Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I'd rather blog than watch this farce currently on TV:

  • As if our soldiers don't have enough to contend with over there, now they have to worry about bird flu.... (By the way, what does this mean for soldiers returning back to the U.S.? Could one of them potentially introduce this flu into the country?)

  • Global warming and pollution know no boundaries:
    Nor does China's air pollution respect borders: on certain days almost 25 percent of the particulate matter clotting the skies above Los Angeles can be traced to China, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental experts in California predict that China could eventually account for roughly a third of the state's air pollution.
  • Does this administration have blood on its hands, this time from the mining tragedy?

    After one of the deadliest months for coal mining in years, federal mine regulators last week began formally considering safety improvements to help miners survive underground fires and explosions. Among the proposals: mandatory caches of oxygen tanks and breathing masks inside every coal mine.

    The idea may have struck some miners as familiar, because it was. A similar proposal was put forward by the same regulators six years ago, only to be scrapped by the Bush administration shortly after it took office. And the oxygen caches were not the only proposed safety improvement to be withdrawn.

    In all, the Bush administration abandoned or delayed implementation of 18 proposed safety rules that were in the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration's regulatory pipeline in early 2001, a review of agency records shows.
  • The US government is now operating in technical default.
  • Kevin Drum writes about the LA Times story that reports the Army is promoting an increasing number of less-than-stellar candidates into senior positions. As one nameless officer put it, "The problem here is that you're not knocking off the bottom 20%.... Basically, if you haven't been court-martialed, you're going to be promoted to major." Kevin comments, "I wouldn't have expected an occupation of 150,000 soldiers for three years to have caused as much stress as it has."

    His assumed sarcasm aside, the problem here is it's not just any old occupation that has served as a catalyst for this stress. Rather, it's specifically this Iraq occupation -- and all the deception and lies and question marks that go with it. It's for these reasons recruiting has plummeted and consequently the quality of a typical sign-up today is lower when compared to recruits in the past.

    In effect, it's just another repercussion of Bush's covert decision to attack a nation based on shoddy intel and trumped-up charges. Our future military will suffer due to the decline in quality and excellence that we're witnessing in the here and now. As a result, soldiers will die due to the increase in ineptitude. Via attrition, mediocrity will rise to the top and everyone will ultimately pay for this unfortunate trend -- many with their lives.

    Sunday, January 29, 2006

    In the NY Observer, a segment from Fred Kaplan's review of James Risen's book, State of War:
    Maybe the biggest jaw-dropper comes in Chapter 4, “The Hunt for WMD.” It’s about Dr. Sawsan Alhaddad, a woman in her 50’s, now living in Cleveland, Ohio, who escaped Saddam’s Iraq 27 years ago. In May 2002, a C.I.A. agent tracked her down and asked her to go back to Baghdad and do a little espionage. Her brother, who still lived there, had worked in Saddam’s nuclear-weapons program in the 1980’s and early 90’s. The C.I.A. wanted her to ask him a series of questions about the program’s current status and to offer him refuge in the United States. Bravely, she made the trip, asked the questions (usually on long walks, at night) and learned that the program had been dead for a decade. She went back to the States and told her case officers the news. But the C.I.A. waved it off; her brother, they said, was obviously lying.

    Then Mr. Risen adds the kicker. The C.I.A. had persuaded the exiled relatives of 30 Iraqi weapons scientists to make the risky trip back to their homeland. All of them came back with the same story: Iraq had no nuclear program. This was an amazing treasure trove of intelligence at a time when the C.I.A., which had no spies on the ground, was straining to learn all it could about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. And yet the information was dismissed, ignored. Nothing about the 30 relatives was ever passed on to the State Department, the Pentagon or the White House. Nor were their findings incorporated into the C.I.A.’s own National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s W.M.D., written a mere month later, which concluded, on nothing particularly solid, that Iraq “is reconstituting its nuclear program.”

    Mr. Risen lays out a dozen similar instances of reality slamming into Team Bush’s assumptions—and the assumptions emerging unruffled. Time and again, officials who raised doubts were flung to the sidelines, while those who got with the program and clamped on their blinders won promotions.

    Another amazing story along these lines dates from June 2003, after U.S. forces in Iraq captured Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein’s personal secretary. This was such a huge find—Mr. Hamid had been designated the “Ace of Diamonds” in U.S. Central Command’s deck of 52 most-wanted Saddamites—that the C.I.A. assigned its best Arabic speaker to conduct the interrogation. Mr. Hamid revealed two key things: First, Saddam had not been at Dora Farms the night that President Bush, acting on Mr. Tenet’s urgings, launched a cruise-missile strike on the farm, starting the war a bit earlier than planned, in hopes of decapitating the regime from the get-go. Second, there was no W.M.D. program. The C.I.A. bosses concluded that Mr. Hamid was lying, blamed their top-notch interrogator for going too easy on him and replaced her.
    Just incredible. For the millionth time, if it was Clinton....
    In the latest Forbes magazine (Feb. 13), within Steve Forbes column is the caption:
    Alito opponents, such as Senator Ted Kennedy, employed methods reminiscent of smearmeister Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s.
    Just thought you'd want to know.

    Saturday, January 28, 2006

    Jack Abramoff's dad recently criticized George Clooney for his pretty lame joke at the Golden Globe ceremonies.

    Frank Abramoff wrote a heated letter to The Desert Sun calling Clooney's remark "obscene." It's completely understandable for a father to defend his son, but c'mon Frank, me thinks doth protest a bit too much given the circumstances at hand. Your son has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors after admitting to numerous crimes committed. He has become the poster-boy of what's wrong in Washington, DC. And yet you had this to say in your open letter:
    We have had to endure two years of unmitigated, outrageous falsehood directed at my son and his record of achievement on behalf of his clients and friends. The blood thirsty media, guilty of untold character assassinations during contemporary times, have even outdone themselves in their lust to create a cartoon which does not come close to resembling this fine man, my son.
    What? Sorry Frank but it appears your pangs of fatherly obligation and duty have clouded your ability to see reality -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. By no means is your son a saint. Jack himself has basically admitted to this fact. With that being the case, how about offering up some sobering words that simply don't condemn Hollywood (quite hackneyed, mind you) but instead go further and make known your disappointment in Jack.

    It would be different if Jack didn't cave and instead looked to fight all charges against him -- but he didn't. He's likely to face many years in jail with the question being how many. So let's not pretend: he's not such a "fine man" and until you at least fess up that much, I for one can't offer you much sympathy when he's ridiculed.
    In today's NY Times, another example of this administration silencing government officials who speak the truth based on science and facts:
    The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.... Dr. Hansen said he would ignore the restrictions. "They feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public," he said.... Dr. Hansen, 63, a physicist who joined the space agency in 1967, is a leading authority on the earth's climate system.... Dr. Hansen said that nothing in 30 years equaled the push made since early December to keep him from publicly discussing what he says are clear-cut dangers from further delay in curbing carbon dioxide.
    The fresh efforts to quiet him, Dr. Hansen said, began in a series of calls after a lecture he gave on Dec. 6 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. In the talk, he said that significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles, and that without leadership by the United States, climate change would eventually leave the earth "a different planet."
    In one call, George Deutsch, a recently appointed public affairs officer at NASA headquarters, rejected a request from a producer at National Public Radio to interview Dr. Hansen, said Leslie McCarthy, a public affairs officer responsible for the Goddard Institute.

    Citing handwritten notes taken during the conversation, Ms. McCarthy said Mr. Deutsch called N.P.R. "the most liberal" media outlet in the country. She said that in that call and others Mr. Deutsch said his job was "to make the president look good" and that as a White House appointee that might be Mr. Deutsch's priority.
    The fight between Dr. Hansen and administration officials echoes other recent disputes. At climate laboratories of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, many scientists who routinely took calls from reporters five years ago can now do so only if the interview is approved by administration officials in Washington, and then only if a public affairs officer is present or on the phone.
    Doctor-shopper Limbaugh has asserted that the artic is not melting due to global warming but rather is expanding!

    From Al Franken's blog:
    Contrary to Rush Limbaugh's assertion that "The artic ice sheet’s getting bigger," experts at the US National Snow and Data Centre in Colorado say the arctic ice is melting at an alarming rate.
    What's incredible is not that Limbaugh would make such an outrageously false statement, but rather that he continues to maintain a large listening audience. There's something deeply wrong with his diehard fans.

    Thursday, January 26, 2006

    From The Progress Report:
    Despite the Department of Energy's projections that carbon emissions from the United States are expected to increase 37 percent by 2030, the Bush administration has still not "proposed any comprehensive plan to limit carbon emissions from vehicles, utilities and other sources." The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has reached 380 parts per million (ppm), 27 percent higher than anytime in the past 650,000 years; emissions in 2004 were 16 percent higher than the 1990 emissions levels. The Bush administration's actions on emissions have been woefully inadequate, even though the United States produces 25 percent of carbon dioxide pollution from fossil-fuel burning, more than the emissions of China, India, and Japan combined. But the states are stepping in where the Bush administration has stepped away, increasingly regulating energy use and emissions. Seven states have signed on a regional plan to restrict power plant emissions and 11 states have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, automobile tailpipe emissions requirements. "What is frustrating is that these things aren't being done on a national basis," said Maine Gov. John E. Baldacci (D).
    King George continues to say that if the (illegal) wiretapping had existed pre-2001, it could've detected al-Qaeda activity in the U.S. In fact, in today's press conference he stated, "had we had the capacity to listen to the phone calls from those from San Diego elsewhere, we might have gotten information necessary to prevent the attack." [excuse the grammar but it's a direct quote]

    The problem with this latest trotted-out excuse is Bush authorized such wiretapping before 9/11.

    Look for another slippery excuse to be manufactured very soon.

    Oh, and here's another GW whopper from today's press conference: "No American will be allowed to torture anyone anywhere in the world."
    Surprisingly, from the Wall Street Journal (albeit the non-editorial page):
    In 1960, the ratio of the average Fortune 500 CEO's pay to the U.S. president's salary was 2-to-1. Today, it is 30-to-1.

    John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Markets, limits his pay to no more than 14 times the pay of his average employee. Mr. Mackey says, 'We have a philosophy of shared fate -- that we're in this together.'

    Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch's original retirement package included floor-level seats at the New York Knicks, Grand Tier seating at the Metropolitan Opera, private waitstaff and monthly flower deliveries.

    The average CEO's salary in the U.S. is 475 times greater than the average worker's salary. In Japan, it is 11 times greater; in France, 15 times; in Canada, 20; in South Africa, 21, and in Britain, 22

    Tuesday, January 24, 2006

    Evidence that K Street is alive and well: in closed session the GOP gift-wraps a $22 billion giveaway to the health insurance industry.

    This quote from a Democrat is particularly infuriating:
    "It happens in the dead of night when lobbyists get a [Republican lawmaker] in the corner and say, 'We've got to have this,' " said Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (Calif.), the Democrats' point man on Medicare issues. "It's a pattern that just goes on and on, and at some point the public's going to rise up."
    Oh really Pete? When? When will the public finally rise up? If they haven't done so already given the numerous transgressions and willful knocks against them, then why should they suddenly revolt anytime soon? And with regards to this latest slimy maneuver, how would the general public even have been made aware of it since it was a closed session, "dead of night" deal?

    No Mr. Stark, it's the job of you and your Democratic colleagues to inform the public of such outrageous acts and to do so forcefully and with great passion to fuel the people's rage. As a public servant, you are supposed to clearly and repeatedly let us know when we're getting screwed. Do that enough times and done effectively and then, and only then, can you rightfully expect the public to clamor for change. Short of that occurring, nothing will happen.

    It's no wonder this party continues to be one in the minority. They're clueless (and a bit lazy I might add).
    The Dirty Secret

    A Bush defense for the illegal wiretappings is 9-11, with the obligatory appeal that it changed everything. Yes, once again this tragic event is being used to inch that much closer to a neofascist state in the name of protecting the people.

    In reality, this administration is making the case that our Constitution is now antiquated (heck, everything is different now, right?). This document has outlived its usefulness when it comes to a "War on Terror" era. It's apparently understandable to do what's deemed necessary to protect the people -- even if it's unconstitutional or against the rule of law.

    So when will King GW & Co. finally come out and make this case? When will they assert for the record that the Constitution is of little use in these dangerous, modern times? When will they propose that the Constitution needs to be changed or updated to better suit our current global reality?

    I assure you it won't happen anytime soon, but the weak-kneed Dems should make the above clear to the American public and press the issue.

    Monday, January 23, 2006

    Mission Accomplished?

    BAGHDAD — The number of attacks against coalition troops, Iraqi security forces and civilians increased 29% last year.... Insurgents launched 34,131 attacks last year, up from 26,496 the year before, according to U.S. military figures released Sunday.

    Sunday, January 22, 2006

    This guy is going to clean up the House?? Hah!
    NY Times: "Six former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, including five who served Republican presidents, said Wednesday that the Bush administration needed to act more aggressively to limit the emission of greenhouse gases linked to climate change."
  • Some interesting questions and ponderings regarding the latest Bin Laden tape:
  • "Back in 2002, the Bush administration was chagrined when the world's foremost voice identification experts, a group in Swizterland called IDIAP analyzed several Bin Laden tapes and concluded that a 'CIA-verified' bin Laden tape was NOT Bin Laden, but someone whose voice patterns resembled the terrorist's. Now again we have a Bin Laden tape that arrives just when Bush needs a 'terrorist diversion.' And once again, we have only the CIA 'experts' verifying the authenticity. So why since 2002 hasn't the IDIAP been called in to verify these always conveniently timed tapes? And why is no CIA expert ever actually named?"

  • "Duke University Bin Laden expert Bruce Lawrence, who is the head of Duke's religious department, also thinks the tape was faked.... Lawrence has just published 'Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden,' a book translating bin Laden's writing. He is skeptical of Thursday's message.... He thinks bin Laden is dead and has doubts about the tape. Lawrence recently analyzed more than 20 complete speeches and interviews of the al Qaida leader for his book. He says the new message is missing several key elements.

    "There's nothing in this from the Koran. He's, by his own standards, a faithful Muslim, " Lawrence said. "He quotes scripture in defense of his actions. There's no quotation from the Koran in the excerpts we got, no reference to specific events, no reference to past atrocities."
    "Another element that Lawrence takes issue with in bin Laden's latest message is it's length - - only 10 minutes. Previously, the shortest was 18 minutes. "
  • Saturday, January 21, 2006

    I thought it was an appropriate time to re-post this non-Photoshopped, genuine (see Snopes.com) photo -- speaks volumes:

    Friday, January 20, 2006

    Want a classic example of how the GOP-led Congress has become one with corporate interests and lobbyists?
    Paul Krugman: Thomas Scully was a hospital industry lobbyist before President Bush appointed him to run Medicare. In that job, Mr. Scully famously threatened to fire his chief actuary if he told Congress the truth about cost projections for the Medicare drug program.

    Mr. Scully had good reasons not to let anything stand in the way of the drug bill. He had received a special ethics waiver from his superiors allowing him to negotiate for future jobs with lobbying and investment firms - firms that had a strong financial stake in the form of the bill - while still in public office. He left public service, if that's what it was, almost as soon as the bill was passed, and is once again a lobbyist, now for drug companies.

    Meanwhile, Representative Billy Tauzin, the bill's point man on Capitol Hill, quickly left Congress once the bill was passed to become president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the powerful drug industry lobby.
  • If true, this emerging story will (should!) be HUGE:
    In an exclusive last night on Air America Radio's The Majority Report, Rep. Louise Slaughter alleged that day-traders had been operating inside the offices of Senator Frist and Congressman Delay. Telling us that her source was "as good as gold," Rep. Slaughter promised to investigate further and get back to us.
    "I'm going to track this down, I know it's true," Slaughter told us,"that Frist, DeLay and probably others had some day traders working out of their offices." Those working out of the Congressional offices "would find out there's a bill being written by lobbyists, that there would be no asbestos bill ... and when the market opened the next day, the cost of asbestos stock had doubled."
  • Even more proof that King GW's spying on US citizens is illegal.

  • "Judicial activism" only applies to liberal judges. For Scalia & Co., what's it called?
    Mark Kleiman: Responding to Mike O'Hare's complaint that justice-to-be Alito lacks any sense of ... well ... justice, several conservative and conservatarian blogs, including the estimable Professor Bainbridge, pointed out that a judge is supposed to judge by the law, not by his or her personal sense of right and wrong. Indeed, they said, that's the difference between good (i.e., conservative) judging and bad, liberal judging: conservatives judges know their place in the democratic order and don't try to impose their own views in preference to the views of the people expressed through their elected representatives.

    Now comes Justice Scalia, in dissent in the Oregon assisted-suicide case.
    I'm glad Scalia's opinion was a dissent, not so much because a few Oregonians will continue to have access to physician assistance in ending their lives - the job can be done without the use of controlled substances, for example by using a breathing mask hooked up to a tank of an inert gas or nitrous oxide - as for the sake of striking down what seemed to me a clearly illegitimate power grab by the Federal government on behalf of the prejudices of the "God" faction of ruling God-and-Mammon coalition that is the political base of the current ruling oligarchy. But it's also worth noticing how empty the conservatarian promise of "neutral" judging turns out to be when push comes to shove.
  • Maybe this has happened because many of the corporations who pay the lobbyists are also big-time advertisers of such media outlets (i.e. pressured silence).
  • A great take on the incredibly inept Medicare roll-out:
    Golden State Column: The defining fiasco of the Bush Administration may prove to be the utterly disastrous Medicare prescription drug benefit, formally known as Medicare Part D. Already the newspapers are filled with stories about Medicare-Medicaid patients, the poorest of the poor, being denied prescriptions by the thousands because the government, with only two full years to prepare, didn't have its computer systems tested, up, and running when the program launched January 1. The pain is just beginning.

    What's instructive about this project is that it provides a concrete illustration of what Social Security would have looked like after a Bush privatization job: A program that should be designed to serve citizens turned instead into a plaything for lobbyists and business interests.... Is there a saving grace in the disaster? Only that, considering that most eligible people will be signing up in early May, then discovering the flaws in the system through the summer and early fall, they'll be reaching the peak of fury and be well poised to wreak vengeance on the perpetrators at the ballot box in November. Good riddance.
    It's worth remembering that the prescription drug program was born in an act of fraud. The Bush Administration sold it to Congress in 2003 by estimating its cost at less than $400 billion over 10 years. Scarcely a month after its enactment, the White House issued a new estimate: $535 billion. That figure might well have killed the bill, which had passed the House by a razor-thin margin even with the lower price tag.

    It soon came to light that Richard Foster, Medicare's chief actuary, had known of the higher estimate - but had been told he'd be fired if he warned Congress before the vote. (The current estimate is $700 billion.)

    As written, the legislation complied with a drug industry demand that Medicare be prohibited from negotiating with manufacturers for lower drug prices. Among those helping the industry make its stand was Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-Louisiana), whose committee on energy and commerce oversaw Medicare. In an odoriferous development, Tauzin soon quit Congress to become president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America - Big Pharma's Washington lobbying group.
    And yet you have Roy Blunt writing in the WSJ about the many accomplishments of the House Republicans. You have to read his piece, it's hilarious, and note how much he doesn't talk about or conveniently excludes.

    Again I ask, when will the death count begin, for those unfortunate souls who perished due to this mismanaged healthcare debacle?
    On the heels of hiring Bill Bennett and Glenn Beck, with CNN next hiring JC Watts it won't be long before the news station has morphed into Fox News 2.

    Thursday, January 19, 2006

    If the U.S. places sanctions against Iran, of the Mideast countries considered to be our allies how many do you think will completely and fully honor these sanctions? And for those countries that don't, do you think King GW will demand that they do??

    In the meantime Iran will try to stall for time as it further courts and aligns its friends, the biggies being Russia, Venezuela, and Syria.
    From Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg:
    In the USA, companies are spending a mere 5% of their cash flow on
    wages/supplements and the trend is going down, which is indicative of a market that retains slack. In the late 1990s, the Fed was correct in raising rates as it became clear as the jobless rate moved to and below 4% that wage pressures were accelerating and this is seen by the ever-rising share of corporate profits being devoted to labor income. This has not happened this cycle.... You have to go back to 1929 to find a business cycle – and the one we are in is four years old now – in which the wage and salary share was as low as it is today this far into an expansion. Bloomberg News quotes the legendary Nobel-prize winning economist Robert Solow as saying that an economy that generates productivity gains which see those gains concentrated only at the corporate level is an economy that is actually “performing poorly”.
    I'm all for laughing to relieve stress, but this is repulsive:
    When the stress of the war in Iraq becomes too severe, the Pentagon has a suggestion for military families: Learn how to laugh. With help from the Pentagon's chief laughter instructor, families of National Guard members are learning to walk like a penguin, laugh like a lion and blurt "ha, ha, hee, hee and ho, ho." No joke.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2006

    In response to Gore's stinging speech yesterday, this administration did the only thing it knows how to do: it distorted, lied and smeared.

    From RawStory.com:
    In response to White House comments that Gore exhibited "hypocrisy" in calling for a Special Prosecutor, saying that the Clinton administration had wiretapped some Americans, Gore will make this statement shortly. It was leaked to RAW STORY in advance.

    Former Vice President Al Gore: "The Administration's response to my speech illustrates perfectly the need for a special counsel to review the legality of the NSA wiretapping program.

    The Attorney General is making a political defense of the President without even addressing the substantive legal questions that have so troubled millions of Americans in both political parties.

    There are two problems with the Attorney General's effort to focus attention on the past instead of the present Administration's behavior. First, as others have thoroughly documented, his charges are factually wrong. Both before and after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended in 1995, the Clinton/Gore Administration complied fully and completely with the terms of the law.

    Second, the Attorney General's attempt to cite a previous administration's activity as precedent for theirs - even though factually wrong - ironically demonstrates another reason why we must be so vigilant about their brazen disregard for the law. If unchecked, their behavior would serve as a precedent to encourage future presidents to claim these same powers, which many legal experts in both parties believe are clearly illegal.

    The issue, simply put, is that for more than four years, the executive branch has been wiretapping many thousands of American citizens without warrants in direct contradiction of American law. It is clearly wrong and disrespectful to the American people to allow a close political associate of the president to be in charge of reviewing serious charges against him.

    The country needs a full and independent investigation into the facts and legality of the present Administration's program."
  • A prescient reminder:
    You can have your Washingtons, your Jeffersons, and your Madisons. All great men, to be sure. But for my money, the greatest of them all was Benjamin Franklin, my favorite founding father and the first great American liberal.
    I heartily agree, although I have Jefferson (another great liberal) coming in a close second.

    The next time a staunch right-wing Republican refers to our founding fathers, please remember that many if not most in this illustrious group would be tagged as a liberal today.

  • Really David, you think O'Reilly is a clown?

  • King GW orders more purging of environmental data so the public remains even less informed.

  • When will a death count begin as a result of this boondoggle of a health bill and its disastrous roll-out? The GOP has even more blood on its hands....

  • Many stories out today about the price of oil shooting higher if sanctions were to be enforced against Iran. I've written here in the recent past that it wouldn't have to take sanctions for Iran to turn off its oil spigot. It's not lost on them the tight supply situation currently; they can use this unfortunate fact as an economic weapon with tremendous leverage.

  • From a recent PEW poll:
    There has been little change recently in views of which party is more honest and ethical, and which is better able to manage the federal government well. Currently, 37% believe the phrase "governs in an honest and ethical way" better describes the Democratic Party; 30% say it better describes the GOP.
    Needless to say, the GOP corruption scandals will be a huge issue for the Dems in this year's election. A 37%/30% margin is not wide enough, at all. If they fail (again!) to capitalize on this opening, then they deserve to be a minority party. The raw material is just sitting there for them to assemble and package into a damning indictment against the GOP. Let's go people!
  • Monday, January 16, 2006

    Joe Conason:
    It would be interesting to hear Lapin - or Falwell or Robertson, both of whom have defended these crooks until now - explain how swindling Indian tribes and handing out money and favors to legislators fits into the "biblical worldview" they supposedly espouse. A decade ago, [Ralph] Reed described his mission as "changing the soul of American politics," but he proved perfectly willing to sell the soul of his movement as soon as the opportunity arose. In fact, he pleaded with Abramoff to send him the business.

    Not many politicians have been as bold as DeLay in publicly claiming the mandate of heaven. Who can forget his justification for pushing the impeachment of Bill Clinton, whom he accused of having the "wrong worldview"? While the Hammer cavorted on Scottish golf courses and gorged himself on Malaysian banquets, he was assuring the faithful on Capitol Hill that the Almighty had chosen him for leadership and was teaching him how to do his job.

    Several years ago, at one of many fundamentalist meetings he has addressed, DeLay explained: "He [God] has been walking me through an incredible journey, and it all comes down to worldview. He is using me, all the time, everywhere, to stand up for biblical worldview in everything that I do and everywhere I am. He is training me, He is working with me."
    And didn't GW say God is working through him too? So if God is "working with" both DeLay and Bush, what does this say about God? Shouldn't God have a chance to speak for him/herself regarding this matter? Doesn't he/she deserve a chance to clear his/her good name?!
    Another one bites the dust....

    The GOP implosion continues on pace.

    Sunday, January 15, 2006

    In today's NY Times:

  • From Louis Uchitelle:
    Mr. Nordhaus is the economist who put the subject back on the table with the publication of a prescient prewar paper that compared the coming [Iraq] conflict to a "giant role of the dice." He warned that "if the United States had a string of bad luck or misjudgments during or after the war, the outcome could reach $1.9 trillion," once all the secondary costs over many years were included.

    So far, the string of bad luck has materialized, and Mr. Nordhaus's forecast has been partially fulfilled. In recent studies by other economists, the high-end estimates of the war's actual cost, broadly measured, are already moving into the $1 trillion range.... "We did not have to fight this war, and we did not have to go to war when we did," Mr. Stiglitz said. "We could have waited until we had more safe body armor and we chose not to wait."
  • Leave it up to Brooks to praise blowhard Biden.

  • And more silencing of science and facts by this administration:
    NASA has quietly terminated the Deep Space Climate Observatory, citing "competing priorities." The news media took little notice. Few Americans, after all, had even heard of the program. But the entire world may come to mourn its passing.
    The better experiment when it comes to global warming was to be the climate observatory, situated in space at the neutral-gravity point between the Sun and Earth. Called Lagrange 1, or L1, this point is about one million miles from Earth.
    Development began in November 1998 and it was ready for launching three years later. The cost was only about $100 million. For comparison, that is only one-thousandth the cost of the International Space Station, which serves no useful purpose.

    Before Triana could be launched, however, there was a presidential election. Many of the industries favored by the new Bush White House were not anxious to have the cause of global warming pinned down. The launching was put on hold. -- Robert L.Park, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland.
  • Some segments from a recent Bob Herbert column (he's on a roll!). By the way, for those who gripe that we bloggers should abstain from citing NY Times columnists due to the TimeSelect pay-for access, I tend to agree with the in-spirit boycott. However, let's face it, there are some decent columnists to be read there and if I can present some choice chunks of what's written, many can then get for free the general theme of what's being written. OK?

    The segments:
    The country has set the bar so low for the performance of George W. Bush as president that it is effectively on the ground.

    No one expects very much from Mr. Bush. He's currently breaking the law by spying on Americans in America without getting warrants, but for a lot of people that's just George being George....

    It has become fashionable to say that this controversy is about the always difficult problem of balancing civil liberties and national security. But I think the issue is starker than that. The real issue is President Bush's apparent belief - stoked at every opportunity by that zealot of zealots, Dick Cheney - that he can do just about anything he wants (mistreat prisoners, lock people up forever without filing charges), and justify it in the name of fighting terror....

    But this is not China or the old Soviet Union. The United States should be the one place on the planet where even a devastating terror strike by Al Qaeda is unable to shake the foundations of the government, which is grounded in the rule of law, the separation of powers and a constitution that guarantees the fundamental rights of the citizenry....

    President Bush and others in the administration have repeatedly argued that the president's wartime powers trump some of the important constitutional guarantees and civil liberties that Americans had previously taken for granted. They don't seem to see the irony of fighting on behalf of liberty in Afghanistan and Iraq while curtailing precious liberties here at home.

    Friday, January 13, 2006

    Regarding the nuclear situation in Iran, Kevin Drum writes as if it will be a growing concern for quite some time, with nothing done until this summer or fall. However, I've read more than a few news items mentioning that Israel may act on this matter much sooner -- say by March. The pre-emptive air strikes are expected to involve cruise missiles and F15E bombers.

    What's scary is assuming it happens, what will happen after such a strike? What other nations will be sucked in and which side will they take? Will nuclear weapons eventually be employed? Bush playing the bully vs. hapless Iraq is one thing, but could this eventual conflict be WAY out of his league?
    Those who worked on the WTC site after 9-11 are coming down with fatal ailments. Recall at the time that Bush had the EPA deem the area A-OK.

    Thursday, January 12, 2006

    Signed by fourteen constitutional scholars and former government officials, this 8-page document lays out why Bush's secret NSA wiretapping program is illegal. The concluding paragraph:
    The DOJ letter fails to offer a plausible legal defense of the NSA domestic spying program. If the Administration felt that FISA was insufficient, the proper course was to seek legislative amendment, as it did with other aspects of FISA in the Patriot Act, and as Congress expressly contemplated when it enacted the wartime wiretap provision in FISA. One of the crucial features of a constitutional democracy is that it is always open to the President--or anyone else--to seek to change the law. But it is also beyond dispute that, in such a democracy, the President cannot simply violate criminal laws behind closed doors because he deems them obsolete or impracticable.
    If it was Clinton, he would've been booted out by now.
  • Re Alito: He's not qualified if he's purposefully evasive to the point of lying. Answer the questions truthfully else be judged as unfit, period. Read this.

  • From a Kevin Drum post, despite the fact that the working poor are responsible for approx. $9 bil. in tax fraud [with odds favoring a good amount of that "fraud" due to filing ignorance] as compared to the more affluent who rob the IRS coffers of approx. $340 bil., guess which group gets the most attention from IRS enforcement under this administration? Yes, the working poor -- again, despite more fraud occurring by the affluent by a magnitude of 37x!

    And percentages don't matter here: facing a whopping federal deficit combined with limited resources at the IRS (thanks to GOP stripping the IRS budget), it only makes sense to go after the bigger fish to fry, i.e. the absolute figure of $340 bil. vs. measly $9 bil. Also, despite the IRS freezing hundreds of thousands of refund checks for the poor due to suspicion of fraud, when such folks pressed the IRS it was found that 2/3 of them deserved their check (no fraud), adding credence to my suggestion that much of the "fraud" by the poor is likely due to innocent filing ignorance.

  • With a stroke of his pen, King George decides once again not to follow the law of the land:
    [The White House] is explicitly reserving the right to abuse prisoners, while denying them any opportunity to seek redress in court. Having publicly accepted the ban on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Mr. Bush is planning to ignore it whenever he chooses.
  • Tuesday, January 10, 2006

  • "A former U.S. Marine who participated in capturing ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said the public version of his capture was fabricated."

  • "The nation's coal mines have been required to pay only a fraction of the federal fines imposed after deadly accidents since 1999." Is it just a coincidence that payment of fines has gone down in the post-Clinton era?

  • Chicago Tribune:
    Less than three months after registering as a lobbyist, former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft has banked at least $269,000.
    Former lawmakers and other senior government officials routinely pass through the Washington revolving door and become advocates for commercial interests seeking to influence government, but the practice of former attorneys general has been to move to think tanks or academia, or return to the practice of law.

    The office of the attorney general, along with the secretaries of state, defense and treasury, is among the oldest and most prestigious in the president's Cabinet.

    "One would have thought that a former attorney general wouldn't be doing that," said John Schmidt, an associate attorney general in the Clinton administration who now is a lawyer at Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw of Chicago. "To take the kind of prestige and stature of the attorney general [and lobby].... It seems a little demeaning of the office, honestly."
  • Can someone tell me what Sen. Lautenberg (D-NJ) was doing giving the introduction for Alito??

  • Talk about intellectual dishonesty, just read this George Will column. He goes on and on (like only he can), stating in 20 words what can be said in 10, discussing the K Street problem in Congress and yet not once does he mention or make clear that what is first and foremost wrong in this case is that illegal acts have occurred. Yeah, lobbyists have bought our government, but that's not yet a crime. Yup, Will is the master at writing so much and saying so little.

  • "When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal." -- Richard Nixon. Bob Herbert cites this quote in his recent excellent column. A segment:
    As the controversy grew over the warrantless eavesdropping on U.S. citizens by the National Security Agency, Mr. Bush, apparently annoyed, said at a press conference, "The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."

    Well, Mr. President, one of the great things about democracy American style is that important national issues are always subject to a robust national discussion. And few things are more important than making sure that a president with a demonstrated tendency to abuse the powers of his office is not allowed to lay the foundation for the systematic surveillance of the American people.

    For a president - any president - to O.K. eavesdropping on U.S. citizens on American soil without a warrant is an abomination. First, it's illegal - and for very good reasons. Spying on the populace is a giant step toward totalitarianism. In the worst-case scenario, it's the nightmare of Soviet-style surveillance.
    Oh the incredible irony: the right-wing's extreme hatred for the former USSR vs. the current Kremlin-like ways of this administration.
  • Monday, January 09, 2006

    From a recent TNR editorial:
    Democrats risk fumbling a great opportunity to score gains in the run-up to the 2006 midterm elections.... The Democrats need to be out in front on this issue, pairing substantial proposals for reform with a narrative about Republican indiscretion and incompetence—linking outright bribery to rule-manipulation designed to pay off fat cats and ram through an unpopular agenda. A line about the “Republican culture of corruption” has started to creep into Democratic talking points. But this needs to be a sustained effort, with points scored at every opportunity and the whole caucus involved, not just four congressmen.
    Agreed, but a big problem: Harry Reid. As I've written before, he has been an ineffectual, MIA leader for the Dems. After all, whatever happened to Reid after his closed session surprise? I gave him kudos then for that abrupt act of bravado, but where's the follow-up? Lacking any evidence of continued pressure and demands, the closed session edges that much closer to convincing many that indeed it was simply a stunt.

    As far as I've been able to tell, Reid is not a gutsy, born-leader type -- exactly the type of person needed right now. The Dems need their own version of McCain, a self-proclaimed maverick who is willing to piss people off at times. For that matter, Pelosi doesn't fit the right mold either as she's not much of a stirring presence (to say the least).

    They're the wrong people steering the ship at -- as TNR correctly asserts -- an opportune time.

    Sunday, January 08, 2006

    Recall when the right-wing attack dogs would frequently bait the U.N. oil-for-food scandal whenever one of their own many scandals would hit the headlines. In every case, Kofi Annan was the target of their fulminating ire.

    It should surprise no one to read this column, making the case for Annan's innocence. As a rule, the more they froth at the mouth concerning supposed guilt concerning the opposition, or vice versa the more they blather about the innocence of one of their own (see DeLay, Rove, etc.), the more you should believe the opposite of whatever they're proclaiming.
    GW is a scary, psycho hypocrite!

    As if you needed more evidence, play this video clip (and email it to all friends).
  • Economists say cost of war could top $2 trillion. GW Cheney Inc. has professed it would cost 1/4 this figure. Given how trustworthy and straight-shooting this administration has been regarding just about everything (note sarcasm), which cost estimate do you think will be closer to the truth?

  • Poll finds most in US reject secret snooping. The item mentions Bush using as his defense that fast-aging "We're at war" excuse for his decision to ignore the law and do anything he wants. Can someone tell me when this "war" will end, approximately? What event will occur to signify it's over? Is it realistic to even think the threat of terrorist attack will ever be out of the question, making this "war" a permanent effort and mindset? If you haven't figured it out, this excuse is a crock of sh*t; only the most naive and foolhardy citizen(s) will continue to fall for this red-herring.

  • Washington Post:
    On one side of the machine, a hose vacuumed the pockets of large corporations, wealthy individuals and legions of lobbyists on K Street, all instructed by DeLay to contribute only to Republicans. Out the other side, at some later date, came legislation of interest to many of the donors. Inside the machine, twisting its knobs and pulling its levers, was DeLay -- who was unabashed about his pay-to-play philosophy and relentless in enforcing his political rules.
  • LA Times:
    Reps. John T. Doolittle and Richard W. Pombo joined forces with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas to oppose an investigation by federal banking regulators into the affairs of Houston millionaire Charles Hurwitz, documents recently obtained by The Times show. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was seeking $300 million from Hurwitz for his role in the collapse of a Texas savings and loan that cost taxpayers $1.6 billion. The investigation was ultimately dropped.

    The effort to help Hurwitz began in 1999 when DeLay wrote a letter to the chairman of the FDIC denouncing the investigation of Hurwitz as a "form of harassment and deceit on the part of government employees." When the FDIC persisted, Doolittle and Pombo — both considered proteges of DeLay — used their power as members of the House Resources Committee to subpoena the agency's confidential records on the case, including details of the evidence FDIC investigators had compiled on Hurwitz.

    Then, in 2001, the two congressmen inserted many of the sensitive documents into the Congressional Record, making them public and accessible to Hurwitz's lawyers, a move that FDIC officials said damaged the government's ability to pursue the banker.

    The FDIC's chief spokesman characterized what Doolittle and Pombo did as "a seamy abuse of the legislative process." But soon afterward, in 2002, the FDIC dropped its case against Hurwitz, who had owned a controlling interest in the United Savings Assn. of Texas. United Savings' failure was one of the worst of the S&L debacles in the 1980s. Doolittle and Pombo did not respond to requests for interviews last week.
    And the christian right supports this guy (notice the recent silence from that side re DeLay).... Enough to make you flee the church.
  • Saturday, January 07, 2006

    This has to be the saddest, most pitiful news item yet in brief 2006:
    A secret Pentagon study has found that as many as 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to the upper body could have survived if they had had extra body armor. Such armor has been available since 2003, but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials.
    So apparently it's highly likely Bush did break the law. For many legal scholars, there's no doubt. From today's Washington Post:
    A report by Congress's research arm concluded yesterday that the administration's justification for the warrantless eavesdropping authorized by President Bush conflicts with existing law and hinges on weak legal arguments.

    The Congressional Research Service's report rebuts the central assertions made recently by Bush and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales about the president's authority to order secret intercepts of telephone and e-mail exchanges between people inside the United States and their contacts abroad.

    The findings, the first nonpartisan assessment of the program's legality to date, prompted Democratic lawmakers and civil liberties advocates to repeat calls yesterday for Congress to conduct hearings on the monitoring program and attempt to halt it.
    "This report contradicts the president's claim that his spying on Americans was legal," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), one of the lawmakers who asked the CRS to research the issue. "It looks like the president's wiretapping was not only illegal, but also ensnared innocent Americans who did nothing more than place a phone call."
    Some law professors have been skeptical of the president's assertions, and several said yesterday that the report's conclusions were expected. "Ultimately, the administration's position is not persuasive," said Carl W. Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor and an expert on constitutional law. "Congress has made it pretty clear it has legislated pretty comprehensively on this issue with FISA," he said, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. "And there begins to be a pattern of unilateral executive decision making. Time and again, there's the executive acting alone without consulting the courts or Congress."
    It's worth repeating this last quote, "there's the executive acting alone without consulting the courts or Congress." Exactly, we have a rogue president who believes himself to be more of a king or dictator than an elected leader by and for the people.

    The continuing shame is when are the people going to wake up and see this fact. Instead, they still want to believe in the office of president (not Bush per say), always remaining optimistic about our institutions and historical norms -- despite the fact that in the last five years much of this tradition has been transformed and often wrecked beyond recognition. If the good public doesn't toss off the rose-colored glasses pretty darn soon, we'll never be able to rebuild the Republic to its former self.

    UPDATE: So the Bugman won't try to regain his House leadership position -- shocker. Funny how this psychopath still contends the charges are "baseless."

    Friday, January 06, 2006

    Great web site ThinkProgress.org reports on TIME disclosing Rep. Cunningham wore a wire. Republicans are reportedly sweating buckets. Look for that GOP implosion I keep writing about to accelerate, fast and furious.

    In addition, ThinkProgress writes:
    The Hill reports that Majority Leader Bill Frist is enlisting the support of Sen. Rick Santorum to craft a conservative version of a lobbying reform bill. The selection of Santorum suggests that the Senate leadership is not seriously committed to lobbying reform. Santorum cannot reasonably be considered a credible messenger for reform because he was largely responsible for creating the culture and environment in which Abramoff’s criminal activity thrived.

    Santorum was a key player in implementing the “K Street Project,” an effort by conservatives in the wake of Bush’s 2000 victory to monopolize influential positions at trade associations and corporate government affairs offices.
    Having recently returned his campaign contributions from Jack Abramoff, Santorum has apparently been deemed clean enough to help fix the problem he once helped create.
    The Abramoff Scandal Is a Republican Scandal

    Oh, and I thought I'd include an example of what is so typical. With all that's going on in this country and the world, when there's a ton of sh*t hitting the fan for GW and the GOP, you can count on the likes of O'Reilly, Bill Bennett, Hannity, Brooks and the like to talk about such weighty issues as teen promiscuity and welfare fraud. Here we have George Will pissed off about the subject of NCAA sports teams with Native American-type names. Need I say more?

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    When Kevin Drum was away on vacation, Steve Benen was his guest blogger -- and he was terrific. Here's some of what you may have missed:

  • Santorum and the GOP's "small government" hypocrisy,

  • The minimum wage as a key Dem wedge issue,

  • Snoopgate and it's many-sided problems, including potentially reversing cases of already-ruled guilt (thanks for making us safer GW!),

  • The ignorant public (still!) when it comes to 9-11 myths, including this doozy: "24% said several of the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on September 11 were Iraqis. Ten months ago, 44% believed this. (In case you've forgotten, the actual number of Iraqi hijackers on 9/11 is zero.)",

  • To GW, the Snoopgate leak is MUCH more important than the Plame leak ("Bush circumvented the law with warrantless searches, but it's the whistleblower who's facing a criminal investigation."),

  • GW doesn't care about cyber identity theft (netting an est. $105 bil. in 2004),

  • Ashcroft and his top deputy balked at the snooping request,

  • Recall when "circumventing the rule of law" drove the wingnuts bat-crazy regarding a guy named Clinton?
  • But I thought Iraq's oil was supposed to pay for the war??

    Monday, January 02, 2006

    Get a load of this exchange from an interview with Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal:
    You became notorious in New York when Mayor Giuliani declined to accept a $10 million donation from you to victims' families after you suggested that the U.S. was too friendly with Israel.

    By the way, my check was taken to the bank and cashed. The problem was with my statement. I accepted that. Subject closed.

    Subject reopened. The money was returned to you. Have you told Harvard, as you told the City of New York, that the U.S. needs to "adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause"?

    Let me tell you my position. We need to have good relations between the Arab world and Israel. When I sold my Plaza Hotel in New York, it was sold to Elad, which is an Israeli company.

    Doing business with the citizens of a country is not the same thing as believing in that country's right to exist.

    We are doing so many things to bridge the gap between Christianity and Islam and Judaism. For example, at my hotel in Paris, George V, you are going to find the Christian Bible, the Jewish Bible and the Islamic Koran in each single room.

    That's a wonderful idea, but a luxury hotel in Paris is a long way from Saudi Arabia, where you could surely spend more money on Judeo-Christian studies.

    Look. You have to understand that the population of Saudi Arabia has zero Christians.

    That's the point. Why shouldn't you should spend your millions educating your own students before you educate kids at Harvard?

    Obviously, it could be something we are contemplating.

    Are you spending any money in Iraq?

    So far, I am investing nothing. Zero.Very simple. I have investments in 150 nations, but I will not invest in Iraq until they have political tranquility and a functioning government.

    But where will they get money to rebuild?

    Uncle Sam. The United States is spending like hell over there.

    Why don't you help us?

    If I go there right now and say, "I want to build a hotel," they will laugh at me. You need schools and hospitals and the airport, and then after, you can talk about the hotels.

    You find the situation very volatile still?

    You have not done a very good job there. After 9/11, the U.S. needed to have a big revenge, and Saddam Hussein was a sitting duck. The U.S., with its huge ego, needed to have something big and dramatic.

    That's not what I would call a bridge-building sentiment.

    You have to understand. I am a friend of the United States, and these days to be in the Arab world and to be a friend of the United States is a liability. But nevertheless I say it. I am a great friend.
    Wow, where to start. First, kudos to the Times for fairly hard-hitting questions. I read this exchange and kept having to remind myself that this guy heads up a country that is supposedly our ally, a country that Bush has been chummy with for many, many years.

    Of the several disturbing replies in the interview, I think the most unnerving is the prince's response to the question regarding investing in Iraq. He flatly states, "I am investing nothing. Zero." Lovely. Again, this sentiment coming from a supposed staunch ally. Saudi Arabia has a few gazillion dollars and yet they can't (refuse to) throw a few billion Iraq's way for the sake of imagery and goodwill -- which is obviously the aim with the prince giving $20 mil. to both Harvard and Georgetown to advance the study of Islam. Nope, he will not drop one dime in Iraq until there is "political tranquility" there, a demand that affords him great flexibility and discretion. When will it officially be decreed that Iraq is a tranquil state? Don't odds favor Iraq remaining less-than-tranquil (if not worse) for many years to come?

    So he'll sit on the sidelines and allow us to take on the brunt of throwing dollars at Iraq, letting us shoulder the financial risks so that he may then eventually step in at a later date to invest and then, and only then, reap the rewards. Sounds like shrewd investing to me -- can you blame him? He's not feeling or receiving any pressure to do otherwise. Yes, it's an outrage, but it's just the sound of crickets from GW Cheney Inc.

    When asked why doesn't he help in the spending of money, he oddly asserts that he'd be the object of laughter, with his ability to give money relegated strictly to hotels -- forget about infrastructure and other base necessities. He then goes on to do what Democrats get lambasted for doing: criticizing the entire Iraq operation. He pointblank states we "have not done a very good job" in Iraq and in addition, he strongly implies that the U.S. attacked Iraq post-9/11 because we needed "big revenge" against something, anything, and Saddam "was a sitting duck." Hmm, that sounds a bit different than the Cheney / neocon view on this topic.

    If this were a Dem, he'd be promptly skewered by GOP attack dogs, or if this were an administration lackey he'd at the very least be taken aside, harshly disciplined and force-fed talking points. Yet, in this case, it's an extremely powerful & rich leader of a nation that is in GW's back-pocket. We'll hear nothing.