which, as reported by the New York Sun, is also “questioning” the involvement of the Iranian government in attacks on US soldiers.
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS — NORTH KOREA AGREES TO DISARM IN EXCHANGE FOR AID: Pessimism plagued the near-collapsed six-party talks Sunday as to whether there would be an agreement on North Korean (DPRK) nuclear disarmament. But today, negotiators from the six countries announced that a tentative agreement had been reached. As per North Korea’s request, the nations agreed to provide roughly $400 million in fuel oil and aid in exchange for the DPRK immediately halting production of plutonium at its primary nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and allowing international inspectors back into the country. The second phase of the deal states that nations would negotiate the details of the disarmament of the remaining nuclear stockpiles, including the turning over of weapons and fuel. The gradual pace of the agreement is designed to build trust and normalize strained relations between the United States and DPRK. Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton yesterday criticized the Bush administration’s deal, claiming that it made the administration “look very weak.” Even with the apparent success of today’s accord, disarmament will prove to be extremely complex, as the United States still does not know how many weapons North Korea possesses.
Former CIA Director George Tenet is racing to complete his memoir which is due out this spring. “Tenet is not expected to take on [President] Bush, with whom he developed a close bond during early morning intelligence briefings in the Oval Office.” A former colleague said, “In order to sell books he’s going to have to throw somebody out of the lifeboat.”
63 percent: Number of Americans who want all U.S. troops home from Iraq by the end of 2008, according to a new USA Today poll. A CBS poll shows that 63 percent of the public also disapprove of the President’s plan to send more troops to Iraq.
One year has passed since Sunni insurgents “ripped a hole in the glorious dome” of the Samarra mosque (photo), “one of Iraq’s most sacred Shiite shrines.” The New York Times reports, “Not a single brick of the mosque has been moved since. There has been no rebuilding and no healing; the million annual pilgrims, and the prosperity they spread, are gone.”
The House is set to consider legislation that would “place strict ethics limits on executive-branch officials.” Among numerous reforms, the bill requires officials “to report all significant contacts they have with any private interest related to an official government action,” a response to the secrecy surrounding Vice President Cheney’s energy task force.
“Iran will be able to develop enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb and there is little that can be done to prevent it, an internal European Union document has concluded.”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said yesterday that he is “very concerned about the possibility of a, quote, ‘Tet Offensive’” that might “switch American public opinion the way that the Tet Offensive did” during Vietnam. Note to McCain: more than two-thirds of Americans already oppose the war.
Today, Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) plan to introduce a bill to restore habeas corpus protections to Guantanamo Bay detainees, effectively reversing provisions of President Bush’s Military Commissions Act passed last year. The bill would also create an independent court review to military commission rulings and bar information obtained through torture.
“In the absence of federal action,” and at odds with a Bush budget that cuts assistance to states, “governors and state legislators around the country are transforming the nation’s health care system, putting affordable health insurance within reach of millions of Americans in hopes of reversing the steady rise in the number of uninsured, now close to 47 million.”
And finally: Arm the frickin’ laser beams. “Dozens of dolphins and sea lions trained to detect and apprehend waterborne attackers could be sent to patrol a military base in Washington state, the Navy said Monday.”