Senate Low-Balls 9/11 While NYFD Fight Giuliani

Five years after 9/11 the Senate has finally gotten around to endorsing the proposals of the 9/11 Commission, weak as they may be. The Senate legislation in its current form faces a veto because it supports the rights of Transportion Security Administration workers to organize. That's anathema to Republicans on the usual anti-union grounds, and in this instance, the outcry will be intense since it was the breaking of the air traffic controllers PATCO union in the early 1980s that launched the Reagan Revolution's march to privatization.

The Senate bill is weaker than the House version. Probably the biggest terrorist threat to the U.S. comes in the form of ignored or non-existent security measures on the docks on incoming freight. Many of the freight containers come from China and are marked in Chinese. They are unloaded in ports like New York or Newark, loaded onto Chinese trucks, and driven away. Any one of them could contain explosives, a load of poison, even a low-level nuclear device. The House bill would have these ships checked at points of origin. The Senate version does not. The Bush administration opposes doing so.

The House bill also would require that all baggage being loaded into a plane be inspected in the same manner as the passengers. The government says that would cost too much and it's plenty OK just to check 30 percent of the baggage as is the current process. The machines that check the baggage are of questionable value, meaning the 30 percent figure probably is on the high side.

On top of all this, the Darth Vader of 9/11, Rudy Giuliani, is using his ill-gotten reputation as a national hero to run for the presidency. NYFD doesn't think he's a hero. This evening at 6 pm, a group called 9/11 Firefighters and Families will hold a press conference outside the New York City Sheraton, the site of Rudy's fundraiser, to expose his failures on 9/11 and before. Here is what they have to say:

"On 9/11/01 NYC was completely unprepared for a terrorist attack, despite the fact that the WTC was first targeted in 1993 with dire consequences, and those responsible vowed to 'return to finish the job.' The first WTC attack was characterized by disorganization, lack of radio communications, lack of an integrated FD & PD command structure, and yet an honorable and heroic response was made by our firefighters and emergency responders."

"History was repeated on 9/11. With eight years as Mayor of NY to correct the problems & protect our city, Rudy Giuliani left the City of NY defenseless on 9/11, resulting in the needless deaths of 343 firefighters and nearly 3,000 innocent victims. Rudy Giuliani was responsible for our City's lack of emergency planning, emergency preparedness, emergency management and the most critical lack of FDNY working radios which doomed the NYC Fire Department on September 11th.** We love our country & America's fire service and they need to know the truth about the real Rudy Giuliani. Since he did not prepare NYC for the second terrorist attack on 9/11, how can the American people trust him to safeguard our entire nation?''

TPMmuckraker reports today that Carol Lam, one of the USAs fired, was on a DOJ list of prosecutors to be removed months before the Duke Cunningham scandal was revealed. Lam's successful prosecution of Cunningham has been widely believed to be the reason she was fired. This list created by the AG's chief of staff Kyle Sampson may tell another story. Was Lam then actually fired for performance-related reasons? It hasn't appeared so. Last Tuesday, at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on prosecutorial independence of U.S. attorneys, where Lam, along with 3 other prosecutors testified, Dianne Feinstein produced a letter from the DOJ which praised Lam's performance. Well, so why then, was she fired? At last Tuesday's hearing, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions claimed she was asked to resign because she did not prosecute enough gun cases. Um...doubtful. Stay tuned!

Luckily for Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the Senate is leaving him alone today as it plunges into the Iraq war debate. From Mexico City, Bush signaled lukewarm support for Gonzalez, saying he is "not happy" about the US Attorney mess, but adding, "I do have confidence in AG Al Gonzales." While Gonzales should have more involved in the whole affair, said Bush, the firings were "entirely appropriate." Gonzalez himself tried to wiggle clear and keep his job by saying he accepts responsibility for the mess. Yesterday he uttered the famous phrase "mistakes were made.''

At mid day the Republican leadership in the Senate was holding firm on the Attorney General, refusing to join the growing number of Democrats who want his resignation. Gonzalez himself told CNN it was up to the President whether he stays or goes. Bush, as everyone knows, is extremely stubborn and up to a few months ago wouldn't budge on hardly anything. But his administration is visibly shaken. With Libby down, and Rove a prime Democratic target because of the U.S. Attorneys scandal, it's always possible he will break. The damage control has to start somewhere and Gonzalez might well walk the plank for the president.

While editorial pages across the country are calling for Gonzales to resign, senior Senate Republicans either had nothing to say, or in the case of Arlen Specter, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, urged restraint. On the Senate floor yesterday he asked for more hearings. He wants Harriet Miers to testify before Congress, and had this to say: "There's been a request for witnesses from the Administration, from the White House. Well, why condemn the parties, why condemn the Department until we have found out what the facts are? My view, as I expressed last Thursday at the Executive Session, has been to tone down the rhetoric." Another important Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, said this: "This was a poorly handled matter, and it happened on his watch... you can go to anyone who is a U.S. attorney, say, 'Thank you for your service, your time's up and we want someone new.' And no one can say a word about it. This idea of trying to make up reasons that people didn't perform well, to me, that are at least questionable allegations, is just unseemly."

Among Republicans, Senator John Ensign of Nevada was among the most outspoken. Yesterday he declared, "The Department of Justice completely mishandled the dismissal of Dan Bogden as Nevada's United States Attorney. I appreciate the Attorney General's coming forward today to take responsibility for the mistakes that were made, to find out what went wrong and to address these problems immediately."

Late Update: "Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire on Wednesday became the first Republican in Congress to call for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' dismissal." From the AP.

-- James Ridgeway

The New York Times ran a Week in Review article this week about how Pakistan's General Musharraf figures into the power equation and how we should "handle" him. Questions of how "fragile" and "tenuous" Musharraf's grip on power is, worries about a power vacuum if Musharraf were to leave, India and Pakistan's political contentions and whether the US has "leverage" make it seem like Pakistan- and indeed, any other country like Afghanistan, India, and so on- is just a pawn in the Great Game of Power Politics.

Nowhere in the article is it mentioned that General Musharraf is in fact, a military dictator. Astonishingly, the article notes that analysts view the military in Pakistani as "a largely secular institution that takes seriously its role as protector of Pakistan's identity and would not allow Islamists to become the dominant force in Pakistan." (Really? There are Pakistani citizens who would roundly disagree.) There's also no mention in the article of Musharraf's human rights abuses, such as in Balochistan (which some argue is actually ethnic cleansing) under the excuse of the war on terror.

This Times piece is just one example of the general trend we see today in our mass media. Entire nations, peoples, and societies are collapsed into ideologies of "Islamists," "US interests," and "national security" and how they figures into power politics- where the US, reigns supreme, for now. All the while the people of these countries are taking significant actions we barely hear about. For example, did you hear about the latest brouhaha in Pakistan?

On Monday, several thousand Pakistani lawyers and the Pakistani Bar Association protested and boycotted courts throughout Pakistan in dissent over Musharraf's decision to sack and detain Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, the chief justice of the Supreme Court who has been vocal about the government's human rights violations and undertakings. The fact that the independence of the judicial branch is challenged caused Syed Zulfiqar Ali Bokhari, the secretary of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association, to say "Today, the entire lawyer community is out protesting and giving a unanimous message that we're against President Musharraf's action, we condemn it." Chaudhry is now set for a closed hearing. Human Rights Watch has condemned this, but the State Department hasn't.

Major American newspapers and the administration speak of Pakistan and Musharraf in terms of cold geo-politics. Will Musharraf help us reach our objectives? Is Musharraf of any benefit to us? Will Pakistan help secure "US interests"? Pakistan is regarded as devoid of citizens, individuals, activists, and critics. You can say the same for basically any other country in our national conversation. So while Pakistani lawyers chant "Musharraf: killer of justice!" and "Down with Musharraf!," the US doesn't want to hear it. Even if they do, they'll just ignore it and they will continue to prop up dictators who can keep a firm grip on its population so that the US can have its way. Sound familiar?

--Neha Inamdar

Clinton, Edwards Call on Gonzales to Resign

Yesterday, presidential candidates John Edwards and Hillary Clinton called on U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign. This followed Senator Chuck Schumer's reiteration of his call for the AG to resign. Edwards was first. Here is an excerpt from the statement released by his campaign (courtesy of TPMcafe):

"Attorney General Alberto Gonzales betrayed his public trust by playing politics when his job is to enforce and uphold the law. By violating that trust, he's done a great disservice to his office. If White House officials ordered this purge, he should have refused them. If they insisted, he should have resigned in protest. Attorney General Gonzales should certainly resign now."

Hillary was not far behind in condemning Gonzales' actions. During an interview with Good Morning America, Clinton had this to say:

"The buck should stop somewhere...and the attorney general — who still seems to confuse his prior role as the president's personal attorney with his duty to the system of justice and to the entire country — should resign."

Thanks to Think Progress for spotting these.

Castro and Chavez Yuck It Up Over Ethanol

Heading into the presidential campaign both Hillary Clinton and John McCain, both of whom once detested ethanol, are slobbering all over the place in its support. That's because they want votes in Iowa's caucuses.

Meanwhile, in a March 4 radio chat on the Venezuelan program "Hello President," Hugo Chavez warmly welcomed the recovering Fidel Castro, and in short order the two fell into an animated discussion on the same subject:

Chavez: Do you know how many hectares of corn are needed to produce one million barrels of ethanol?

Castro: To do what?

Chavez: To produce one million barrels of ethanol?

Castro: Ethanol. I believe you told me about that the other day. Somewhere around 20 million hectares.

Chavez:[Laughing] Just like that.

Castro: Go ahead, remind me.

Chavez: Indeed, 20 million. You are the one with an exceptional mind, not me.

Castro: Twenty million. Well, of course. The idea of using food to produce fuel is tragic, is
dramatic. No one is sure how high the price of food will rise when soy is being used for fuel, with the need there is in the world to produce eggs, milk, to produce meat. It is a tragedy. One of many today.

I am happy to know that you have taken up the flag to save the species because... there are new problems, very difficult problems and therefore to see someone become a great preacher of the cause, a champion of the cause, an advocate of the life of the species. For that, I congratulate you. Continue fighting [words inaudible] to educate the people so they can understand.

There are things that I read and review every day. I am very aware of the threat of war,
environmental threats and food threats. We have to remember that there are billions of people famished. These are realities, and for the first time in history, the governments are getting involved. Governments that are able and have the moral authority to do it, and you are one of those rare examples...

The two heads of state reminisced as they rambled along over the radio...

Castro: Venezuela has a territory of nearly one million square kilometres. We are just a nut shell that the Gulf current pushed too close to our friends to the north. [Chuckles]

Chavez: [In English] Our friends Fidel, listen.

Castro: Well, you say that I know English. I did at one time.

Chavez: Did you forget it?

Castro: The trauma afterwards has made me forget it. This is why I no longer have that excellent memory you have, the capacity to summarise or your musical ear, your talent to remember songs. I cannot believe that you have partied so much as to remember all those songs.

Chavez: I never partied as much as you.

Castro: I envy you that.

When it came time to say goodbye, Chavez said, "Do you know how many people listen to the first hour of the programme? Forty percent. As you know, the audience of "Hello President" is huge. Let's gain ground. We will win the battle for life. We will win that battle. Thank you for your call."

Castro thanks Chavez and they continue.

Chavez: Let's give Fidel a round of applause. [Applause] A hug. Comrade, companion, and you know, I do not have any qualms about calling you father in front of the world. Onward to victory.

Castro: Onward to victory.

Chavez: We will prevail.

Castro: We will prevail. [Applause]

You can read the entire transcript, originally provided by the BBC, at the National Post of Canada's site.

-- James Ridgeway

The annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference this weekend may have taken us a step closer to war with Iran. One featured speaker was John Hagee. Hagee is a powerful evangelical leader who founded the Christians United for Israel lobby last year. Hagee is a staunch supporter of Israel; that much is clear. But he is a literal reader of the Bible who thinks Armageddon in the Middle East is a good thing, and conveniently misinterprets most of Judaism to make it a helpmate for Christianity.

Even so, AIPAC delegates may be right to conclude that Hagee is good for the Jews, but The American Prospect's Sarah Posner argues:

Whether Hagee is good for Israel is beside the point. The real problem is that he represents a catastrophe for the United States and its standing in the world -- not because he might love the Jews too much, or might in fact secretly hate them, but because…the notion that Hagee -- whose status is only elevated by invitations like AIPAC's -- is leading a political movement based on nothing more than a supposedly literal reading of his Bible only reinforces the view that the United States is being led by messianic forces at odds with world peace and stability.

Hagee's speech, which compared Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Pharaoh and Hitler, went over big.

Nancy Pelosi also spoke at the AIPAC meeting, but she didn't make quite as big a splash. In fact, she was booed when she called the war in Iraq a failure. She was using a much more pragmatic rubric: "whether it makes the U.S. safer, the U.S. military stronger and the region more stable." Just moments before, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) had received a standing ovation when he said that the U.S. had no choice but to win in Iraq. (By the way, Stephen Cohen has a powerful take-down of that argument in The Nation today.)

So why does this pro-Israel group need us to stay in the war in Iraq? It wants to turn up the heat on Iran. One of its priorities is to push Congress to approve tougher sanctions on Iran, which is hostile to Israel. For a rundown of the ears most primed to receive reasons to attack Iran, read this.

(AIPAC is also skeptical about candidate Barack Obama because he once told the Des Moines Register that "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.")

New Mexico Will Require HPV Vaccine

Merck, the maker of the new vaccine to protect against the strains of the HPV virus that cause cervical cancer, succumbed to pressure from Christian groups to cease lobbying for mandatory vaccination programs. As Salon put it, "New [Parenting] Rule: If you don't think your daughter getting cancer is worse than your daughter having sex, then you're doing it wrong." (The other metaphors in this article are a bit, err, saltier, but it's laugh-out-loud funny.)

The only state Merck had persuaded was Texas, where Governor Rick "Goodhair" Perry circumvented the legislature and mandated vaccines by executive order. Lawmakers are now rallying to supersede his order because they're more frightened of their daughters having sex than they are of them getting cancer.

It's not clear if Merck had made significant headway in New Mexico when it called off its lobbying efforts, but the legislature there has delivered a bill to Governor Bill Richardson's desk. Richardson, whom Jonathan would like to see become Secretary of State, has said he will sign the bill.

Newspapers Cutting Along the Color Line

What do you cut when your publication's in a financial pinch? Diversity programs, of course. The Associated Press just announced its decision to terminate the 2007 "Diverse Visions / Diverse Voices" minority mentoring program—a week after the Feb. 15 application deadline. Students received a letter informing them that due to limited resources, the 5-day workshop would not take place. Applicants were required to submit a resume, three writing samples, a 500-word essay, and two letters of recommendation. The AP said it would run the program "every other year." We'll see.

The AP isn't the only program to add insult to injury in cutting minority programs. The Village Voice pulled a similar stunt last spring, when it announced days after the application deadline for its Mary Wright Minority Fellowship that the program would be suspended because of the paper's purchase by New Times (now Village Voice Media). Again little comfort to those who hustled to get the lengthy application form to the paper's Cooper Union headquarters on time. The program is, however, happily back on track and now offers a weekly stipend of $400, instead of the previous $150.

Village Voice also recently replaced its self-declared "white male Jew from the Upper West Side" editor-in-chief, David Blum, with a Latino, Tony Ortega, after Blum's mostly-white hiring policies were challenged in a story meeting. Blum didn't apologize for who he was, and was, the Huffington Post reports, the subject of complaints from minority staffers. Blum argued that there were only so many qualified minority candidates, and that journalism schools like Columbia University, where he was formerly an adjunct professor, were "98 percent white." As a Columbia J-school alum, I can say that the program at least felt diverse with tons of international students, plenty of Hispanics, a couple of Asians, and an ample helping of Jews—thought it was woefully lacking in African-Americans. Ortega will be the Voice's 5th Editor-in-Chief since the publication was bought by New Times, revealing that maintaining diversity may be one of the Voice's lesser problems.

Speaking of faltering New York papers, Newsday announced last week that it is losing Mira Lowe, associate editor of recruitment, and John Gonzales, the paper's court reporter. Lowe, whose always-friendly face was a regular at media job fairs in New York City, is moving on to Chicago to work on recruitment at Ebony and Jet, and she's taking her African-American husband, Newsday reporter Herbert Lowe, with her. Gonzales is going to New Orleans to join the AP in covering Hurricane Katrina recovery. Seems they're interested in minority issues.

Newsday has lost 6 other journalists of color since December of 2006. This is a serious blow to the publication, which prides itself on covering issues in the heavily-ethnic New York boroughs and Long Island that papers like The New York Times tend to ignore.

For Mother Jones' coverage of newspapers in peril, click here.

—Jen Phillips

Today, Senators Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein held a press conference (above) to discuss the most recent developments in the case of the fired U.S. Attorneys, namely how shady the Justice Department and the White House appear to have been, and to make clear that the stepping down of Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff, "does not take heat off the attorney general." If you haven't been following the investigation, both Schumer and Feinstein give a good chronology of events. (TPMmuckraker was nice enough to transcribe for us.)

There were several things worth noting from both Feinstein and Schumer's speeches. Schumer called again for Alberto Gonzales to step down and said:

"Attorney General Gonzales has either forgotten the oath he took to uphold the Constitution or just doesn't understand that his duty to protect the law is greater than his duty to protect the president."

Schumer called on Karl Rove, Harriet Miers and George Bush to come forward and explain themselves. Schumer says of Bush:

"The president must clarify his role in this whole matter...the cloud over the U.S. attorneys, the cloud over the Justice Department is getting darker and darker."

Feinstein went on to discuss most notably the Patriot Act:

"We now know that it is very likely that the amendment to the Patriot Act... might well have been done to facilitate a wholesale replacement of all or part of U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation."

This is an interesting part of the probe because it not only implies careful calculation on the part of the White House and the DOJ but it may implicate Senate Judiciary Committee (the senate committee investigating the firings) Ranking Minority Member Arlen Specter, whose chief of staff Michael O'Neill, under "orders from the DOJ," slipped the amendment into the Reauthorization of the Patriot Act. Specter is now co-sponsoring a bill to reverse the amendment -- perhaps to save face?

I love divided government!