washingtonpost.com
Obama's Big Health Care Test

By Dan Froomkin
2:05 PM ET, 06/ 2/2009

President Obama has called Senate Democrats to the White House today for a huddle on health-care strategy -- and this is the one issue to watch above all.

Obama's plan to massively overhaul the nation's health-care system, hold down costs and achieve universal health insurance coverage is only one of several enormous initiatives, rescues and takeovers our new president is currently juggling. But this one is arguably the most far-reaching, the most defining, the most complicated, and the most challenging.

This is the issue to watch to see how Obama works with Congress. How eager will its members be to follow his lead when the stakes are this high? How much clout will he have to keep them in line when they stray? How brave will they be? And how beholden to special interests? Can Obama get them to meet a deadline? Will the legislation that emerges from Congress be recognizable?

This is the issue to watch to see how Obama rallies his supporters. Can he mobilize his mailing list? Will volunteers from his presidential campaign become health care activists? Can he harness the public support he does get into productive action?

This is the issue to watch to see if Obama can reach out to not-traditionally Democratic constituencies and find common ground. Will the current support from a coalition including industry groups continue? Will insurance companies and hospitals and Big Pharma stick together -- and stick with him? Will he find any Republican ideas to adopt? Will he find any Republican allies?

This is the issue to watch to see if Obama can control the media narrative. Will the press cast his plan as a massive extravagance, or as a necessary fix for a broken system and a flailing economy? Will reporters delve deeply into the issues and fuel a national conversation -- or will they focus only on the politics, the trivia, and who's up and who's down?

So what's next? Laura Litvan writes for Bloomberg:

Two Senate committees will meet behind closed doors this week to hammer out the contours of the restructuring of a sector that accounts for 17 percent of the U.S. economy. They will be racing to meet a deadline set by President Barack Obama, who said last week he wants a measure enacted by year’s end.

The White House's Council of Economic Advisers is out today with a new report which concludes that overhauling the U.S. health care system isn't just a good thing in itself -- it's actually a necessary part of fixing the economy.

Erica Werner writes for the Associated Press that the report

says that health care costs — now about 18 percent of the gross domestic product — will rise to 34 percent in 30 years if left unchecked, wreaking havoc on the federal deficit, businesses and working Americans...
"Health care reform is incredibly important not just for the American people but for the American economy," said Christina Romer, chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers. "Good health care reform is essentially good economic policy."
In a Yahoo opinion piece, Romer writes:
Without health care reform, American workers and families will continue to experience eroding health care benefits and stagnating wages caused by the pressure of escalating health insurance premiums. And without reform, rising spending on Medicare and Medicaid will lead to massive and unsustainable Federal budget deficits.

Edwin Chen and Laura Litvan write for Bloomberg that the report also concludes that the number of uninsured American will almost double in three decades unless Congress acts.

The report comes in the wake, they note, of Obama's remarks to his political organization last week that "if we don’t get it done this year, we’re not going to get it done." A nationwide campaign to rally support starts on Saturday.

The broad coalition of health-industry groups that last month vowed to rein in the growth in health care came back yesterday with an actual plan:

Individually and together, our organizations have developed initiatives that will help move the nation toward achieving the Administration’s goal and we intend to keep working. Our organizations will now pursue these initiatives which, together, will help transform the U.S. health care system.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Robert Pear write in the New York Times that
The groups, representing doctors, hospitals, drug companies and a labor union, proposed eliminating unnecessary medical tests and procedures, slashing red tape and better managing chronic diseases.
They said the potential savings could be $1 trillion to $1.7 trillion over 10 years.
Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein looks at the no-brainer ideas the industry representatives are proposing, and concludes that
in the aggregate, the document paints the picture of an almost comically ineffective sector. This isn't just a blueprint for reform. It's an argument for reform. And above that, it's an argument for why reform should not be overly constrained by the preferences of the stakeholders. Look at the system they've built. Look at the inefficiencies they've permitted. They don't deserve a guiding role.
And with an overview of where things stand, Susan Page writes for USA Today:
This year's fast-track timetable on health care calls for leaders of key congressional committees to unveil legislation this month, debate it next month and pass it before leaving for the summer recess in August. Final passage would follow in September or October, before next year's elections start to complicate things....
There is considerable agreement that the best path to universal coverage is for the government to require Americans to buy health insurance, just as drivers have to buy car insurance. A sliding scale of subsidies would help those who would have trouble affording premiums.
The biggest ideological debate is whether the insurance options Americans could consider should include a public, government-run plan that would compete with those offered by private insurance companies.
Include a public plan or there's no deal, some liberal Democrats say. "The public option is a compromise by many Democrats who would like to have a single-payer system," says Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of one of three House committees with jurisdiction over the health care legislation. The California Democrat says the House bill will include a public option, arguing it would create a "healthy tension" to keep costs down and protect consumers' interests.....
The quandary: Include a public plan and there's no deal, some Republicans and industry leaders say. They say a government plan's reach would enable it to crush private competitors, creating a back-door path to a government-run health care system like those in Canada and Britain.
Julie Appleby and Mary Agnes Carey write for the (all new!) Kaiser Health News:
The biggest challenge: The price tag. The Democratic proposals could cost $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years, and lawmakers are a long way from coming up with the money.
The biggest unknown: How forcefully will Obama engage, and what's his bottom line? Will he go for broke, insisting on a big expansion of health coverage and sweeping changes to the health care system? Or will he be more pragmatic, quicker to compromise than, say, the Clintons were--so as not to lose everything?
Meanwhile, White House health care czar Nancy-Ann DeParle tells Appleby in an interview that she hasn't given "a moment's thought" to fashioning a fallback position in case Congress rejects the sweeping Obama view.
Quick Takes

By Dan Froomkin
1:42 PM ET, 06/ 2/2009

President Obama yesterday issued a proclamation in honor of "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Month," in which he asserted: "The LGBT rights movement has achieved great progress, but there is more work to be done." But Obama has remained publicly opposed to gay marriage, and there is no sign of action on his promise to end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the military.

Joe Sudbay writes for Americablog: "Obama wants us to know he 'continue[s] to support measures to bring the full spectrum of equal rights to LGBT Americans.' That's good. But, he's President now, not a candidate. A lot of people worked very hard to elect Obama, due in part to his campaign promises of equal rights for LGBT Americans. But, now, we need action, not more promises - at the very least, we need the inklings of a plan of action. So far, we've seen no indication of how, or even if, Obama is going to turn his support of those measures into reality."

Nancy A. Youssef writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "President Barack Obama reversed his decision to release detainee abuse photos from Iraq and Afghanistan after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki warned that Iraq would erupt into violence and that Iraqis would demand that U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq a year earlier than planned, two U.S. military officers, a senior defense official and a State Department official have told McClatchy." But was Maliki right? Or was he just trying to save his own political career?

Mark Benjamin wrote for Salon on Saturday: "Retired Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba denied reports that he has seen the prisoner-abuse photos that President Obama is fighting to keep secret, in an exclusive interview with Salon Friday night. On Thursday an article in the Daily Telegraph reported that Taguba, the lead investigator into Abu Ghraib abuse, had seen images Obama wanted suppressed, and supported the president's decision to fight their release. The paper quoted Taguba as saying, 'These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.' But Taguba says he wasn't talking about the 44 photographs that are the subject of an ongoing ACLU lawsuit that Obama is fighting."

Benjamin adds today that according to Pentagon officials, "there are about 2,000 images related to detainee abuse, none of which are from Abu Ghraib, and the images do not include depictions of sexual abuse."

Mark Silva blogs for Tribune: "Former President Jimmy Carter -- who invested some of his own presidency three decades ago in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East -- suggests that President Barack Obama, bound for a meeting with Arab leaders and an address to the Muslim world this week, should have revealed photographs which portray abuses of military prisoners and says a 'complete examination' of what the Bush administration authorized and conducted in the 'ehanced interrogations' of detained terrorists should be made."

Jack Hidary writes for Huffingtonpost.com: "General Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of all coalition forces in Iraq, called for a truth commission to investigate the abuses and torture which occurred there. The General described the failures at all levels of civilian and military command that led to the abuses in Iraq, 'and that is why I support the formation of a truth commission.'"

Jake Tapper and Jason Ryan write for ABC News: "In a court filing submitted in the middle of [Friday] night, President Obama's Justice Department is continuing the 'state secrets' argument of his predecessor in litigation over the National Security Agency's Terrorist Surveillance Program."

Josh Gerstein writes for Politico: "President Barack Obama has won more breathing room to revamp detainee policies after a federal judge agreed Monday to put on hold a ruling permitting legal challenges by some prisoners in U.S. custody at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan."

Fear works. Susan Page writes in USA Today: "Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to closing the detention center for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay and moving some of the detainees to prisons on U.S. soil, a USA Today/Gallup Poll finds. By more than 2-1, those surveyed say Guantanamo shouldn't be closed. By more than 3-1, they oppose moving some of the accused terrorists housed there to prisons in their own states. The findings underscore the difficult task President Obama faces in convincing those at home that he should follow through on his campaign promise to close the prison in Cuba, especially in the absence of a plan of where the prisoners would go.... 'Coming up on eight years after Sept. 11, fear remains, and fear is politically potent,' says political scientist Paul Freedman of the University of Virginia, who studies public opinion. 'When it comes to the issue of terrorism … people are inclined to err on the side of that fear.'"

Obama on Sunday issued a statement condemning the shooting death earlier that day of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller: "I am shocked and outraged by the murder of Dr. George Tiller as he attended church services this morning. However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence."

Michael D. Shear writes for The Washington Post about Obama's visit yesterday to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. "'The president met with 26 inpatients and approximately 30 outpatients and their families. He also met with hospital staff,' said assistant press secretary Tommy Vietor in an e-mail. 'Additionally, the president awarded 2 Purple Hearts.'"

Lois Romano writes in The Washington Post: "Valerie Jarrett is not simply the highest-ranking woman serving in the White House these days. She has the kind of power that comes with long history and deep friendship, a voice in the room that confidently reflects her 20-year Chicago-based relationship with Barack and Michelle Obama." There's also video.

Alexandre Deslongchamps writes for Bloomberg: "Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush showed camaraderie in a joint appearance Friday while disagreeing on easing the Cuban trade embargo and allowing same-sex marriages." Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times: "If there was anything that even bordered on a sharp exchange, it was the discussion over Iraq."

New York Times opinion columnist David Brooks likens Obama's GM takeover to -- hold onto your hat -- Bush's invasion of Iraq: "The federal merger will not accelerate the company’s viability. It will impede it. We’ve seen this before, albeit in different context: An overconfident government throws itself into a dysfunctional culture it doesn’t really understand. The result is quagmire. The costs escalate. There is no exit strategy."

Julie Pace writes for the Associated Press: "President Barack Obama has chosen a Republican congressman to be the new secretary of the Army, adding to the ranks of opposition party figures in his administration."

Micah L. Sifry blogs for TechPresident.com on how "the Open Government Dialogue created as part of the Obama administration's new initiative to engage the public in a participatory discussion of ways to make the federal government more transparent and collaborative looks like it is being overrun by the so-called 'birthers'--conspiracy nuts who think the President isn't legitimately a U.S. citizen." He notes: "All online interactive sites are subject to gaming, especially when the stakes are high. Presumably the more often government invites public participation and the lower the visibility of the results, the less often these nuisances will occur."

Obama Getting 'Honest' With Israel

By Dan Froomkin
11:15 AM ET, 06/ 2/2009

President Obama's call for a "new dialogue" in the Middle East -- one in which the U.S. would be "honest" about what Israel has to do to achieve security -- is the clearest indication yet that the new administration is taking a dramatically different and much more assertive approach with its long-time ally.

Obama's comments indicate that he believes Israel has been indulged -- even deluded -- by previous administrations, to its own detriment. By contrast, this president's view seems to be that what Israel really needs is to be pushed into making the difficult concessions that are in its own long-term interests.

And Obama has been clear that the first concession Israel needs to make is to freeze the growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank that both literally and figuratively set the occupation of Palestinian territories in concrete.

Stopping the growth of settlements -- not to mention dismantling them -- is a hugely sensitive political issue for Israelis, and Israel's current right-wing leadership is already talking about defying Obama's request.

But on the eve of an overseas trip that will include a major address to the Muslim world from Cairo on Thursday, Obama is showing no signs of, as he would put it, "equivocation."

Here is an excerpt from Obama's interview yesterday with Michele Norris and Steve Inskeep of NPR that's worth reading carefully (transcript, audio):

Inskeep: Mr. President, you mentioned a freeze on settlements. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was quoted today saying to cabinet members in Israel that he will not follow your demand for a freeze on settlements in the West Bank – that it's not going to happen. What does it suggest, that Israel is not taking your advice?
Obama: Well, I think it's still early in the process. They formed a government, what, a month ago? I think that we're going to have a series of conversations. Obviously, the first priority of an Israeli prime minister is to think in terms of Israel's security. I believe that, strategically, the status quo is unsustainable when it comes to Israeli security; that, over time, in the absence of peace with the Palestinians, Israel will continue to be threatened militarily and will have enormous problems along its borders. And so, it is not only in the Palestinians' interest to have a state. I believe it is in the Israelis', as well, and in the United States' interest, as well.
Inskeep: But if the United States says for years that Israel should stop the settlements, and for years, Israel simply does not, and the United States continues supporting Israel in roughly the same way, what does that do with American credibility in the Muslim world which you're trying to address?
Obama: Well, I think what is certainly true is that the United States has to follow through on what it says. Now, as I said before, I haven't said anything yet, because it's early in the process. But it is important for us to be clear about what we believe will lead to peace and that there's not equivocation and there's not a sense that we expect only compromise on one side; it's going to have to be two-sided, and I don't think anybody would deny that, in theory. When it comes to the concrete, then the politics of it get difficult, both within the Israeli and the Palestinian communities. But, look, if this was easy, it would've already been done.
Norris: Many people in the region are concerned — when they look at the U.S. relationship with Israel, they feel that Israel has favored status in all cases. And what do you say to people in the Muslim world who feel that the U.S. has, repeatedly over time, blindly supported Israel?
Obama: Well, what I'd say is, there's no doubt that the United States has a special relationship with Israel. There are a lot of Israelis who used to be Americans. There is huge cross-cultural ties between the two countries. I think that as a vibrant democracy that shares many of our values, obviously we're deeply sympathetic to Israel. And, I think, I would also say that given past statements surrounding Israel: The notion that they should be driven into the sea, that they should be annihilated, that they should be obliterated — the armed aggression that's been directed toward them in the past — you can understand why not only Israelis would feel concerned, but the United States would feel it was important to back this stalwart ally.
Now, having said all that, what is also true is that part of being a good friend is being honest. And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory in the region, is profoundly negative — not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests. And that's part of a new dialogue that I'd like to see encouraged in the region.

Why are the settlements such a big deal? And why is Israeli resistance to a freeze so intense?

Isabel Kershner writes in the New York Times:

The Israeli population of the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem, has tripled since the Israeli-Palestinian peace effort started in the early 1990s, and it now approaches 300,000. The settlers live among 2.5 million Palestinians in about 120 settlements, which much of the world considers a violation of international law, as well as in dozens of outposts erected without official Israeli authorization.

Those settlers are a determined bunch. As for the politics:

Mr. Netanyahu is trying to hold together a fractious coalition, including parties that favor settlement building and oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state. He must contend with an aggressive settler movement, emboldened by support from Israeli governments for decades and determined to continue building, if necessary through unofficial means....
Underlining the competing pressures on Mr. Netanyahu, extremist settlers rioted on Monday in various parts of the northern West Bank, stoning Arab vehicles, burning tires and setting fields alight, according to a witness and the police. They were protesting the government's recent actions against some tiny outposts. Several Palestinians were wounded. Six Israeli settlers and a rightist member of Parliament were arrested and later released.
Israel had reached tacit agreements with the Bush administration that allowed for some continued construction of settlements. But Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are now demanding an end even to what the Israelis call "natural growth" in existing settlements.

Meanwhile, as Glenn Kessler reports in The Washington Post, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is in Washington meeting with U.S. officials.

Israeli officials have been stunned by the demands of top Obama administration officials that Israel halt settlement growth throughout the West Bank, and Barak was said to be carrying compromise proposals focusing mainly on dismantling unauthorized settlement outposts.

But if anything, Obama's position is getting more rigid.

The Obama administration has also indicated it does not consider itself bound to the terms of a 2004 letter that President George W. Bush gave then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon saying Israel could expect to keep major settlements in a peace deal. Late Friday, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly issued a statement pointedly declining to reaffirm that the letter carried over to the current administration. He instead reiterated that there must be a "stop to settlements."

Josh Marshall writes for Talking Points Memo:

"[N]atural growth" really is the most natural thing in the world if -- and this is what all turns on -- if you think the settlements are permanent. If the existing settlements are permanent, then it's silly to think that one settler can live in a house but it's forbidden to build a new house on the lot next store.
But if the settlements are permanent, then a Palestinian state is basically impossible. And that means the occupation is permanent, as is the conflict.
Now, if you think arresting the growth of the settlements in the dysfunctional politics of contemporary Israel is difficult, try dismantling them. I've long worried that any effort to dismantle them would lead to something like civil war in the country. Because the settlers, at least the most ideological ones, are completely indifferent to the rule of law.
But resolving the conflict is impossible with the West Bank settlements. And before you can dismantle them, you have to start to by stopping their growth. And on this point Obama seems like he means business.

Jonathan Marcus writes for the BBC:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a problem.
Something has changed in Washington. This new US President, Barack Obama, is unlike any that an Israeli leader has faced before....
The tone and content of the Obama administration's pronouncements on the settlement issue are clear and to the point.
The US wants a halt to settlement building. Now.....
The change in mood also extends to Capitol Hill where, when Mr Netanyahu visited Washington, he was left in no doubt that the president's approach is supported by many of Israel's longstanding friends in Congress.

Regarding that last matter -- the issue of Congressional support -- it's not at all clear how widespread it is or how long it will last. Congress has a long history of being enormously vulnerable to pressure from the pro-Israeli lobby.

And right on cue, Ben Smith writes for Politico that

the administration's escalating pressure on Israel to freeze all growth of its settlements on Palestinian land has begun to stir concern among Israel's numerous allies in both parties on Capitol Hill.
"My concern is that we are applying pressure to the wrong party in this dispute," said Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.). "I think it would serve America's interest better if we were pressuring the Iranians to eliminate the potential of a nuclear threat from Iran, and less time pressuring our allies and the only democracy in the Middle East to stop the natural growth of their settlements."
"When Congress gets back into session the administration is going to hear from many more members than just me," she said.
Presidents from Jimmy Carter to George H.W. Bush saw attempts to pressure Israel draw furious objections from Congress, but members of Congress and observers say Obama will most likely prevail as long as he shows that he's putting effective pressure on Israel's Arab foes as well.
But....the unusual criticism by congressional Democrats of the popular president is a sign that it may take more than a transformative presidential election to change the domestic politics of Israel.

Liz Halloran reports for NPR, Obama also commented on former Vice President Dick Cheney's outspoken defense of Bush-era national security policies in his NPR interview:

Norris: He's forceful, he's unapologetic and he doesn't seem willing to scale back his rhetoric....
Obama: Well, he also happens to be wrong. (Chuckles.) Right? And last time, immediately after his speech, I think there was a fact-check on his speech that didn't get a very good grade. Does it make it more complicated? No, because I think these are complicated issues and there is a legitimate debate to be had about national security. And I don't doubt the sincerity of the former vice president or the previous administration in wanting to protect the American people. And these are very difficult decisions.

Obama was clearly referring to Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel's excellent analysis of Cheney's May 21 speech for McClatchy Newspapers.

Obama also did an interview yesterday with the BBC, mostly about his upcoming speech in Cairo.

Justin Webb writes for the BBC:

This is not an apology for the actions of the Bush White House - that the president told me flatly.
Nor is it a speech that is designed only to please the audience - the president will talk about the US Muslim community ("huge and thriving" he called it) and point out misperceptions in the Muslim world's view of the US.
But on human rights, I fear he will disappoint: I asked him straight whether Hosni Mubarak (the Egyptian leader for 38 years!) was an autocrat. Mr Obama told me he was a force for stability and good.

On the issue of Israeli settlements, Webb asked Obama what he would do if Israel refuses to stop their growth. "I think I've said my peace on this matter," Obama said. "We're going to continue negotiations. We think that it's early in the process, but we think we can make some progress."

Meanwhile, in a Fox News interview with Greta Van Susteren yesterday, Cheney (accompanied by his daughter Liz) had some unsolicited advice for Obama, on his upcoming Cairo speech:

Cheney: [T]here's a bit of a temptation, I think, on the part of people who haven't dealt with that part of the world on a regular basis to think that the key is, you know, being super-nice or apologetic. My experience in that part of the world is that it's a question of respect. And what they admire most, for example, in American officials are people who stand tall for what they believe in but also are very direct, keep their word and not apologetic....
I hope he's had good advice as he crafted his remarks and decided what message it is he wants to leave with his hosts.
Van Susteren: Do you think he's soft?
Cheney: I don't -- I can't say that. I think -- I do think he's still, you know, still learning. He was a state senator and then he was a U.S. senator for a few months, and then he ran for president. It's a tough, tough job, and he's had plenty put on his platter to begin with, a very difficult economic situation, North Korea's testing nukes, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I mean, there are plenty of problems that he's got to address, and he doesn't get a breathing spell here to address them.
Cheney Watch

By Dan Froomkin
11:00 AM ET, 06/ 2/2009

Former vice president Dick Cheney was out and about again yesterday, first taking questions at the presentation of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation Journalism Awards (Cheney was Ford's chief of staff) and then in a joint appearance with daughter, Liz, on Fox News.

So much material!

Cheney's response to a question on gay marriage garnered the most headlines. He said he's all for it, as long as it's a state-by-state decision.

From this video excerpt:

Well, I think, you know, freedom means freedom for everyone.
And as many of you know, one of my daughters is gay. And -- something that we've lived with for a long time in our family. I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish.
The question of whether or not there ought to be a federal statute that governs this, I don't support. I do believe that historically the way marriage has been regulated is at the state level. This has always been a state issue, and I think that's the way it ought to be handled today -- that is, on a state-by-state basis. Different states will make different decisions. But I don't have any problem with that. I think people ought to get a shot at that, and they do at present.

But this is not new. As I wrote at the time, Cheney said almost exactly the same thing in 2004 -- on the eve of the Republican convention, no less -- despite the fact that opposition to gay marriage was a key plank of the party's platform. For a long time, this was the only issue Cheney publicly differed with former president George W. Bush.

Cheney also repeated his tired, unsubstantiated defenses of torture, his strawman arguments and his rewriting of history. Here's another video clip.

Thomas M. DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney reiterated his praise for waterboarding Al Qaeda terrorists on Monday, calling it a "well done" technique that gathered valuable information from unusually bad guys.
"I'm a strong believer in it," Cheney told a National Press Club audience. "I thought it was well done."...
Cheney said the controversial policy of simulating drowning grew out of a CIA request for guidance on "what can you do that's appropriate and what you can do that's not appropriate."

Mark Silva blogs for Tribune:

Asked about the relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, Cheney said this: "The prime source of information on the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda was George Tenet," former CIA director. "There was a relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq that stretched back 10 years. That's not something I made up....That's something the director of the CIA was telling us....
"If I had it to do all over again, I would do exactly the same thing," he said. "I don't have much tolerance or patience for those who have the benefit of hindsight eight years later and have forgotten what happened on 9/11....Just imagine, what would happen if you had 19 men in one of our cities...armed with a nuclear weapon or (a biological weapon.)"

James Rowley and Jonathan D. Salant see news in Cheney finally disavowing intelligence he once cited to suggest that Hussein collaborated with al-Qaeda to stage the Sept. 11 attacks.

Cheney said today that information by the Central Intelligence Agency of collaboration between Iraq and al-Qaeda on Sept. 11 "turned out not to be true." Still, Cheney said a longstanding relationship existed between Hussein and terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, that justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Later in the day, when Cheney and daughter Liz were interviewed on Fox News by Greta Van Susteren, the most secretive vice president ever actually called for greater government transparency.

Cheney earlier this year asked the National Archives to declassify certain memos that he maintains document the "success" of torture and other extreme interrogation tactics. The request was denied on the grounds that the memos are the subject of ongoing FOIA litigation.

Cheney is absolutely right to suggest that's a ridiculous reason. But beyond that, he's just making stuff up.

Cheney: That's the claim by the agency. The fact is, the president's the ultimate authority on classification and declassification. He can declassify those things at the stroke of a pen. It's totally within his prerogative to do so, and he, in fact, had to do that when he released the legal memos earlier. I'm sure those were subject to the same kind of limitation, that they were a part of ongoing litigation. But he could with the stroke of a pen declassify what I'm asking for tonight.
Van Susteren: And the down side of him doing that, from his perspective, is what?
Cheney: I don't know. I obviously haven't talked to him about it. I think it would be valuable information to have out there as part of the ongoing debate and dialogue about interrogation techniques. I think it would add a lot. And I think sooner or later, it will come out. I don't know why they're so reluctant to produce them.

But in reality, those memos aren't going to prove anything. I've explained why at length -- see, for instance, my April 21 post, Call Cheney's Bluff. But in addition, just last week, as Ed Hornick wrote for CNN, Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he had seen the memos and that Cheney's claims are wrong.

The Michigan Democrat told [the Foreign Policy Association's annual dinner in New York on Wednesday] that the two CIA documents that Cheney wants released "say nothing about numbers of lives saved, nor do the documents connect acquisition of valuable intelligence to the use of abusive techniques."
"I hope that the documents are declassified, so that people can judge for themselves what is fact, and what is fiction," he added.

Finally, Reid Wilson writes for the Hill:

Cheney confused the president of the United States with the world's most-wanted terrorist in a speech on Monday.
Speaking at the National Press Club, Cheney answered a question as to why his administration had not caught Osama bin Laden. But in a faux pas certain to end up on cable news networks and late-night talk shows, Cheney transposed bin Laden's name with that of the current president.
"I believe he's still out there someplace," Cheney said of bin Laden. "I'm sure the current administration will continue to search for him. He's an important figure, obviously. We would have loved to have captured on our watch. We didn't. I'm sure the Obama people feel the same way.
"The important thing is that I don't think he can have much impact in terms of managing an organization, because that link between Obama [sic] and the people under him is pretty fragile. I don't think he has the capacity to do as much harm as he did at one point, but we ought to still continue to chase him."

Wilson also notes Cheney's extraordinary understatement of the day:

Despite a newly nuclear North Korea and a regime in Iran that continues to build its nuclear processing capabilities, Cheney defended the Bush administration's record in making the world safer. He pointed to the end of a network of nuclear technology proliferation run by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, but he admitted the administration wasn't perfect.
"We didn't bat 1.000, no question about it," Cheney said.
Late Night Humor

By Dan Froomkin
9:51 AM ET, 06/ 2/2009

Stephen Colbert on Obama's Sotomayor nomination: "There wasn't a single white male on his shortlist. That sends a terrible message to all the little white boys out there who dream of one day having their judicial reputations destroyed by the media."

And Colbert explains the term "reverse racist": "We call it that, because it's the opposite of the way you're supposed to be a racist."

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Supreme Court Press
colbertnation.com


Jon Stewart reports on how the Obamas spend a fairy tale evening in New York, but not everybody was charmed. Includes another great Fox News montage.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Saturday Night Fever
thedailyshow.com


And, via U.S. News, Craig Ferguson: "Dick Cheney said today, he supports gay marriage....I think he only supports gay marriage because he sees marriage as a form of torture, but anyway, he supports it."

Cartoon Watch

By Dan Froomkin
9:46 AM ET, 06/ 2/2009

Jim Morin on the new GM, Kevin Siers on another occupation, Dan Wasserman on Obama's next repair job, Rex Babin on GM's new hood ornament, Tom Toles on the Sotomayor strawmen, Matt Wuerker on the race factor, Steve Sack's Gitmo solution, Jim Morin on Cheney's legacy, and KAL on Obama's 3 a.m. phone calls.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company