CALIFORNIA: San Francisco asks California Supreme Court to strike down a restrictive same-sex marriage law.
TEXAS: State Sen. Dan Patrick (R) boycotts the first Muslim prayer delivered in the Texas Senate.
STEM CELLS: More states are finding their own ways to fund embryonic stem cell research.
THINK PROGRESS: Vice President Cheney: Senate Committee is ‘Stalinist’ for blocking Swift Boat funder’s appointment.
NEWS HOUNDS: Fox News host Sean Hannity “sulking over safe release of Iran captives.”
ORCINUS: Domestic terrorism overlooked by the “right-wing version of political correctness.”
WAR ROOM: More secret prisons in Ethiopia?
“This is al Qaeda operating in Iraq. And as I say, they were present before we invaded Iraq.”
— Vice President Cheney, 4/5/07
“Captured Iraqi documents and intelligence interrogations of Saddam Hussein and two former aides ‘all confirmed’ that Hussein’s regime was not directly cooperating with al-Qaeda before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to a declassified Defense Department report released yesterday.”
— Washington Post, 4/6/07
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.
Real Leadership In Action
The bipartisan delegation to Syria this week led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reflects a broadly held view that an aggressive diplomatic posture is critical to U.S. security. A December World Public Opinion poll found 75 percent of Americans — including 72 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats — support the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation for direct engagement with Iran and Syria. Polls for the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg and the Washington Post found similarly high levels of support for engagement. So instead of criticizing the delegation’s popular move, the right wing and feckless media figures have shifted their attacks. The Washington Post editorial page yesterday published a vicious editorial falsely claiming that Pelosi had delivered an incorrect message from Israel to Syria, and describing her bipartisan efforts as an “attempt to establish a shadow presidency.” Vice President Cheney echoed the Post in an interview with Rush Limbaugh yesterday. These claims are completely baseless.
PELOSI SENT THE RIGHT MESSAGE: Critics have charged, without evidence, that Pelosi delivered an incorrect message from Israel to Syria during her meetings in Damascus, citing her statement that Israel is “ready to engage in peace talks.” The Post falsely claims, “The Israeli prime minister entrusted Ms. Pelosi with no such message,” misinterpreting a statement from the Israeli Prime Minister Edud Olmert’s office that simply reiterated his position that talks with Syria will not take place until Syria has taken steps to end its support for extremist elements. All available evidence suggests that Pelosi communicated this very message. Pelosi’s delegation specifically pressed the Syrian president “over Syria’s support for militant groups and insist[ed] that his government block militants seeking to cross into Iraq and join insurgents there.” Pelosi’s spokesman says she communicated the message from Israel with “the necessary caveats.” Olmert’s spokeswoman said, “Pelosi is conveying that Israel is willing to talk if they (Syria) would openly take steps to stop supporting terrorism.” Moreover, if Pelosi did get the message wrong, the White House could prove it, since State Department officials attended all of her meetings. But, the Chicago Tribune reports, “Significantly, the White House has not openly accused Pelosi of the foreign-policy missteps the Post had accused her of.”
SPEAKER’S TRIP NOT UNUSUAL: The Washington Post’s claim that the delegation’s trip is an “attempt to establish a shadow presidency” is directly contradicted by the Post’s own reporting, which states, “Foreign policy experts generally agree that Pelosi’s dealings with Middle East leaders have not strayed far, if at all, from those typical for a congressional trip.” Pelosi herself has “described the trip as little different than the visit paid to Syria the same week led by Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA),” and she went to great lengths to express her unity of purpose with President Bush on terrorism issues. Rep. David Hobson (R-OH), a member of the Pelosi-led delegation, said, “We reinforced the administration’s positions and at the same time we were trying to understand and maybe getting some voice to some things people wanted to say that maybe they were not comfortable saying to the administration.” The Post’s own reporting also cites several instances of members of Congress meeting with foreign leaders during the past 30 years. As ThinkProgress noted yesterday, in contrast with Pelosi’s trip, previous congressional actions abroad attempted to directly undermine President Clinton. Iraq Study Group co-chairman Lee Hamilton said this week that the Bush administration “must not look upon Speaker Pelosi as a nuisance here or an obstacle. They should look upon her as an asset.” He called the delegation’s trip “an important and positive initiative” and “a sign of good sense.”
CONSERVATIVES BACK SYRIA TRIP: The Bush administration is failing to turn the Pelosi-led trip into a partisan wedge. Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA), who visited Syria this week before Pelosi, defended his diplomatic efforts upon returning home. “Dialogue is not a sign of weakness,” he said. “It’s a sign of strength.” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) ignored the administration’s bluster and met with Syrian President Assad just yesterday, criticizing the Bush administration during his visit. “Issa said the president had failed to promote the necessary dialogue to resolve disagreements between the U.S. and Syria. ‘That’s an important message to realize: We have tensions, but we have two functioning embassies,’ Issa told reporters.” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) hypocritically “declined to criticize” fellow conservative Rep. David Hobson (R-OH) for joining Pelosi’s delegation in Syria, “saying her stature gave the visit an imprimatur it didn’t deserve.” Boehner remarked, “It’s one thing for other members to go, but you have to ask yourself, ‘Why is Pelosi going?’ She’s going for one reason and that is to embarrass the president.” But Hobson defended Pelosi, saying she “did not engage in any bashing of Bush in any meeting I was in and she did not in any meeting I was in bash the policies as it relates to Syria.”
Under the Radar
ETHICS — WOLFOWITZ BYPASSED WORLD BANK RULES TO GIVE MISTRESS EXORBITANT PAY RAISE: Employees at the World Bank are “expressing concern, dismay, and outrage” as reports show that Shaha Riza, “who has been romantically linked to bank President Paul Wolfowitz, has done exceptionally well in terms of salary in the last 18 months — and she doesn’t even work there.” Wolfowitz originally disclosed to bank board members that he had a relationship with Riza just after he was nominated as president, but bank regulations prohibit such a relationship. “Wolfowitz reportedly attempted to circumvent the rules so he would be able to continue to work with Riza. Informed by the bank’s ethics officers that that would not be allowable, the problem appeared solved when Riza was detailed to work at the State Department’s public diplomacy office in September 2005 — even though her salary was still to be paid by the World Bank.” After moved to the State Department, she was given a nearly $60,000 salary raise, well over the limits permitted by the World Bank. A spokesperson for the The World Bank Group Association, “which represents the rights of the bank’s 13,000 members,” said the raise was “grossly out of line with” bank rules. No investigation into the controversy is expected to begin anytime soon, as “the person who would conduct any such investigation, Suzanne Rich Folsom, is a Republican party activist and long-time friend of Wolfowitz’s.” Aside from his influential position at the World Bank, Wolfowitz is also well-known for being the “chief architect of the Iraq War,” and “despite knowing [that] the threat of Iraqi WMDs was not imminent, Wolfowitz hyped the threat to sell the war” anyway. Reports show that Wolfowitz is still romantically engaged with Riza.
MILITARY — ‘STRANGELY QUIET’ SCENE AS BUSH VISITS BASE WHERE MEDICALLY-UNFIT TROOPS WERE DEPLOYED: On Wednesday, President Bush visited Fort Irwin, California, the main desert training camp where most U.S. soldiers are sent before deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan. Bush told the troops, “The government didn’t say, you have to do this, you chose to do it on your own. You decided to put your country ahead of self in many ways.” That message must have resonated in a unique way for some of the soldiers present. As Salon.com’s Mark Benjamin reported recently, Fort Irwin is where some soldiers with debilitating injuries and other medical conditions, including female soldiers who were pregnant, were deployed for weeks. “All of the soldiers said they had no business being sent to Fort Irwin given their physical condition,” Benjamin wrote. “In some cases, soldiers were sent there even though their injuries were so severe that doctors had previously recommended they should be considered for medical retirement from the Army. Military experts say they suspect that the deployment to Fort Irwin of injured soldiers was an effort to pump up manpower statistics used to show the readiness of Army units.” As the blog The Carpetbagger Report noted, Bush’s remarks to the soldiers on Wednesday hardly produced the rally-like atmosphere of years past. Reuters reported that troops “sat quietly at their lunch tables, some joined by family members, as Bush spoke.” The Houston Chronicle’s Julie Mason described the event as “less than a rally, more than a stare-down” and said the troops were “strangely quiet.”
ETHICS — FEDERAL INVESTIGATION TARGETS EMBATTLED GSA CHIEF: ABC News reported yesterday that the Office of Special Counsel has launched an investigation into General Services Administration (GSA) chief Lurita Doan. The probe, which began before a similar inquiry by the House Oversight and Reform Committee and had not been previously disclosed, is investigating concerns that Doan “may have violated a ban against conducting partisan political activity at government expense by participating in a meeting featuring a presentation by a White House political aide on GOP election strategy.” At the presentation, W. Scott Jennings, an aide to Karl Rove, briefed Doan and other officials at a GSA facility on Jan. 26, 2007, with a power-point presentation of polling data about the 2006 elections. Upon completion of the presentation, Doan allegedly asked the assembled GSA staff “how they could help ‘our candidates’ in the next election.” Though Doan testified to Congress that she “doesn’t have a recollection of the presentation at all,” the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has “issued a report finding that the presentation itself and Ms. Doan’s comments could be violations of the federal Hatch Act.” The potentially illegal presentation to the GSA is not an isolated incident. “The White House political office has been giving presentations similar to the one at GSA since at least 2002, briefing officials throughout the government on Republican campaign information,” according to a recent book by LA Times reporters Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten.
A declassified Pentagon study reports that “captured Iraqi documents and intelligence interrogations of Saddam Hussein and two former aides ‘all confirmed’ that Hussein’s regime was not directly cooperating with al-Qaeda before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.” The document notes that a pre-war CIA analysis stated that there were “no conclusive signs of cooperation on specific terrorist operations,” providing yet further evidence of manipulation of intelligence by then-Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith.
Bad news for Bill O’Reilly: “Immigration is helping to keep America’s big cities vibrant and alive, buffering major metropolitan areas from a slow drain in population as longtime residents move out, new data released yesterday by the US Census Bureau shows.”
Sens. Christopher Dodd, John Kerry, and Robert Casey called for an investigation into whether President Bush acted illegally in recess-appointing Swift Boat funder Sam Fox as ambassador to Belgium. “We view the recess appointment of Mr. Fox as a clear abuse of the President’s recess appointment power,” they wrote in a letter to the Government Accountability Office.
“A senior official at the federal Education Department sold more than $100,000 in shares in a student loan company even as he was helping oversee lenders in the federal student loan program.”
Four top staffers have voluntarily demoted themselves in the office of the U.S. attorney Rachel Paulose in Minnesota. Paulose has “deep connections” to key players in the Bush administration’s prosecutor purge. She was an “assistant to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales…and is best buds with Monica Goodling.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) “raised the issue of the lack of women in Saudi politics with officials” in Saudi Arabia, as she “tried out her counterpart’s chair — a privilege not available to Saudi women because they cannot become legislators.”
Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases the second of four 2007 reports on global warming’s region-by-region environmental and human impact in this century. The final report — whose wording was “diluted” in an effort to reach consensus — will state that a rise in world temperature would have “damaging and costly effects, ranging from the likely extinction of perhaps a fourth of the world’s species to eventual inundation of coasts and islands inhabited by hundreds of millions of people.”
“Changing climate will mean increasing drought in [America’s] Southwest — a region where water already is in tight supply.”
And finally: “Pigeon poop has long sullied downtown St. Paul sidewalks,” but city officials have a plan to eradicate it before the Republican National Convention comes to town next year. “After pigeons lay their eggs on rooftop nesting grounds, maintenance workers plan to sneak up through trap doors and grab the next generation before it hatches.”