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Iraq: Beginning Of The End

As House and Senate leadership finally releases plans for a binding resolution on Iraq, the White House issues a rare veto pledge from aboard Air Force One.

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GOOD NEWS

The European Union has agreed on “ambitious and credible” targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions “by at least 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and ensure 20 percent of its power comes from renewable energy, a massive increase from the current figure of just over 6 percent.”


STATE WATCH

CALIFORNIA: “Wage gains for women have sharply surpassed those for men in California this decade.”

GEORGIA: Children’s health care program forced to “freeze enrollment because of a federal funding shortfall.”

LOUISIANA: New report finds small businesses damaged by Katrina are “hanging by a thread.”


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Exclusive: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) blasts President Bush on military readiness, revisionist history.

POLITICAL RADAR: House approves new congressional committee on global warming.

MAHA BLOG: How the U.S. attorneys who weren’t part of the Bush administration’s purge managed to keep their jobs.


DAILY GRILL

“We have an obligation, we have a moral obligation to provide the best possible care and treatment to the men and women who have served our country. They deserve it, and they’re going to get it.”
— President Bush, 3/6/07

VERSUS

“More than a quarter of military veterans with disability cases before the Department of Veterans Affairs wait six months or longer for the agency’s decision, creating financial hardships for them and their families.”
— Gannett News Service, 3/8/07


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Progress Report


STUDENTS

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 March 9, 2007
Beginning Of The End
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Beginning Of The End

Yesterday, just two months after taking power, House and Senate leadership released binding plans to redeploy U.S. forces out of Iraq as soon as March 2008, refocusing America’s security posture on international terrorist networks and the war in Afghanistan. Within hours, White House officials issued a rare veto pledge aboard Air Force One, demonstrating President Bush’s deep ideological commitment to his open-ended Iraq policy. But as the Los Angeles Times notes, “in one stroke” progressive leaders in Congress “have transformed a many-sided debate about the conflict into a sharp-edged argument about the endgame.” The new legislation offers Americans a clear choice: “Follow the president’s plan to use U.S. combat troops indefinitely, or shift American soldiers to a secondary role and begin withdrawing them.” The country’s preference has long been clear. A USA Today/Gallup poll released this week again shows that most Americans (60 percent) favor setting a deadline for U.S. troops to leave by the end of next year. Another poll released yesterday shows that “a majority of Americans in competitive, conservative-leaning House districts” — 70 percent of which were won by Bush in 2004 — “approve of setting a date for troops to withdraw from Iraq.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was dismissive of Bush’s veto threat. “Never confine your best work, your hopes, your dreams, the aspirations of the American people to what will be signed by George W. Bush, because that is too limiting a factor.”

HOLDING THE PRESIDENT TO HIS WORD: Under the House plan, Congress would “institute the same tough benchmarks for the Iraqi government that Bush detailed in a national address in January.” It works like this: in July and then again in October, Bush “will be asked to certify that the Iraqi government is showing progress and has met political and military benchmarks. If at either point Mr. Bush can’t meet the certification requirements, the bill calls for withdrawal within 180 days. If the requirements are met, more time is allowed, but in any case, withdrawal would begin next spring with the goal of having most forces out of Iraq by the end of August.” Under all scenarios, U.S. troops will be redeployed out of Iraq by August 2008.

FULLY FUNDING OUR TROOPS: The additional funds in the $120-billion-plus House bill are “heavily tilted toward defense, veterans and homeland-security priorities.” The plans provide full funding to U.S. forces in Iraq, including the resources they need to redeploy safely. The plan introduced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) includes $3.5 billion for improving military hospitals and veterans hospitals, and provides additional funds for veterans suffering with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, or severe burn scarring. It also forces Bush to acknowledge and justify the U.S. military’s readiness crisis. If Bush chooses to violate the military’s basic guidelines and send U.S. soldiers into combat without proper training and equipment, he must sign a waiver and explain his actions to the country. In a speech yesterday at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) announced a new G.I. Bill to help returning service members adapt to civilian life, fix the process that determines medical compensation for injured troops, and increase aid to families and children who have lost a loved one. (Watch the video.) Clinton told The Progress Report that Bush has “in a very deliberative way created conditions that are straining our military.”

THE MICROMANAGEMENT MYTH: Conservatives yesterday “remained remarkably united behind Bush and an open-ended Iraq commitment.” Leading war supporters, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), have vowed to block the new effort, which they say amounts to “micromanaging” the war. In doing so, they are trying to hide their support of Bush’s failing Iraq policy with arguments about procedure. But those arguments don’t hold up. Just eight years ago, in fact, McConnell and Lieberman both co-sponsored legislation to authorize the deployment of U.S. forces for air strikes — but not ground forces — in Kosovo. That bill is just one of many efforts by Congress — enacted by majority Republican and Democratic Congresses and imposed on presidents of both parties — to influence the president’s war policy by means other than simply cutting funds. (More details here.) This is not “micromanagement,” it is exercising basic constitutional responsibilities.

Under the Radar

CIVIL RIGHTS — ‘SCATHING’ REPORT FINDS FBI VIOLATED REGULATIONS ON NATIONAL SECURITY LETTERS: A new report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General (IG) “has found pervasive errors in the FBI’s use of its power to secretly demand telephone, e-mail and financial records in national security cases.” “The inspector general’s audit found 22 possible breaches of internal FBI and Justice Department regulations — some of which were potential violations of law — in a sampling of 293 ‘national security letters (NSLs).'” (The Patriot Act gave FBI agents the right to “demand telephone, bank, credit card and library records by issuing” NSLs, “bypassing the need to seek a warrant from a federal judge.”) “In nearly a quarter of the case files” IG Glenn Fine reviewed, “he found previously unreported potential violations.” The report also found that in 2005, the FBI issued over 19,000 NSLs, “amounting to 47,000 separate requests for information.” Some agents issued these letters “without citing an authorized investigation, claimed ‘exigent’ circumstances that did not exist in demanding information and did not have adequate documentation to justify the issuance of letters.” “In an unknown number of other cases, third parties such as telephone companies, banks and Internet providers responded to national security letters with detailed personal information about customers that the letters do not permit to be released.” “Expect a weekend firestorm,” one Justice Department official said of the report. Ironically, on the same day of the report’s release, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will “deliver keynote remarks before the International Association of Privacy Professionals.”

ETHICS — FORMER CLINTON CHIEF OF STAFF REBUTS ROVE CLAIM THAT CLINTON PURGED PROSECUTORS TOO: At a speech in Little Rock yesterday, Karl Rove described the Bush administration’s purge of federal prosecutors as “normal and ordinary,” claiming that Clinton did the same thing. “Clinton, when he came in, replaced all 93 U.S. attorneys,” Rove said. “When we came in, we ultimately replace most all 93 U.S. attorneys — there are some still left from the Clinton era in place.” Clinton’s former chief of staff John Podesta told The Progress Report that Rove’s claim is “pure fiction.” “Replacing most U.S. attorneys when a new administration comes in — as we did in 1993 and the Bush administration did in 2001 — is not unusual. But the Clinton administration never fired federal prosecutors as pure political retribution,” he said. Earlier this week, Mary Jo White, who was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993-2002, also stated that the Bush administration’s prosecutor purge is unprecedented in “modern history.” She told NPR, “[T]hroughout modern history, my understanding is, you did not change the U.S. attorney during an administration, unless there was some evidence of misconduct or other really quite significant cause to do so. And the expectation was, so long as that was absent, that you would serve out your full four years or eight years as U.S. attorney.” As White noted, attorneys need to serve “without fear or favor and in an absolutely apolitical way.” By firing well-respected federal prosecutors and replacing them with Republican loyalists, the Bush administration has politicized the judicial system.

HOMELAND SECURITY — 9/11 VICTIMS’ FAMILIES HIT SENATE CONSERVATIVES FOR STALLING COUNTERTERRORISM BILL:
Yesterday, Senate conservatives blocked consideration of a bill aimed at implementing remaining recommendations of the 9/11 commission.  Conservatives made “a rare procedural move, rolling five amendments into one package and submitting a cloture motion on it.” Another impasse revolved around conservatives’ efforts to delay an amendment introduced by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to provide aid for Katrina victims. After it became clear that the homeland security bill would be blocked, families of 9/11 victims called on Senate conservatives to drop their amendments and support a “clean bill.” A letter to Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), signed by Voices of September 11 and Families of September 11, expressed “grave concern” that the “highly provocative, irrelevant amendments will jeopardize the passage” of the bill. The bill would implement many of the remaining recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, which include the reallocation of homeland security resources, the inspection of all air and sea cargo, and greater funding for first responders. Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) said the procedural delay could potentially force a Saturday vote on the bill. The White House has promised to veto the bill if it contains organizing rights and whistleblower protections for airport screeners.


Think Fast

A chilly Latin American reception for President Bush. As he “opened a weeklong tour of Latin America” yesterday, “police clashed with protesters in Brazil and across the region.” Adding insult to injury, “Mayan priests will purify a sacred archaeological site to eliminate ‘bad spirits’” after Bush visits next week.

Valerie Plame, the former covert CIA agent whose cover was blown by the Bush administration, has agreed to testify before the House Committee on Government Reform “about the disclosure and how the White House handled it.”

One day there will be a new attorney general, maybe sooner rather than later,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), in a “scathing criticism” of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s “handling of the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.”

“More than a quarter of military veterans with disability cases before the Department of Veterans Affairs wait six months or longer for the agency’s decision, creating financial hardships for them and their families. … As of March 3, the VA had almost 401,000 pending cases for disability compensation with almost 115,000 languishing for six months or more.”

The Bush administration said it is “open to holding direct talks with either Iran or Syria over how to help mend Iraq at a regional conference this weekend.” David Satterfield, the State Department’s Iraq coordinator, said yesterday that “if we are approached over orange juice by the Syrians or the Iranians to discuss an Iraq-related issue that is germane to this topic — stable, secure, peaceful, democratic Iraq — we are not going to turn and walk away.” 

Violent crime rose by double-digit percentages in cities across the country over the last two years, reversing the declines of the mid-to-late 1990s,” according to a report by the Police Executive Research Forum. “There are pockets of crime in this country that are astounding,” said Chuck Wexler, the group’s executive director.

A letter to McConnell signed by leaders of two Sept. 11 family groups — Voices of September 11 and Families of September 11 — expressed “grave concern that your recent introduction of highly provocative, irrelevant amendments will jeopardize the passage” of the bill.

Brig. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, a “combat-arms brigadier general from Fort Knox,” “will take over as deputy commanding general of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.” The move is intended to “inject a battlefield perspective into what has traditionally been a solely medical operation.” Meanwhile, Army Chief of Staff Richard Cody “has dispatched teams to numerous Army hospitals around the country to identify any similar problems.”

The European Union has agreed on “ambitious and credible” greenhouse gas emissions targets. The agreement would require “greenhouse gas emissions to be cut by at least 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and ensure 20 percent of its power comes from renewable energy, a massive increase from the current figure of just over 6 percent.”

And finally: The State Department’s human rights report is “very nice!” “Fictional Kazakh TV reporter Borat has made an unexpected cameo appearance as a victim of censorship in a heavyweight annual human rights report issued by the US State Department. … The report cited Borat’s loss of his Kazakh webpage http://www.borat.kz in late 2005 alongside court cases and limits on free speech faced by the few domestic media critical of Kazakhstan’s long-serving President Nursultan Nazarbayev.”