Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Ain't it the truth

And your point is?

EJ Dionne has a very valid point about the next fiscal atrocity that is about to pass through Congress. And it is often overlooked in the multiple atrocity format of Our Dear Embattled Leader's maladministration.
But there is an uncomfortable bit of business left over from the Republican disaster year of 2005 that will test the seriousness of the party's supposed commitment to change. The cut-the-poor, help-the-big-interests federal budget passed last year needs final ratification in the House. The vote could take place as soon as tomorrow.

Let's be clear: Anyone who votes for this fiscal mess will be standing for the bad old ways of doing business in Washington. Those who do so will have no claim to being "reformers."
Not that Republicans have reformed anything in the last 100 years.

Feingold states the obvious to Gonzales

Whisc is that Abu Gonzales lied to the Senate during his confirmation hearings. We suspect ol' Abu will say he had to protect "a vital secret program". The plain fact is that there was no way he could tell the truth and achieve his evil purpose.
In a letter to the attorney general yesterday, Feingold demanded to know why Gonzales dismissed the senator's question about warrantless eavesdropping as a "hypothetical situation" during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January 2005. At the hearing, Feingold asked Gonzales where the president's authority ends and whether Gonzales believed the president could, for example, act in contravention of existing criminal laws and spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant.

Gonzales said that it was impossible to answer such a hypothetical question but that it was "not the policy or the agenda of this president" to authorize actions that conflict with existing law. He added that he would hope to alert Congress if the president ever chose to authorize warrantless surveillance, according to a transcript of the hearing.

In fact, the president did secretly authorize the National Security Agency to begin warrantless monitoring of calls and e-mails between the United States and other nations soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The program, publicly revealed in media reports last month, was unknown to Feingold and his staff at the time Feingold questioned Gonzales, according to a staff member. Feingold's aides developed the 2005 questions based on privacy advocates' concerns about broad interpretations of executive power.
Nope, no way to not tell a lie if he wanted to be AG.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Tom Toles today

Now we know why Medicare Part D won't break the bank.

As reported by the NY Times, there wont be anyone left to use it.
"In response to the new premiums, some beneficiaries would not apply for Medicaid, would leave the program or would become ineligible due to nonpayment," the Congressional Budget Office said in its report, completed Friday night. "C.B.O. estimates that about 45,000 enrollees would lose coverage in fiscal year 2010 and that 65,000 would lose coverage in fiscal year 2015 because of the imposition of premiums. About 60 percent of those losing coverage would be children."

The budget office predicted that 13 million low-income people, about a fifth of Medicaid recipients, would face new or higher co-payments for medical services like doctor's visits and hospital care.

It said that by 2010 about 13 million low-income people would have to pay more for prescription drugs, and that this number would rise to 20 million by 2015.

"About one-third of those affected would be children, and almost half would be individuals with income below the poverty level," the report said in addressing co-payments for prescription drugs.
And the kicker.
About 80 percent of the savings from higher cost-sharing would be due to decreased use of services.
Imagine, a Potters Field as big as Forest Lawn.

Digging a hole under our own feet

Two items in the NY Times today illustrate the dire financial position Our Dear Embattled Leader's wildly radical economic policies have put our country. The first is an article on the achievement of a negative savings rate, something not seen since the Great Depression.
A negative savings rate means that Americans spent all their disposable income, the amount left over after paying taxes, and dipped into their past savings to finance their purchases. For the month, the savings rate fell to 0.7 percent, the largest one-month decline since a 3.4 percent drop in August.

The 0.5 percent negative savings rate for 2005 followed a 1.8 percent rate of savings in 2004. The last negative rates occurred in 1932, a drop of 0.9 percent, and a record 1.5 percent decline in 1933. In those years Americans exhausted their savings to try to meet expenses in the wake of the worst economic crisis in U.S. history.
And if you didn't dip into your savings, you were borrowing. Debt is fine if you don't have the money now but have a reasonable expectation of getting it later. Debt is bad if you use it to support a lifestyle that your income can not now and will not later support. And that is the subject of an editorial today on Our Dear Embattled Leader's favorite way to support his Glorious Little War and other fiscal idiocies.
Though we don't know the final figures, we do know that the United States set a record for foreign debt in 2005. Through November, last year's trade deficit had already exceeded the deficit posted for all of 2004, itself a record.

The trade gap is financed by foreign lenders, mainly central banks in Asia and offshore hedge funds. Ditto most of the federal budget deficit, $319 billion last year. Because America has so far been spared the worst effects of overborrowing — a sharply falling dollar and spiking interest rates — the Bush administration sees no cause for alarm, suggesting instead that foreigners will be honored to keep lending us whatever we need, on our terms, whenever we need it.

But absent policy changes to curb its borrowing, America cannot escape the consequences of its debt indefinitely. The effects may be sudden or gradual, but either way, they mean a weaker economy than would otherwise be the case.

The dollar, which theoretically should have declined under the debt load in 2005, was buoyed last year by foreigners' willingness to park their cash in higher-yielding dollar-based assets while other developed economies sputtered. Investors were also drawn into dollars because of political setbacks in Europe, like the defeat of the European Constitution. And Congress helped to prop up the dollar by offering a one-time tax break that induced many American companies to convert their foreign earnings into hundreds of billions of dollars. But now Germany and Japan are rallying, the tax break has expired for most companies, and the dollar is facing new challenges: China, for instance, recently stated its intention to invest more of the dollars it earns in other currencies.

For the past few years, the United States' economy has overcome the drag of big deficits, mainly because the housing boom let Americans borrow and spend, despite stagnating wages. But the boom appears to be moderating, a slowdown that will only worsen if America's foreign indebtedness leads to sustained downward pressure on the dollar and upward pressure on interest rates.

Deeply in debt, individual Americans can't be expected to keep borrowing and spending. And government, also deeply in the red, won't be able to help much. Yet despite an estimated budget deficit of $400 billion this year, further tax cuts still top the Republican agenda.
When the crunch comes, we won't even be able to mortgage our children, It's already been done.

What does a Princeton professor know about journalismating?

A lot, if the latest NY Times column from Paul Krugman is any indication. In it, the redoubtable professor takes aim at the "balanced" reporting crowd. Using the Republican Abramoff scandal, he makes it clear that their efforts at "balance" are actually distorting the reality they purport to report. And then he asks and answers a question that should be vitally important to Americans and democracy.
Why does the insistence of some journalists on calling this one-party scandal bipartisan matter? For one thing, the public is led to believe that the Abramoff affair is just Washington business as usual, which it isn't. The scale of the scandals now coming to light, of which the Abramoff affair is just a part, dwarfs anything in living memory.

More important, this kind of misreporting makes the public feel helpless. Voters who are told, falsely, that both parties were drawn into Mr. Abramoff's web are likely to become passive and shrug their shoulders instead of demanding reform.

So the reluctance of some journalists to report facts that, in this case, happen to have an anti-Republican agenda is a serious matter. It's not a stretch to say that these journalists are acting as enablers for the rampant corruption that has emerged in Washington over the last decade.
Something they don't seem to be teaching in journalism school.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

What is Bush Hiding?

With this title, Larry Johnson, formerly of the CIA, delves into the hows and whys of Our Dear Embattled Leader's illegal spying on Americans.
I suppose the average American, one who has never held a security clearance or handled NSA intelligence, is inclined to cut George W. Bush some slack. Only a crazy person would argue that Al Qaeda terrorists have a right of privacy in the United States. But that, my friends, is a canard. The issue is not about giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Instead, does this President, hell, any President, have the right to unilaterally decide what does and does not constitute a threat to national security? We are a Republic founded on the principle that the power of the Federal Government is limited. It does not matter if George W. Bush is sincere or his intentions benign. What matters is whether he has chosen to ignore the Fourth Amendment because he, and he alone, has decided that the end justifies the means.

As one who has had access to NSA material, I am completely puzzled by the refusal of the Bush Administration to seek FISA approval for what amounts to roving wiretaps.
If folks like Larry Johnson, who know what they are doing, don't like ODEL's illegal spying, then we all should be up in arms against this evil.

Good golly Miss Molly!

You do know how to turn a phrase. She begins with a question that is on the minds of a thinking Americans.
Several great minds were asked to help think up interview questions for George W. Bush. I liked, "Are you the worst president since James Buchanan, or have you never heard of him?"

Sorry about the snarkiness quotient, but is there anything these folks can't screw up -- and then refuse to own up to?
And then she answers her own question. And you probably know what she says but go read it anyway. She is a wonderful writer.

This is why he is still in Congress

Henry Waxman (D-CA) gave the Democrats response to Our Dear Embattled Leader's radio flatulence yesterday. Thanks to the good people at First Draft, I can bring you the transcript. Short, clear and to the point.
Good morning.

I'm Congressman Henry Waxman of California, the senior Democrat on the Government Reform Committee. I want to talk to you today about the new Medicare prescription drug benefit that went into effect on January 1st.

That should have been a day when seniors and persons with disabilities received simple and certain Medicare coverage for their drugs. Their Medicare card should have been the only proof of eligibility they needed. But instead, they are facing enormous disruptions. Seniors are being denied medications. Their Medicaid drug coverage was abruptly terminated. And a blizzard of red tape has engulfed seniors, pharmacists, and doctors alike.

The new program is incredibly complicated, and many of our most vulnerable seniors are falling through the cracks. Particularly tragic is the situation of people in nursing homes, people with Alzheimer's, people with mental illness - all being asked to cope with a system that they can't possibly understand.

Medicare was born 40 years ago. In many ways, the start-up challenges then were more daunting than we face today. The Johnson Administration had to launch the entire Medicare health insurance system from scratch. And it had to do all this without vast computerized databases and instant electronic communications.

But 40 years ago, seniors experienced none of the chaos that they are experiencing today. What went wrong this time that went right 40 years ago? A large part of the problem is the legislation that the Republican Congress passed in 2003. Instead of using Medicare, which seniors and persons with disabilities have relied on for years, the program was turned over to hundreds of private insurers who can charge what they want, cover what drugs they want, and change what they cover at will.

Instead of the certainty of Medicare coverage, seniors are now faced with a confusing array of choices, inaccurate information, and sometimes even higher costs. They are even threatened with penalties if they don't sign up at all.

And instead of Medicare negotiating low drug prices for our seniors, insurance companies are making their own secret deals with drug companies.

Why did this happen? I've been in Congress for over 30 years, and I have never seen a more dishonest legislative process than the one used to pass the Medicare prescription drug bill. Negotiations were behind closed doors. Lobbyists knew more about what was happening than most Members of Congress did. Key estimates about the bill's cost were illegally withheld from Democrats. And both the Administration's point man on the legislation and one of the lead Republican authors in Congress were negotiating - at the same time - high-paying jobs representing the pharmaceutical industry.

Given this record, it's not surprising that the interests of the drug companies and the health insurers who gave millions of dollars to Republican members of Congress came first - and seniors last. Corruption, incompetence, and an ideology that favors private profits over public programs all played a role.

An astounding study came out last week. It showed that if American seniors had access to the lower drug prices offered in Canada, seniors could save more money than they can under the new Medicare drug benefit. Of course, seniors and persons with disabilities should have Medicare drug coverage. But they should get low prices too. That would be a better deal for them - and for taxpayers.

We need to go back to basics. Put prescription drug coverage in regular Medicare. Make the choice simple. Make the benefit understandable. Use the purchasing power of all of America's seniors to get low prices and better coverage.

On this issue, America's seniors - and America's taxpayers - deserve honesty, simplicity, and a fair deal.

I'm Congressman Henry Waxman. Thank you for listening.
Remember what he said when you try to figure out your parents coverage, if they have any.

Winning and losing - inside the White House

Newsweek has a long and detailed look at the insiders struggle to save the Constitution from the evil minions of Big Dick, who is at one point referred to as "Prime Minister Cheney". It is chock full of details, to many to quote, but worth the time to read and understand. Sadly, the good guys lose in the end.

Another audit, more millions missing

From the AP:
A U.S. government audit found American-led occupation authorities squandered tens of millions of dollars that were supposed to be used to rebuild Iraq through undocumented spending and outright fraud.
A partial listing of what the audit found includes:
Negligence proved deadly in at least one case. Three Iraqis plummeted to their deaths in an elevator in the Hillah General Hospital that was certified to have been replaced by a contractor who received $662,800.

Also in Hillah, occupation officials spent $108,140 to replace pumps and fix the city's Olympic swimming pool. But the contractor merely polished the old plumbing to make it look new and collected his money.

When the pool was filled, the water came out a murky brown and the pool's reopening had to be canceled. The reports did not identify the contractors involved....

....Two occupation authority field agents responsible for paying contractors left Iraq without accounting for more than $700,000 each. When auditors confronted their manager and asked where the money was, the manger tried to clear one of the agents through false paperwork....

...._Only a quarter of $23 million entrusted to civilian and military project and contracting officers to pay contractors ever found its way to those contractors.

_One contractor was paid $14,000 on four separate occasions for the same job.

_Of $7.3 million spent on a police academy near Hillah, auditors could account for just $4 million. They said $1.3 million was wasted on overpriced or duplicate construction or equipment not delivered. More than $2 million was missing.

_U.S. personnel "needlessly disbursed more than $1.8 million" of the estimated $2.3 million spent for renovating the library in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.

_The library contractor delivered only 18 of 68 personal computers called for and did not install Internet wiring or software. The computers worked only as stand-alones.

_The U.S.-led security transition command spent $945,000 for seven armored Mercedes-Benzes that were too lightly armored for Iraq. Auditors were able to account for only six of the cars.
And this was just in the quiet part of the country. No doubt there will be more to follow.

Bob Schorr on the mark.

Tom Toles today

When you replace men with machines.

The LA Times put together an analysis of the current 'Targeted killing' program run by the CIA. You get to replace the larger bang of the Hellfire missile, but lose the accuracy and efficiency of the trained assasin. What you gain in effective killing, you lose in effective targeting, which can be pretty hard on the neighbors. And you lose the protective cover of deniability. Still, as we become a nation of gamers, this is the ultimate game. And you don't have to give up your Cheetos.

Everybody loves pictures

And the AP today lists the Republicans who have begun to call for the release of Our Dear Embattled Leader's collection of Casino Jack snaps.
Republican lawmakers said Sunday that President Bush should publicly disclose White House contacts with Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who has pleaded guilty to felony charges in an influence-peddling case.
And ODEL has responded with his current variation of "ongoing investigation".
The president has refused to reveal how much access Abramoff had to the White House, but has said he does not know Abramoff personally. Bush has said federal prosecutors are welcome to see the records of Abramoff's contacts if they suspect something inappropriate, but he has not released them publicly....

....Bush said he had his picture taken with Abramoff an unknown number of times, but he said he doesn't remember taking them and the two never sat down and had a discussion. Bush said he has had his photo taken with thousands of people, but that doesn't mean he knows them well.
Let's see, Jack was a member of the transition team, major dealmaker and fundraiser, Bush Pioneer and ODEL, who is politically blessed with a keen memory for faces and names, doesn't remember Jack. Must be the long term damage from the coke and booze kicking in.

Spies, Lies and Wiretaps

Under that headline the NY Times has an editorial that shreds the peurile excuses that Our Dear Embattled Leader and his minions offer up in defense of his illegal spying on Americans. It begins with this:
A bit over a week ago, President Bush and his men promised to provide the legal, constitutional and moral justifications for the sort of warrantless spying on Americans that has been illegal for nearly 30 years. Instead, we got the familiar mix of political spin, clumsy historical misinformation, contemptuous dismissals of civil liberties concerns, cynical attempts to paint dissents as anti-American and pro-terrorist, and a couple of big, dangerous lies.

The first was that the domestic spying program is carefully aimed only at people who are actively working with Al Qaeda, when actually it has violated the rights of countless innocent Americans. And the second was that the Bush team could have prevented the 9/11 attacks if only they had thought of eavesdropping without a warrant.
And ends this way:
The Senate Judiciary Committee is about to start hearings on the domestic spying. Congress has failed, tragically, on several occasions in the last five years to rein in Mr. Bush and restore the checks and balances that are the genius of American constitutional democracy. It is critical that it not betray the public once again on this score.
And in between it rips apart each feeble excuse in detail.

Read it and send it to everyone you know.

Boehners boner is highlighted

In the Wapo today, we get the details of Rep. Boehners amours de lobby. Until now he was quite discreet with his peccadillos.
Two controversial industries -- for-profit colleges and trade schools, and private student lenders -- have been the major sources of financing for Rep. John A. Boehner's bid to become House majority leader. Boehner has been an outspoken advocate for each interest, and has used his chairmanship to push legislation that would boost profits by millions of dollars....

....The largest single source of money from the for-profits, $17,500, was given by corporate officers and senior employees of California-based Corinthian Colleges Inc., a for-profit educational firm which disclosed eight weeks ago that the Florida attorney general is investigating a Florida subsidiary.

Boehner has sponsored legislation strongly supported by private student lenders to restrict the ability of the U.S. Department of Education to make government student loans less expensive by cutting fees. Student loans constitute a multibillion-dollar market in which the nonprofit government and for-profit private lenders compete.

During the current congressional session, Boehner's committee endorsed his legislation to allow the for-profit colleges and trade schools to gain millions of dollars in federal subsidies.
He certainly seems a worthy successor to Toxic Tommy Delay.

Ted Koppel gives his State of the News Address

And, filling in for Frank Rich this week, he has the reason why TV news has gone bad
With the advent of cable, satellite and broadband technology, today's marketplace has become so overcrowded that network news divisions are increasingly vulnerable to the dictatorship of the demographic. Now, every division of every network is expected to make a profit. And so we have entered the age of boutique journalism. The goal for the traditional broadcast networks now is to identify those segments of the audience considered most desirable by the advertising community and then to cater to them.

Most television news programs are therefore designed to satisfy the perceived appetites of our audiences. That may be not only acceptable but unavoidable in entertainment; in news, however, it is the journalists who should be telling their viewers what is important, not the other way around.

Indeed, in television news these days, the programs are being shaped to attract, most particularly, 18-to-34-year-old viewers. They, in turn, are presumed to be partly brain-dead — though not so insensible as to be unmoved by the blandishments of sponsors.
Personally I think the "partly brain-dead" is an overestimation of their sentience. I do find sympathy with another point he makes, that the current state of the news is less a part of the VRW conspiracy and more a tool grasped the cleverer monkeys.Can anybody deny that Wolf and Sean and The Loofah King are truly great tools?

I post, you decide.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

If you are busy next Tuesday night

And won't be able to watch the STate of the Realm address from Our Dear Embattled Leader, Robert Kuttner from American Progress has put forth a series of points that ODEL will proably touch on along with a thumbnail explanation. If you are watching, it will help you follow along with our favorite stumblebum.
Mission Accomplished? On Iraq, look for rhetoric of steady resolve, coupled with promises to limit American exposure. Bush could offer a partial reduction of US combat troops during 2006 (in time for the mid-term election) -- but without any realistic prospect of a stable Iraqi government to fill the vacuum. One idea: a ''garrison strategy" of keeping most US forces safely inside bases. This might cut American combat losses, but cede the countryside to guerrilla fighters and anarchy.

The Boy Who Cried Nukes. On Iran, watch for stern saber-rattling without a realistic plan to contain Iran's alarming nuclear ambitions. As former senior national security official Flynt Leverett wrote in a brilliant New York Times piece last week, it's clear that Bush targeted the wrong member of the ''axis of evil" (Iraq) and the wrong strategy to contain it. In 2002-03, the Iranians, then under more moderate leadership, wanted to constructively engage with the United States to resolve differences. Bush blew them off and focused obsessively on Iraq, which turned out not to have nuclear capabilities. The Iranians, who really do have the ability to build nukes, then elected a truly dangerous radical who is expanding his nation's nuclear program. Having bogged down in Iraq, Bush has neither the forces nor the strategy to deal with a real menace partly of his own making in Iran.

Last Refuge of a Scoundrel. Bush will demand that Congress extend the so-called USA Patriot Act, even though he insists that he doesn't need it in order to spy on Americans and conduct searches without warrants. Which is it, Mr. President? Bad law, or bad lawlessness?

Kinder, Gentler, More Deceptive. Expect purely symbolic election-year feints reverting to the rhetoric of the uniter-Bush of 2000, coupled with coded boasting to the Republican base, say, on abortion and the Supreme Court.

Hazardous to Your Health. Very likely: more bad policy ideas that are mainly subsidies to special interests. One really awful proposal likely to be touted is Medical Savings Accounts. With more people losing decent employer-provided insurance, Bush would cut people loose and offer tax incentives to put money into special savings accounts to pay for ''high-deductible" individual policies. These are highly lucrative for the insurance industry, onerous for moderate-income families and people with expensive medical conditions, and the least cost-effective way to provide insurance. If you like the Bush drug plan, you'll love this.

Bragging Rights on Jobs? Bush will emphasize the number of jobs that have been created -- about 2 million in five years (compared with 2 million a year in the 1990s.) He will not emphasize the fact that the median worker has had no net income growth. Real median income fell 1.3 percent last year,

Aliens at our Gates. Having had five years to deal with rising levels of illegal immigration, Bush will flag this as a newly discovered menace. However, he is whipsawed between heartland Republicans who want much tougher policies including a border wall, better ID, and penalties for employers of illegals -- and a corporate community that just loves low-wage, low-benefit, low-rights ''guest-workers."

Lots More Red Ink. Many of Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire in 2010. The latest Congressional Budget Office report projects that if Bush's tax cuts are permitted to expire, the budget will return to surplus but if they are extended the deficit will stay in excess of $340 billion a year. Bush wants to make the tax cuts permanent and add new ones. One high priority for the right: complete elimination of the estate tax, which already has been cut to the point where less than 1 percent of estates pay any tax. Cost to the Treasury of total elimination: $745 billion over a decade. This is enough money to restore all cuts in federal aid to education and to extend Head-Start to all families who qualify.
And don't forget, each stupid little grin after he manages to get a sentence out is an indicator of a lie. Count them up but remember, no shots when he does if you have to drive afterwards.

Another Bushovik failure

And as you read the WaPo article, you will see that it is symtomatic of the gross incompetence of this administration.
The election outcome signals a dramatic failure in the administration's strategy for Middle East peace, according to analysts and some U.S. officials. Since the United States cannot deal with an organization labeled a terrorist organization by the State Department, Hamas's victory is likely to curtail U.S. aid, limit official U.S. contacts with the Palestinian government and stall efforts to create an independent Palestinian state.

More broadly, Hamas's victory is seen as a setback in the administration's campaign for greater democracy in the Middle East. Elections in Iran, Iraq, Egypt and now the Palestinian territories have resulted in the defeat of secular and moderate parties and the rise of Islamic parties hostile to U.S. interests.
My own opinion is that the victory by Hamas is not of itself a major defeat to peace in the region. The true failure will come if the major players do not see the as a kick in the stones to all concerned and do a major reassessmemt and realignment of how they operate and cooperate with each other.

Hamas can't complain about the Palestinian Authority anymore, they're it. This also means they can't go attacking Israelis any time they like because sovereign governments live by a different set of rules and everybody expects them to play by those rules. The Israelis will have to learn to stop killing Hamas folks any time or place they like because now they are part of a sovereign government. They need to find a way to suck it up and learn how to deal peacably with Hamas. And the US has to realize that this is the cusp of major change and put its efforts where they will do the most good, even if it plays badly on the Home Front.

We now have to wait and see who will make the first move, who will play Nixon to the others China? Or will they just go back to business as usual because killing is so much easier than thinking.

Our Dear Embattled Leader has found his calling

Susie over at Suburban Guerilla pointed me on the way to Dr. S and his discovery of ODEL's sole great achievement in his otherwise tragic 5 years.
The redistribution of America's wealth up the economic ladder is the only measure by which one can declare the Bush administration a success. It appears to be the primary consideration behind many of the administration's decisions because only through this prism do many of the administration's policies make sense. Why else would a government cut taxes for its wealthiest citizens while its troops are engaged in combat in two foreign lands? Why else would a government send its troops into battle without providing them with the basic equipment they need? Why else would a government address the exploding federal deficit its tax cuts helped create by increasing out-of-pocket fees and reduced benefits for Medicaid recipients, cutting child-support collection programs and squeezing student loan programs, all while supporting yet more tax cuts for the wealthy? Why else would a government respond to a natural disaster by suspending the Davis-Bacon Act, thereby allowing its contractors to pay workers less than the locally prevailing wage (a move it since reversed)? Why else would a government oppose increasing a minimum wage that hasn't been raised in nine years?

Because this administration is interested only in stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. And it shows: 37 million people in this country live below the poverty level -- 5 million more than four years ago, and a number that has not gone down since Bush took office. In 2004, CEOs saw their average total compensation boosted an average of nearly 12 percent, to more than $9.8 million, while the average nonsupervisory workers' pay increased just 2.2 percent, to $27,485.

Corporate income tax revenues in 2003 were 36 percent lower than in 2000, and represented only 1.2 percent of the GDP and only 7.4 percent of all federal tax receipts in 2003. The latter number is, with the exception of 1983, the lowest percentage on record.

Bizarro Robin Hood. We've finally found a job George Bush is good at.
A simple, clear presentation of what we all knew but couldn't say.

Always clean your blue dress after use.

The LA Times has an interesting look at how one of the lesser know lobbyists work in this Republican Congess.
It is not clear how a small-town real estate agent moved from selling bungalows in suburban eastern Pennsylvania to trading access and influence in the nation's capital.

But with a scandal looming over Congress since lobbyist Jack Abramoff agreed to cooperate in a federal influence peddling probe, congressional ties to lobbyists are coming under renewed scrutiny.

Grimes, 40, who calls herself a longtime family friend of Weldon's, represents firms from as far away as California with business involving one or both of Weldon's House committees. Her services typically command a $20,000 annual retainer.

Weldon has taken steps to help at least three lobby clients of Grimes and Young, records and interviews show. And the representative of another company said he was referred to Grimes by a Weldon aide who said Grimes would "help our cause."
I suppose an aide would know best who the congressmoop listens to, but condsider this from a company that was told this information.
A representative from another company that has lobbied Weldon's office said a senior Weldon aide suggested the firm retain Grimes. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his company from retribution.

"He didn't flat out say to hire her," the official said, recalling the aide's advice. "But he said … it would be good to have her on our side."

The company did not retain Grimes because "the situation didn't feel right," the firm's representative said.
He obviously forgot the Prime Rule. IOKIYAR. Others did not forget this and they have prospered.
Oto Melara announced plans to open a new plant in Weldon's district in 2004, around the time the congressman began pressing the Navy to buy the firm's deck guns to install on new combat ships. A rival's weapon already had been selected.

Last year, Weldon supported an amendment to the defense bill requiring the Navy to study his proposal to switch deck guns, putting weapons made by Grimes' client on the next-generation of Littoral Combat Ships.

Weldon also has championed Oto Melara's parent firm, Finmeccanica. Last year, Finmeccanica's helicopter unit joined forces with Lockheed Martin Corp. to score an upset bidding victory and land a $1.6-billion contract to build the new presidential helicopter....

....Mulligan said Grimes lobbied about a dozen members of Congress, including Weldon, to help secure a $3-million contract in 2005. The ceramic tools project was the firm's first successful bid for funding in a defense appropriations bill.

While Advanced Ceramics was paying Grimes to lobby for that project, Weldon went to bat for another of the firm's products, unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. The congressman twice invited Mulligan to appear before the House tactical air and land forces subcommittee, which Weldon chairs.

Weldon praised Mulligan publicly, congratulating him for his "outstanding testimony and outstanding products."

Advanced Ceramics has since won a combined $43.5 million in Navy contracts and congressional funding for its UAVs. About $5 million came from the Naval Air Systems Command, an agency overseen by Weldon's subcommittee.
It is all so neat.

Molly Ivins is a very smart woman.

In her column she puts forth the question that all journalists should be asking themselves. How should they report the various lies and distortions of the Bushoviks?
The question for journalists is how to report this. President Bush says it's a great idea and he's proud of the secret spy program? Attorney General Gonzales explains breaking the law is no problem? Dick Cheney says accept spying, or Osama bin Laden will get you?

Or might we actually have gotten far enough to point out that the series of high-profile security events is in fact part of a propaganda campaign by our own government? Should we report it as though it were in fact a campaign tactic, a straight political ploy: The Republicans say spying is good for you, but the Democrats say it is not -- equal time to both sides?

Perhaps we have some obligation to try to sift through what it means that our government is spying on us in violation of the law and the Constitution.
And in asking these questions she puts forth the perfect response to those who have no problem with illegal spying on Americans, not to mention torture, rendition and arrest of Americans without charge or counsel. And it really is devilishly simple.
Would you think this was a good idea if Hillary Clinton were president? Would you be defending the clear and unnecessary violation of the law? Do you have complete confidence that she would never misuse this "inherent power" for any partisan reason?
Yes, so simple. WHEN Hillary is President, she, too, will have access to all the powers Our Dear Embattled Leader is taking to himself. If you really think it is all OK then you won't mind when Hillary can use them too. With this easy answer, you can beat you Republican friends into an anti-Hillary frothing rage until they explode. Just the thought of it is a comfort to the soul.

Like pigs at a trough

Where you find one Republican rooting around, you will find others. SignOnSanDiego has more on the ever spreading discovery of Republican scandal, with Toxic Tommy Delay at the heart of the matter again.
Texas state prosecutors have intensified their probe into whether a Poway-based defense contractor helped funnel money to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's political action committee.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle – who has indicted DeLay and several close associates on charges that they illegally used corporate contributions – issued subpoenas to four men associated with PerfectWave, a company owned by Poway businessman Brent Wilkes, who has been identified as a co-conspirator in the bribery case of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

PerfectWave, which specializes in acoustical technology, won more than $40 million in federal contracts between 2003 and 2005, according to congressional budget reports. Meanwhile, it donated money to DeLay and other key Republicans overseeing the appropriations process in Congress, including Rep. Jerry Lewis of Redlands, who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and Rep. John T. Doolittle, a committee member who represents a district in the Sierra foothills near Sacramento.

The money was not requested by the Navy but was instead inserted by the Appropriations Committee as part of the closed-door congressional earmarking process.
Aha! The old Put-It-In-Quietly-We-Know-Someone-Who-Wants-It routine. A very old routine indeed, which Republicans have raised to a high art.

Mr Vidal present his views on Our Dear Embattled Leader

From the ever interesting Truthdig, Gore Vidal holds forth on the competence and integrity of the Bushoviks.
When the admirable Tiberius (he has had an undeserved bad press), upon becoming emperor, received a message from the Senate in which the conscript fathers assured him that whatever legislation he wanted would be automatically passed by them, he sent back word that this was outrageous. “Suppose the emperor is ill or mad or incompetent?” He returned their message. They sent it again. His response: “How eager you are to be slaves.” I often think of that wise emperor when I hear Republican members of Congress extolling the wisdom of Bush. Now that he has been caught illegally wiretapping fellow citizens he has taken to snarling about his powers as “a wartime president,” and so, in his own mind, he is above each and every law of the land. Oddly, no one in Congress has pointed out that he may well be a lunatic dreaming that he is another Lincoln but whatever he is or is not he is no wartime president. There is no war with any other nation...yet. There is no state called terror, an abstract noun like liar. Certainly his illegal unilateral ravaging of Iraq may well seem like a real war for those on both sides unlucky enough to be killed or wounded, but that does not make it a war any more than the appearance of having been elected twice to the presidency does not mean that in due course the people will demand an investigation of those two irregular processes. Although he has done a number of things that under the old republic might have got him impeached, our current system protects him: incumbency-for-life seats have made it possible for a Republican majority in the House not to do its duty and impeach him for his incompetence in handling, say, the natural disaster that befell Louisiana.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Now we know why they were so slow.

According to this article in the NY Times today, The White House and Our Dear Embattled Leader's response to Katrina was so inept because the White House was "beset by the "fog of war". Is that a new kind of vodka?
"We are left with a picture of a White House that was plagued by the fog of war," said David Marin, the Republican staff director to the House committee investigating the government's response to the hurricane. "The committee is likely to find a disturbing inability by the White House to de-conflict and analyze information — and that had consequences."

Trent Duffy, the deputy White House press secretary, who also attended the briefing, acknowledged that all levels of the government had suffered from a lack of clarity about the events as they developed.

"There was a lack of situational awareness at all levels," Mr. Duffy said in an interview on Friday.
To those who may be unaware of governmental jargon, "lack of situational awareness at all levels" means that they could not grab their own butts with both hands.

If you are going to be busy on Tuesday night

You can find a preview of the State of the Union Address by Our Dear Embattled Leader here.It is truly amazing what is floating around on the Internets.

Ann Coulter threatens a sitting federal judge

Which is a violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 115, anyone who "threatens to assault, kidnap, or murder . . . a United States judge . . . with intent to impede, intimidate, or interfere with" that judge's duties is guilty of a felony.
Coulter had told the Philander Smith College audience Thursday that more conservative justices were needed on the Supreme Court to change the current law on abortion.

Stevens is one of the court's most liberal members.

"We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," Coulter said.
Anyone wishing to may contact the US Marshall Service here or file an FBI crime tip here.

Nixon had to fire Elliot Richardson

Our Dear Embattled Leader just has to dangle a judgeship in front of his unwanted prosecutor. The NY Times has the details.
The investigation of Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican lobbyist, took a surprising new turn on Thursday when the Justice Department said the chief prosecutor in the inquiry would step down next week because he had been nominated to a federal judgeship by President Bush.

The prosecutor, Noel L. Hillman, is chief of the department's public integrity division, and the move ends his involvement in an inquiry that has reached into the administration as well as the top ranks of the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill.

The administration said that the appointment was routine and that it would not affect the investigation,
Yes, of course. Bribery has long been routine with the Republicans.

Americans can handle the truth.

It is just the wacko unAmerican fringe that has trouble with it, as this poll from the WaPo indicates:
A strong bipartisan majority of the public believes President Bush should disclose all contacts between disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and White House staffers despite administration claims that media requests for details about those contacts amount to a "fishing expedition," according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey found that three in four--76 percent--of all Americans said Bush should disclose contacts between aides and Abramoff while 18 percent disagreed. Two in three Republicans joined with eight in 10 Democrats and political independents in favoring disclosure, according to the poll....

......Questions about White House contact with Abramoff came as special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald continues an unrelated investigation to determine who leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative to reporters. That investigation already has produced charges against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby , former top aide to Vice President Cheney. Libby is accused of lying to FBI agents and a federal grand jury.

The twin scandals have done little to help the battered public image of the Bush White House and Congress. The new poll found that 56 percent of the public disapproved of the way that Bush is handling ethics in government, up 7 percentage points in the past five weeks. An equally large majority say the type of wrongdoing admitted by Abramoff is "widespread" in Washington.
The acid breath of scandal is eating at the shiny armor of the radical right's "White Knight".

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Art of Tom Toles

Quote of the Day

I, frankly, don't even remember having my picture taken with the guy. I don't know him.
Our Dear Embattled Leader responding to a question about his association with Casino Jack Abramoff.

There he goes again.

Our Dear Embattled Leader had a news conference today where he proclaimed his certainty that his illegal wiretapping was legal.
President Bush again defended his program of warrantless surveillance Thursday, saying "there's no doubt in my mind it is legal."
This from the man who had no doubts that Saddam had WMD. A man who thought that "Brownie" was doing "a heck of a job". A man who sees nothing wrong with tossing American citizens into prison without charges or legal counsel. A man who sends his minions afield to trumpet his illegal warrantless wiretaps and himself visits the NSA for a photo op and then says
"But it's important for people to understand that this program is so sensitive and so important that if information gets out to how we run it or how we operate it, it'll help the enemy," he said. "Why tell the enemy what we're doing?"

"We'll listen to ideas. But I want to make sure that people understand that if the attempt to write law makes this program -- is likely to expose the nature of the program, I'll resist it," he said.
Absofuckinglutely amazing! His illegal wiretaps have to stay illegal to keep them secret - from Americans, because the bad guys already know how it is done.

Bob Herbert gets the message out

In his column in the NY Times today, Bob Herbert presents an accurate rundown of Our Dear Embattled Leaders record in the White House. As usual, Bob is right on the mark.
Once again the president has, in effect, flipped the bird at Congress. He's amazing. Forget such fine points as the Constitution and the separation of powers. George W. Bush does what he wants to do. He won fewer votes than Al Gore in 2000 and then governed as if he'd been elected by acclamation. He dispensed with John Kerry in 2004 by portraying himself — a man who ran and hid from the draft during Vietnam — as more of a warrior than Mr. Kerry, a decorated combat veteran of that war.

Reality has been dealt a stunning blow by Mr. Bush. The administration's high-handedness with the Katrina investigators comes at the same time as disclosures showing that the White House was warned in the hours just before the hurricane hit New Orleans that it might well cause catastrophic flooding and the breaching of the city's levees.

That was early on the morning of last Aug. 29. On Sept. 1, with the city all but completely underwater, the president went on television and blithely declared, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

This guy is something. Remember his "Top Gun" moment aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln? And his famous taunt — "Bring 'em on" — to the insurgents in Iraq? His breathtaking arrogance is exceeded only by his incompetence. And that's the real problem. That's where you'll find the mind-boggling destructiveness of this regime, in its incompetence.

Fantasy may be in fashion. Reality may have been shoved into the shadows on Mr. Bush's watch. But the plain truth is that he is the worst president in memory, and one of the worst of all time. Many thousands of people — men, women and children — have died unnecessarily (and thousands more are suffering) because of his misguided and mishandled policies.
Read it all and tell your friends.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

MoDo gets on message

After a slow start, her column in the NY Times today picks up steam and delivers what this country needs to hear.
As the White House drives its truckload of lies around the country, it becomes ever clearer that Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Al Gore are just not the right people to respond to the administration's national security scare-a-thon.

We got mired in Iraq in the first place partly because Dick Cheney and Rummy thought that, post-Vietnam and post-Clinton, America was seen as soft. One shock-and-awe session, one tyrant stomped on, they reckoned, and the Arab world would no longer see Americans as wimps. That reasoning turned out to be dangerous, flying in the face of warnings from our own intelligence experts.

But Karl Rove is still dishing out the same line, and it's still working: those who want to re-evaluate the strategy in Iraq are soft. Those who want to rein in the Patriot Act are soft. Those who question the Alito doctrine of presidential absolutism are soft. Those who don't want to break the law and snoop on Americans are soft - not just soft, but practically collaborating with the terrorists.

"Republicans have a post-9/11 worldview" on national security, Mr. Rove said last week, "and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview. That doesn't make them unpatriotic, not at all. But it does make them wrong - deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong."

But you only need to check the paper daily to see that this administration has been deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong on everything: from the promise to rebuild Iraq and the consequences of deploying a strained Army this long in an insurgent war to the failure to respond to the aftermath of Katrina, after dissembling about pre-storm alarms.

The bumbling Bush team that ignored the warning "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States" also ignored one that went something like: "Katrina Determined to Attack New Orleans." And now the White House is trying to inhibit Congressional questions on Katrina, just as it did for the 9/11 inquiries.

The administration's p.r. offensive on warrantless - and questionably effective - snooping is so aggressive that it has even risked exposing the president to an occasional unscripted, but still not tough, question. So he rambles on about steering clear of "Brokeback Mountain" and the therapeutic value of mountain biking. And he calls Barney, the Scottish terrier, "the son I never had." (Barney's dad is all bark and no bite.)
There is more. And this is what every Democrat should be repeating as often and as loudly as possible.

Our Dear Embattled Leader wants to be known as Stonewall

Once again the White House is witholding vital information needed to find the flaws in our nations emergency response and prevent another failed disaster response.
The Bush administration, citing the confidentiality of executive branch communications, said Tuesday that it did not plan to turn over certain documents about Hurricane Katrina or make senior White House officials available for sworn testimony before two Congressional committees investigating the storm response....

....The White House's stance on storm-related documents, along with slow or incomplete responses by other agencies, threatens to undermine efforts to identify what went wrong, Democrats on the committees said Tuesday.
Having emptied the Treasury on Li'l Stonewalls Glorious War and tax cuts for corporations, he is also nickel and diming the recovery effort.
The White House this week also formally notified Representative Richard H. Baker, Republican of Louisiana, that it would not support his legislation creating a federally financed reconstruction program for the state that would bail out homeowners and mortgage lenders. Many Louisiana officials consider the bill crucial to recovery, but administration officials said the state would have to use community development money appropriated by Congress.
The Republicans want to be known as the stalwart protectors of "National Security" but as with the 9-11 Commission they refuse to provide important information needed to craft a better response because past efforts are a MAJOR embarassment to The Party of Incompetence. And their egos are more important than Our Country to these swine.

Quote of the Day

In his 2000 campaign, George Bush promised to bring 'dignity' to the White House, but we've since found that he brought Jack Abramoff instead,
Sen. Harry Reid D-NV

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Once you start lying, keep saying it loud and often.

Atty Gen Alberto "Electrodes" Gonzalez is out and about trying loudly to justify the commission of Our Dear Embattled Leader's crime.
In a speech at Georgetown University, Mr. Gonzales also said that it was crucial for the president to be able to act quickly using the professional judgment of intelligence experts to gather information on potential plots.

As President Bush had in a speech on Monday, Mr. Gonzales asserted that the wiretaps were not a domestic surveillance program. The wiretaps only involved calls or e-mail between someone in the United States and someone in a foreign country "when experienced intelligence experts have reason to believe that one party to the communication is a member of Al Qaeda or has an affiliation with it," Mr. Gonzales said.
We are supposed to believe an administration that has been lying since Day One. We are supposed to believe that an administration that has diplayed monumental incompetence in protecting the US, running a war and responding to a monumental disaster can do what they say they will.
At the same time, General Hayden acknowledged that some purely domestic communications might be accidentally intercepted. The New York Times reported last month that this appeared to have happened in a small number of cases because of the difficulties posed by globalized communications in determining whether a phone call or e-mail message was truly "international."
A small number would be the thousands of irrelevant leads the FBI has been chasing down? When you go fishing with a large net, there is no "small number".

Don't talk the talk if you can't walk the walk

Good advice for the Bushoviks when they are speaking to Iran. The AP has this report on the state of the Army, which would have to cover the check written by the Bushoviks loud mouths.
Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a "thin green line" that could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a study for the Pentagon.

Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who wrote the report under a Pentagon contract, concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency. He also suggested that the Pentagon's decision, announced in December, to begin reducing the force in Iraq this year was driven in part by a realization that the Army was overextended.

As evidence, Krepinevich points to the Army's 2005 recruiting slump - missing its recruiting goal for the first time since 1999 - and its decision to offer much bigger enlistment bonuses and other incentives.

"You really begin to wonder just how much stress and strain there is on the Army, how much longer it can continue," he said in an interview
And now Our Dear Embattled Leader, after haring off on his Glorious Little War in Iraq, is left without the means to back up all his tough talk. All his rhetoric designed to please his base at home has made the possibility of a serious solution to the concerns about Iran decidedly remote. Just like he did with North Korea. Mr Bluster has once again failed to make anyone safer, anywhere.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Quote of the Day

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
You tell me who said the quote today.

Our Dear Embattled Leader's standard of integrity.

Salon has a story of the lack of ethical integrity in one of ODEL's Circuit Court nominees.
A judge nominated by President Bush to one of the highest courts in the nation apparently violated federal law repeatedly while serving on the federal bench. Judge James H. Payne, 64, who was nominated by Bush in late September to join the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Denver, issued more than 100 orders in at least 18 cases that involved corporations in which he owned stock, a review of court and financial records shows.

Federal law and the official Code of Conduct for U.S. judges explicitly prohibit judges from sitting on cases involving companies in which they own stock -- no matter how small their holdings -- in order to uphold the integrity of the judicial system. (Judges' financial filings typically don't differentiate ownership between the judge and immediate family members.) The clear-cut, objective standard aims to prevent even the appearance that a judge may be taking into consideration his or her personal financial interests.

Payne's financial filings show holdings of up to $100,000 in SBC Communications stock, up to $50,000 in Wal-Mart stock and up to $15,000 in Pfizer stock, among others, while he presided over lawsuits involving the companies or their subsidiaries. In fact, it appears that since he was appointed by Bush in 2001 as a federal district judge in Oklahoma, Payne has been sitting inappropriately on at least one case at any given moment for nearly his entire federal judgeship.
The judge was never one to flip-flop.

Stop Alito

Fax your Senator now. Republicans too!

Our Dear Embattled Leader has an approval rating to match his IQ

The American Research Group has a poll that puts ODEL at 36% approval. Most of the questions were about the economy where the results were similar.

When you lie, make it a big one

Our Dear Embattled Leader has revealed his defense of his Glorious War on Americans. It is simplicity itself, the preznit says it is legal. And he points to his efforts to muddy the waters as proof of the legality.
President Bush today opened what amounts to a weeklong media blitz against criticism of the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping program, calling it a "terrorist surveillance program" that had saved lives.

Mr. Bush hotly denied charges that he had done anything illegal by authorizing the warrantless eavesdropping program. "If I wanted to break the law," he told an audience at Kansas State University, "why was I briefing Congress?"
Meanwhile one of his minions in command of the major front in this war was admitting, as ODEL has done elsewhere, that the plan is illegal.
The standard laid out by General Hayden - a "reasonable basis to believe" - is lower than "probable cause," the standard used by the special court created by Congress to handle surveillance involving foreign intelligence.
ODEL has also claimed that the Hamdi decision by the Supreme Court allows him to do as he pleases, even though they did not do so.
The Supreme Court agreed that Mr. Hamdi's capture was authorized by the Congressional resolution, but rejected the administration's more sweeping claims. Mr. Bush's point today was that in its ruling, the court had recognized that the resolution gave the president "additional authority."

"It means Congress gave me the authority to use necessary force to protect the American people, but it didn't prescribe the tactics," the president said.
So I guess this is a lot easier than finding some foreign halfwit to burn down the halls of Congress. Still, consider how much they have to stretch the truth to get where they want to be.
General Hayden defended the program's constitutionality. He said the lower, "reasonable belief" standard conformed to the wording of the Fourth Amendment, asserting that it does not mention probable cause, but instead forbids "unreasonable" searches and seizures.

"The constitutional standard is reasonable," he said. "I am convinced that we are lawful, because what it is we're doing is reasonable," he said.

The Fourth Amendment, however, reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Gee General, you forgot the part about warrants.

If you could get a rats dick to bend and stretch like that, he wouldn't have to run the maze to get laid.

The Man without the Plan

Paul Krugman of course is speaking about Our Dear Embattled Leader. And he is using the reconstruction efforts, or lack of them, in Iraq to make his point.
Another Los Angeles Times report on Iraq reconstruction contains some jaw-dropping quotes from U.S. officials, who now seem to be lecturing the Iraqis on self-reliance. "The world is a competitive place," declared the economics counselor at the U.S. embassy. "No pain, no gain," said another official. "We were never intending to rebuild Iraq," said a third. We came, we saw, we conquered, we messed up your infrastructure, we're outta here.

Mr. Shlash certainly sounds as if he's given up expecting more American help. "The American donation is almost finished," he said, "and it was not that effective." Yet he also emphasized the obvious: partly because of the similar failure of reconstruction in the oil sector, Iraq's government doesn't have the funds to do much power plant construction. In fact, it will be hard pressed to maintain the capacity it has, and protect that capacity from insurgent attacks.

And if reconstruction stalls, as seems inevitable, it's hard to see how anything else in Iraq can go right.

So what does it mean that the Bush administration is apparently walking away from responsibility for Iraq's reconstruction? It means that the administration doesn't have a plan; it's entirely focused on short-term political gain. Mr. Bush is just getting by from sound bite to sound bite, while Iraq and America sink ever deeper into the quagmire.
That is what happens when you let a boy loose in a mans world.

Protect the Fourth before you lose the First

Bob Herbert peaks to the unspoken damage done by Our Dear Embattled Leaders illegal spying on Americans. In his column today he puts forth the idea that if you know your government is listening, what you say will be carefully guarded.
"The more people grow accustomed to a listening environment in which the ear of Big Brother is assumed to be behind every wall, behind every e-mail, and invisibly present in every electronic communication, telephonic or otherwise - that is the kind of society, as people grow accustomed to it, in which you can end up being boiled to death without ever noticing that the water is getting hotter, degree by degree.

"The background assumptions of privacy will be gradually eroded to the point where we'll wake up one day, or our children will, and it will seem quaint that people at one time, long ago, thought that they could speak in candor."
Just like in the old Soviet Union.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Michael Moore has the goods on Chris "Tweety" Matthews

You can find more here.

From Bill Schorr

Jack and Georgie sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G

The photos of Casino Jack and Our Dear Embattled Leader are out there, first the Washingtonian admits to seeing five of them. Now Time magazine says they have seen them as well. Time also includes some details of the times and places, including this tidbit about one of the other peopl in one of the photos.
In one shot that TIME saw, Bush appears with Abramoff, several unidentified people and Raul Garza Sr., a Texan Abramoff represented who was then chairman of the Kickapoo Indians, which owned a casino in southern Texas....

....Garza--known in his native Kickapoo language as Makateonenodua, or black buffalo--is under federal indictment for allegedly embezzling more than $300,000 from his tribe.
As the old expression goes, you are known by the company you keep.

Bloomberg does their homework

Bloomberg has a story up detailing the money given by Jack Abramoff and his tribal clients (victims). What makes this article unusual for the MSM is that they did the research of publicly available records, crunched the numbers and put paid to the lie that Casino Jack was, as Our Dear Embattled Leader said, "an equal money dispenser".
Between 2001 and 2004, Abramoff gave more than $127,000 to Republican candidates and committees and nothing to Democrats, federal records show. At the same time, his Indian clients were the only ones among the top 10 tribal donors in the U.S. to donate more money to Republicans than Democrats.

Bush's comment about Abramoff in a Dec. 14 Fox News interview was aimed at countering Democratic accusations that Republicans have brought a ``culture of corruption'' to Washington. Even so, the numbers show that ``Abramoff's big connections were with the Republicans,'' said Larry Noble, the former top lawyer for the Federal Election Commission, who directs the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.

``It is somewhat unusual in that most lobbyists try to work with both Republicans and Democrats, but we're already seeing that Jack Abramoff doesn't seem to be a usual lobbyist,'' Noble said.
It is good to see the truth exposed to the light of day. Still, what is often missed in all the noise about contributions is the bribery and money laundering that enabled it. That story will come out someday. Until then read the whole story.

Life imitating Art

Take a cruise on over to Republicans...or the Mafia where the Blog Meisters make politics easier to understand by comparing the latest in Republican scandal with your favorite Mob movie.

Newsweek discovers more illegal spying on Americans

Rumsfeld tours Lithuania’s KGB Museum, a torture site during the Stalin era, in October 2005

Under the picture and caption above, Newsweek Online has a story by Michael Isikoff about the excesses of TALON. TALON belongs to the Counterintelligence Field Activity, a tool of the Defense Dept.
But that's not how the Pentagon saw it. To U.S. Army analysts at the top-secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), the peanut-butter protest was regarded as a potential threat to national security. Created three years ago by the Defense Department, CIFA's role is "force protection"—tracking threats and terrorist plots against military installations and personnel inside the United States. In May 2003, Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy Defense secretary, authorized a fact-gathering operation code-named TALON—short for Threat and Local Observation Notice—that would collect "raw information" about "suspicious incidents." The data would be fed to CIFA to help the Pentagon's "terrorism threat warning process," according to an internal Pentagon memo.

A Defense document shows that Army analysts wrote a report on the Halliburton protest and stored it in CIFA's database. It's not clear why the Pentagon considered the protest worthy of attention—although organizer Parkin had previously been arrested while demonstrating at ExxonMobil headquarters (the charges were dropped). But there are now questions about whether CIFA exceeded its authority and conducted unauthorized spying on innocent people and organizations. A Pentagon memo obtained by NEWSWEEK shows that the deputy Defense secretary now acknowledges that some TALON reports may have contained information on U.S. citizens and groups that never should have been retained. The number of reports with names of U.S. persons could be in the thousands, says a senior Pentagon official who asked not be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
No doubt the peanut butter was meant to gum up their mouths and make communication impossible. So the next time you go to the grocery store, watch out for suspicious people in the peanut butter aisle. But don't worry, the Guardians have you under observation.

And another thing. Was Rummy at the museum to get some fresh ideas for Abu and other locations?

One wounded soldier

In a companion piece to a story on one Marine's struggle to recover from his wounds, the NY Times has a companion piece about the family of a soldier who was not so fortunate.
On Dec. 26, 2004, Sgt. Gray, then 34, a member of the 133rd Engineer Battalion of the Maine Army National Guard, was driving in a convoy outside Mosul, Iraq, when a bomb blew up underneath his truck.

He has been in hospitals ever since. Blind and severely brain damaged, he cannot speak, move voluntarily or communicate. He is fed through a tube implanted in his stomach. Though he appears unaware of his surroundings, family members say they believe he hears their voices when they visit. But his medical records describe his condition as a "persistent neurovegetative state" from which he is unlikely to emerge.

"They don't think he has any chance for recovery," said Laurie Gray, 37, who drives an hour and half each way from her home in Penobscot to spend nearly every day at his bedside at the Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center here.

"I've accepted this is the way it could be, but I also haven't given up hope," Ms. Gray said. "You never know, there could be a miracle."

His parents say they too are praying for a miracle. "If you don't have hope, what do you have?" said his mother, Claudette.

Irony on the run

Newsweek titles a story on the re-emergence of TurdBlossom with this line:No Longer Lying Low. No indeedy, he is out there lying high and wide.

One good quote from the article.
Democrat Lowell Lebermann cited parallels between the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the Valerie Plame case: "They involved two pudgy people in the White House who couldn't keep their mouth shut."
It says that Turd blushed. Flushed with pride is more like it.

The Life and Good Times of Bob "Greasy Thumb" Ney

In the LA Times to day is a good summary of Bob Ney's long love affair with lobbyists. It seems he never met one he didn't like.
In his quarter-century as a state legislator and U.S. representative, Ney, 51, has demonstrated a talent for turning such political connections into opportunities for gifts, travel and other forms of personal gain, records and interviews show.

So far, Ney is the only member of Congress directly linked to allegations that Abramoff traded such gifts as the golf outing for legislative favors. He is identified simply as "Representative #1" in a Jan. 3 plea agreement between Abramoff and federal prosecutors.

Years before Ney came to Washington, however, he began accepting honorariums, in the form of personal checks, and travel from lobbyists and business interests when he served in the Ohio Legislature in the 1980s and '90s.

Two of his former legislative aides in Ohio became lobbyists and went to jail for bribery after Ney went to Washington.

On Capitol Hill, Ney has been tied to a string of favors from Abramoff, including the Scotland golf trip.

He also traveled to England as the guest of a convicted swindler and businessman seeking government trade concessions, reported winning $34,000 at a London casino he visited with the ex-con's business partner, and made a personal deal with another Washington lobbyist to buy her family houseboat.

At the same time, financial questions have swirled around Ney. He paid down more than $30,000 in credit card debts in the same year he reported his casino winnings. He has paid his wife and son about $125,000 out of his campaign funds.

And as was the case in his Ohio state legislator days, Ney's House office became a steppingstone for future lobbyists, who in turn helped fill his campaign coffers. One of those lobbyists went to work for Abramoff and is accused in the plea agreement of participating in Abramoff's schemes.
Life in the lobby has been good to Bob, until now.

What is success?

Sara Sewall has a thoughtful piece about how we define the endpoint in the sad disaster that is Li'l Georgies Glorious War.
YES, THE FUTURE of Iraq matters. But it's one thing for an outcome to be important, and an entirely different question whether we can obtain it -- let alone at a price Americans are willing to pay. The debate in Washington misses this distinction entirely, focusing instead on whether to adopt a timetable for our departure. This is the wrong way to frame the nation's options. Watching the clock is not an exit strategy. Nor is honest appraisal of a military campaign providing comfort to the enemy. The question is when we've done enough, which means confronting an enduring truth about counterinsurgencies: Intervening foreign powers can be handmaidens of victory, but they cannot win what is ultimately someone else's war.
What is this "victory" that Our Dear Embattled Leader courageously speaks of so often? Until someone defines it, we will continue to muddle through with some tactical success until events we can not control take the whole question out of our hands. And ODEL will cut and run and too many families will ask, what did they die for?

The Iraqi oil disaster

This Boston Globe piece on the vulnerability of the Iraqi oil industry is a model of the overall disaster, including huge cost overruns for Halliburton. Needless to say, Iraqi oil is not paying for Li'l Georgies Glorious War.
Three years after Bush administration officials predicted that oil revenues would fund the country's reconstruction, the industry is in turmoil. Attacks that knocked out pipelines in the north have combined with bad weather in the south to drive Iraq's oil exports last month to their lowest level since September 2003, in the aftermath of the US-led invasion.

The oil industry, which accounts for about 60 percent of Iraq's gross national product and more than 90 percent of government revenue, has been hit with nearly 300 major attacks since 2003, according to Iraq Pipeline Watch, an arm of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a Washington-based energy think tank. In July, Iraqi government officials estimated that the attacks had cost the fledgling government $11 billion in lost revenue.

In northern Iraq, where pipelines snake like rusty veins from the oil fields of Kirkuk, engineers and insurgents battle daily over pipelines that will determine the future of the country.

''Good guys fix it. Bad guys blow it up. That struggle continues almost every day," said Robert Maguire, a US embassy official in Baghdad who focuses on Iraq's oil sector.
But this has not stopped Halliburton and Big Dick from profiting from the troubles.
First, Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton Co., and two subcontractors were hired to dig a hole under the riverbed for the pipes, despite concerns that the gravel-like quality of the soil would make such work nearly impossible, according to a Washington-based US official and Randy Duncan, project manager for A&L Underground, the Kansas-based company eventually brought in to finish the job.

Indeed, it became an engineering nightmare that ran so over budget that the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction conducted an assessment that will be released later this month. A Kellogg Brown & Root spokesman said the soil problems could not have been anticipated and that the rising price of security increased the project cost.

Originally budgeted at $76 million, the US government ultimately paid Kellogg Brown & Root $88 million, but canceled the contract before it had been completed.
Such a pity, they couldn't finish the job. At least they got paid.

Defense contracting for fun and profit.

Tucked away in the business section, the NY Times has an interesting look at the world of defense contracting, in particular DHB Industries, which makes armored vests.
When the Iraq war began in early 2003, analysts say, the American military hadn't stocked up on body armor because the White House did not intend to send a large occupational force. The White House game plan called for lightning strikes led by lithe, technologically adept forces that would snare a quick victory. A light deployment of troops and a harmonious occupation were to follow, with the Pentagon anticipating relatively little hand-to-hand or house-to-house fighting. But as the breadth and duration of the Iraqi occupation grew, the war became a series of perilous, unpredictable street fights in Baghdad and other cities, leaving soldiers exposed to sniper fire and close-quarters combat - and in urgent need of hundreds of thousands of bulletproof vests.

In the world of military contractors, times like these - when a sudden, pressing need intersects with a limited number of suppliers - have all the makings of full-blown financial windfalls. For small vendors, the effect can be even more seismic than it is for their larger brethren, turning anonymous businesses into beehives of production and causing their sales to skyrocket. DHB Industries, based in Westbury, N.Y., whose Point Blank subsidiary in Pompano Beach, Fla., is a leading manufacturer of bulletproof vests, found itself occupying this lucrative turf when the military awarded it hundreds of millions of dollars in body armor contracts in 2003 and 2004.

With sales of just $340 million last year, DHB is a small fry amid giant military suppliers like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Halliburton. But DHB offers a case study of the complexities of military contracting - and of the riches and responsibilities that accompany it. DHB's dealings also offer a peek into the vagaries of internal controls and executive compensation that continue to challenge companies of all stripes, the individuals and institutions that invest in them, and a public that relies on them for goods and services.
If the name seems familiaer, it might be because it is run by this man.
Mr. Brooks, who, along with his wife and children, cashed in DHB stock worth about $186 million in late 2004, has also courted attention and controversy. In November, Mr. Brooks held a bat mitzvah party for his daughter atop Rockefeller Center in New York, which an article in The Daily News said had cost $10 million. Mr. Rubin characterized the figure as exaggerated. He declined to comment on other elements of the article, which said that Mr. Brooks had used his company's jet to fetch a clutch of rock and hip-hop stars, ranging from Don Henley to 50 Cent, to perform at the celebration; that he changed out of an all-leather, metal-studded suit into a hot-pink suede suit as the party heated up; and that he supplied guests with goody bags stuffed with $1,000 worth of merchandise.

The $186 million stock sale occurred four months before reports surfaced of possible problems with vests in Iraq, and reduced Mr. Brooks's stake in DHB to 15 percent from 48 percent in 2003. It also preceded DHB's announcement last fall that it would take a $60 million charge to reserve for a potential class-action settlement and replacement costs related to legal disputes surrounding vests the company had sold to police departments nationwide. Those events helped DHB's shares to plunge 76 percent last year, but a lawyer representing Mr. Brooks said that none of his client's stock sales were based on nonpublic information.
Of course not, CEO's never have nonpublic information. Not even when they are experienced at using such information.
Nonetheless, the Securities and Exchange Commission is currently investigating aspects of Mr. Brooks' compensation and other corporate transactions, according to the company's securities filings. Mr. Brooks and the company declined to comment on the investigation, as did the S.E.C.

This is not the first time that regulators have examined Mr. Brooks' activities. In 1992, the S.E.C. fined him heavily and barred him from the brokerage business for five years for improprieties related to an insider trading scandal. That aspect of Mr. Brooks' résumé appeared in the company's public filings until the late 1990's, and then disappeared.
It goes on to get worse. But then, war profiteering is never pretty.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Is anyone really listening?

Frank Rich this week details how the Republicans have developed truthiness to a high art. It is common knowledge to the denizens of blogtopia but will probably be news to the rest of the non Fox world.
This isn't just a slippery slope. It's a toboggan into chaos, or at least war. As everyone knows now - except for the 22 percent, according to a recent Harris poll, who still believe that Saddam helped plan 9/11 - it's the truthiness of all those imminent mushroom clouds that sold the invasion of Iraq. What's remarkable is how much fictionalization plays a role in almost every national debate. Even after a big humbug is exposed as blatantly as Professor Marvel in "The Wizard of Oz" - FEMA's heck of a job in New Orleans, for instance - we remain ready and eager to be duped by the next tall tale. It's as if the country is living in a permanent state of suspension of disbelief.

Democrats who go berserk at their every political defeat still don't understand this. They fault the public for not listening to their facts and arguments, as though facts and arguments would make a difference, even if the Democrats were coherent. It's the power of the story that always counts first, and the selling of it that comes second. Accuracy is optional. The Frey-like genius of the right is its ability to dissemble with a straight face while simultaneously mustering the slick media machinery and expertise to push the goods. It not only has the White House propaganda operation at its disposal, but also an intricate network of P.R. outfits and fake-news outlets that are far more effective than their often hapless liberal counterparts.
Even when you know it happens, it will make you gnash your teeth and tear out your hair.

John Conyers statement on Our Dear Embattled Leader's illegal spying.

There can be no doubt that today we are in a constitutional crisis that threatens the system of checks and balances that has preserved our fundamental freedoms for more than 200 years. There is no better illustration of that crisis than the fact that the president is openly violating our nation's laws by authorizing the NSA to engage in warrantless surveillance of US citizens.

The Bush Administration offers two arguments to justify their actions. First, they assert, that warrantless searches were authorized by the Afghanistan use of force resolution. Second, they say, the Constitution permits and even mandates such actions. To this member and indeed to most of our nation's legal community, neither argument is remotely plausible or credible.

As for the Administration's claim of statutory authority, a plain reading of the text of the resolution reveals that there is no reference whatsoever to domestic surveillance. Former Majority Leader Daschle told us that the resolution was narrowed from the Administration's initial request to avoid such construction, and the Attorney General went so far as to admit that they were told by Members of Congress that it would be "difficult if not impossible" to amend the law to authorize such a program. As Harvard Law Professor Larry Tribe wrote me, "to argue that one couldn't have gotten congressional authorization ... after arguing that ... one did get congressional authorization ... takes some nerve."

In terms of inherent constitutional authority, this too flies in the face of both common sense and legal precedent. If the Supreme Court didn't let President Truman use this authority to take over the steel mills during the Korean War in 1952, and wouldn't let President Bush use the authority to indefinitely hold enemy combatants in 2005, it is quite obvious the constitution doesn't allow warrantless wiretapping of US citizens today. As Justice O'Connor wrote, "a state of war is not a blank check."

Perhaps what is most troubling of all is that if we let this domestic spying program continue, if we let this president convince us that we are at war, so he can do what he wants, we will allow to stand the principle that the president alone can decide what laws apply to him. I submit that is not only inconsistent with the principles upon which our Republic was founded, it denigrates the very freedom we have been fighting for since the tragic events of September 11. That is why we are holding today's hearing.
This is from the Democrats unofficial hearing. Unofficial because Rep Sensenbrenner R-Lyingsackofshit, who has yet to meet a Constitution he doesn't want to piss on, has not finished arranging an official puffball lovefest for the administration.

Ken Mehlman calls for the ousting of half the Republicans in DC

A WaPo article on the latest effluvium from TurdBlossom included this from the Queen of the RNC.
Calling for the vigorous prosecution of any wrongdoing, Mehlman sought to insulate his party from the spreading scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the indictment of former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and the guilty plea of former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.). "If Republicans are guilty of illegal or inappropriate behavior," Mehlman said, "then they should pay the price and they should suffer the consequences."
If Ken were serious in what he says, we could begin with Turd and work though a majority of the Republican party before running out of targets.

One wounded Marine

The NY Times has a detailed feature article about the recovery of one Marine who suffered horrendous injuries in Iraq. This is the price of Li'l Georgies Glorious War.
It has taken hundreds of hours of therapy, but Jason Poole, a 23-year old Marine corporal, has learned all over again to speak and to walk. At times, though, words still elude him. He can read barely 16 words a minute. His memory can be fickle, his thinking delayed. Injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq, he is blind in his left eye, deaf in his left ear, weak on his right side and still getting used to his new face, which was rebuilt with skin and bone grafts and 75 to 100 titanium screws and plates.

Even so, those who know Corporal Poole, say his personality - gregarious, kind and funny - has remained intact. Wounded on patrol near the Syrian border on June 30, 2004, he considers himself lucky to be alive. So do his doctors. "Basically I want to get my life back," he said. "I'm really trying."

But he knows the life ahead of him is unlikely to match the one he had planned, in which he was going to attend college and become a teacher, get married and have children. Now, he hopes to volunteer in a school. His girlfriend from before he went to war is now just a friend. Before he left, they had agreed they might talk about getting married when he got back.

"But I didn't come back," he said.
I have to include one more piece of information before you go and read the whole thing.
His unit was among the first to invade Iraq. He was on his third tour of duty there just 10 days from coming home and leaving the Marines, when he was wounded in the explosion.

Ohio utility fined for nuclear lapse.

First Energy, noted Republican corporate donor and the folks who brought you the most recent Northeast blackout, has been fined $28 million for lying and covering up the failing condition of one of its nuclear reactors. As reported in the Toledo Blade:
FirstEnergy Corp.’s nuclear subsidiary will pay a record $28 million fine to avoid being criminally prosecuted for lying to the government about the dangerous condition of Davis-Besse’s old reactor head, U.S. Attorney Greg White said here yesterday.

The subsidiary, FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co., gets 60 days to pay that amount. It must cooperate with the government in the prosecution of three former Davis-Besse employees who have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of making false statements to a federal agency.

The $28 million fine is in addition to a $5.45 million civil penalty from April, 2005, which the company already has paid.

The latter had been the largest fine ever imposed in U.S. nuclear history until yesterday.

Neither of those fines can legally be passed on to ratepayers, prosecutors said.

David M. Uhlmann, chief of the U.S. Department of Justice’s environmental crimes section, said the $28 million fine is to let operators of America’s 104 nuclear plants know that the government will deal with them harshly if any of them are caught lying again.

“[FENOC] violated that duty and, as a consequence, they breached the public trust,” Mr. Uhlmann said.

But U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Cleveland Democrat who has called for FirstEnergy’s operating license at Davis-Besse to be revoked, said the fine was a “slap on the wrist” for a utility that “put the health and well-being on millions of residents of northern Ohio at grave risk.”

The congressman said in a prepared statement that a $28 million fine — as enormous as it sounds — still represents less than 1 percent of the utility’s 2004 profit.

That, he said, allows for “business as usual” at FirstEnergy.

Mr. Uhlmann said the company showed “brazen arrogance” by withholding information in the fall of 2001 when the NRC was debating internally whether Davis-Besse was too dangerous to keep operating past Dec. 31 of that year, he said.

Ultimately, senior NRC officials overrode a staff recommendation to shut down the plant immediately. They struck a compromise to let it keep operating until Feb. 16, 2002 — six weeks shy of its planned shutdown date of March 31, 2002.

The agency now says it would never have done that if it had known at the time that the plant’s old reactor head was on the verge of rupturing.
A rupture had the potential to affect at least 28 million people. So I guess now you know what you are worth. Still, it is a record fine, if they end up paying in full.

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