In Wake Of Washington Post Report, Charlie Rangel Should Resign As Chairman

The biggest story on Capitol Hill today was the Washington Post's bombshell, "Dozens in Congress under ethics inquiry". You've no doubt heard the story by now: an internal House Ethics Committee report from July was accidentally placed on a publicly-accessible computer by a low-level staffer and made its way into the Post's hands. The report documents over thirty ongoing committee investigations. The Post has yet to post the full document or name all the lawmakers on its webpage, so Capitol Hill is certainly abuzz.  

Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner have issued a rare joint-statement pledging to look into computer security, but the unfortunate lapse of confidence is not the story the public will care about. The story that will stick is that over thirty lawmakers are under investigation. The story is that if Washington - a Democratic Washington - can't be trusted to be ethical, than it can't be trusted to touch health care or financial regulations. It doesn't matter if that's true or not; it's still the story. It's what's sexy and it's what people will remember.

Many of these investigations were already well known, and many of the names have already been cleared. Doesn't matter. Most people aren't bloggers, political junkies, or Hill staffers. Most people catch only the broad headlines, and "ethics investigation" is a tough headline from which to recover. This story will fan the populist anti-Washington flames at a time when Democratic Washington requires public confidence to help it effectively address a myriad of national and international problems.

Few things tick me off more than corrupt politicians. They violate the public's trust, tarnish what could be an honorable profession, and often steal our money. They also distract us from what really matters. When Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, climate change, health care reform, job creation, and financial regulations are quite literally all in a day's work, corrupt politicians who undermine our confidence in government are the last thing Americans need.

Speaker Pelosi needs to take the type of action her predecessors, Denny Hastert and Tom DeLay, never took. It has to be the type of action the public, not her Members, will care about. She needs to take a hard line against a symbol of corruption, and that symbol may well be House Ways & Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY). The long-running investigation into Rangel is quite well-known, but the leaked document contained new information about it. According to the Post,

Rangel said he spoke with ethics committee staff members regarding a conference that he and four other members of the Congressional Black Caucus attended last November in St. Martin. The trip initially was said to be sponsored by a nonprofit foundation run by a newspaper. But the three-day event, at a luxury resort, was underwritten by major corporations such as Citigroup, Pfizer and AT&T. Rules passed in 2007, shortly after Democrats reclaimed the majority following a wave of corruption cases against Republicans, bar private companies from paying for congressional travel.

A personal anecdote about Rangel. I was Senator Max Baucus' agriculture intern during conference meetings for the 2008 Farm Bill - a job so low on the totem pole as to actually be beneath it, yes, but still a good gig for learning one's way around the Hill. At the first conference meeting, I recall Rangel running his mouth off in a way that made absolutely no sense. He was talking about things that weren't in the bill, distorting things that were, and making strange accusations about his fellow Democrats. It was basically just babble. After the meeting, I asked another Member's staffer who I knew what Rangel meant by all that. The staffer told me, "I have no idea - I wasn't listening. One of the first things I learned when I got here was don't listen to a thing Charlie Rangel says." I paid a little more attention to the staffers at the next meeting, and sure enough, when Rangel began talking, everyone began clicking away on their Blackberries.

The word I have typically used to describe Rangel is "buffoon." That might be too harsh. I don't know if the man is corrupt or not. Some say he's just absent-minded and forgets important paperwork. Maybe - he does seem like the type to get lost in his own fog. But the reasons why he has failed to report income and misused apartments don't matter. What matters is the action, not the motive.

Markos and Arianna Huffington have both called for Rangel to step down as chairman of Ways & Means. I join them in that call. That might be unfair to Rangel - innocent until proven guilty and all that - but it would be precisely what the country needs. Fair or not, the man has become a symbol. By asking Rangel to temporarily step down until the ethics investigation is completed, Speaker Pelosi could set aside distractions and send a bold signal to the country that this Congress means business and that the leaked Ethics report is just an aberration - a signal that would be very helpful at a time she and the President seek to gather support for health care reform and clean energy legislation.

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Is Washington Post Liable For False Advertising?

Newspapers are in trouble. Big, end-of-the-road death spiral big trouble. The Boston Globe was recently pulled off the market because its owners who shelled out $1.1 billion for the paper were a little upset at the $35 million offer plus assumption of some debt that they received.

This isn't pennies on dollars, this is pennies on hundreds of dollars. Nice.

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Expanding immigration enforcement programs - more harm than good?

From Restore Fairness blog

Today as expected, the Department of Homeland Security has announced an expansion of programs that deputize state and local police to enforce immigration law. Even though immigration is a federal matter, in the post 9/11 world, many believe that immigration enforcement should spread to a local level as an effective tool against terrorism. But in actuality, the programs create an environment of fear that discourage immigrant communities from cooperating with the police for fear of deportation, risking community safety in the process.

To date, the performance of the 66 participating agencies in these programs has been controversial. While the programs are meant to catch violent offenders, the bulk of those who have been caught include undocumented immigrants caught for minor or no offenses, which for a citizen would mean a citation at most or being let off. What's been even more disturbing is the documented cases of racial profiling. As a Washington Post article reports,

Critics cited cases in which police conducted roadside stops and neighborhood sweeps aimed at Latinos and other ethnic groups, often arresting minorities for traffic and other minor offenses in pursuit of illegal immigrants.

The most controversial of the programs is the 287(g) program - notorious for its serious civil rights abuses and public safety concerns - but which according to the same article accounts for only a small fraction of the 135,389 illegal immigrants apprehended. The Department of Homeland Security made pledges to fix the program , leading to a new Memorandum of Understanding with participating agencies, that would ensure a focus on only serious and criminal offenders. But it "expects" rather than "requires" such a provision, thereby making cosmetic changes that would do nothing to stop local law enforcement committing illegal profiling under the cloak of federal immigration authority.

For the vast majority of immigrants that have been swept up into the programs, a whopping  94 percent were found by checks at local and state jails. Yesterday, we posted on the Secure Communities programs, a program that lets the police arrest someone on a traffic or other offense - even if the arrest is based on racial profiling - and then have their fingerprints checked against immigration databases during booking.  When the fingerprint scan gets a "hit," immigrants can end up getting carted off to an immigration detention center.  Again, nothing is being done to keep local police from using arrests on minor charges as an excuse to get immigrants into custody. And a new report from the Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity & Diversity proves just that - police in Irving, Texas began arresting Hispanics in far greater numbers for petty offenses once they had round the clock access to immigration agents to deport serious criminal offenders.

Judging from the poster child of these programs, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose department in Maricopa County, Arizona, accounts for 20% of the nationwide arrests, allegations of racial profiling are not just hearsay. In an interview with CNN, Arpaio admitted that he judges undocumented people by "their conduct, what type of clothes they're wearing, their speech, they admit it". And even though the administration has taken away his powers to enforce immigration laws on the streets, he is claiming he doesn't need permission from the federal government and is planning an immigration raid to prove it.

It's disappointing that the administration is not only pursuing programs that have proven to be unbeneficial, but is expanding these in a move that makes little sense for those who understand the underlying issues.

Image courtesy

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McChrystal's 40,000 Troop Hoax

It's a time-honored Washington tradition. If you want to bully the government into doing something unpopular and the public into accepting it, manufacture a false emergency. Iraq war? If you don't approve it, mushroom cloud. Banker or IMF bailout? If you don't approve it, financial collapse. Social security privatization? If you don't approve it, the system will go "bankrupt."Our brand is crisis, as James Carville might say.

General McChrystal says that if President Obama does not approve 40,000 more U.S. troops for Afghanistan, and approve them right away, "our mission" - whatever that is - will likely "fail" - whatever that is.

But even if President Obama were to approve General McChrystal's request, the 40,000 troops wouldn't arrive in time to significantly affect the 12-month window McChrystal says will be decisive. So McChrystal's request isn't about what's happening in Afghanistan right now. It's about how many troops the U.S. will have in Afghanistan a year from now and beyond.

There is no emergency requiring a quick decision by President Obama.

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WaPo's Torture Bamboozle - Anonymity Edition

Among the sketchy, anonymously-sourced journalism in the Washington Post's Saturday ode-to-torture-Cheney-special, this section jumped out:

One former U.S. official with detailed knowledge of how the interrogations were carried out said Mohammed, like several other detainees, seemed to have decided that it was okay to stop resisting after he had endured a certain amount of pressure.

"Once the harsher techniques were used on [detainees], they could be viewed as having done their duty to Islam or their cause, and their religious principles would ask no more of them," said the former official, who requested anonymity because the events are still classified. "After that point, they became compliant. Obviously, there was also an interest in being able to later say, 'I was tortured into cooperating.' "

Now, that "former U.S. official with detailed knowledge of how the interrogations were carried out" couldn't possibly be Marc A. Thiessen, former Bush speechwriter, could it? The same Marc Thiessen who wrote the following passage in a Washington Post op-ed this past April?

In other words, the terrorists are called by their faith to resist as far as they can -- and once they have done so, they are free to tell everything they know. This is because of their belief that "Islam will ultimately dominate the world and that this victory is inevitable." The job of the interrogator is to safely help the terrorist do his duty to Allah, so he then feels liberated to speak freely.

This is the secret to the program's success.

Could Thiessen be the anonymous source cited in the passage from Saturday's story? Very possibly.

But even if he's not, why is the Post granting anonymity to a former administration official to make the same argument Thiessen made under his own name on the Post's own opinion page four months ago?

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