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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Spooky Silence from Drum et al on Isreali Boycott Story

It’s fascinating to see that the big “liberal” bloggers – Drum (Washington Monthly), Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo), Daily Kos – have yet to even mention the Jerusalem Post story about the Dubai company’s parent company enforcing the Arab Boycott of Israel. It’s been out all day, now it’s the end of the day, and obviously it is of huge importance as a story: for the politics of it at least – how’s it going to go over in the Jewish community? -- certainly as to suggesting how incredibly shoddy the investigation was – why? – and possibly, for sure, even without prejudging it, as to the merits of allowing this company to get that business. Kind of spooky, even, as if our blogger pals are waiting for a cue from somewhere that they can touch it without getting burned. We think these guys are reliable sources of integrity in their commentary – they are good, for sure -- but it makes you wonder who is pulling their chains.

A survey for the brain dead

I received in the mail today from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee a "2006 New Directions Survey." It seems to me this document is emblematic of the problem with the Democratic Party. The survey is filled with such piercing questions as:

I am most concerned about: a) retirement savings, b) daily expenses, c) college savings. [If they want to know your age, why not just ask it?]

How do you feel about the Bush administration's relaxation of pollution controls? a) agree, b) disagree, c) don't know. [How many people do you think are going to vote (a) or (c) on this one? My bet is zippo.]

Which of the two political parties do you trust most when it comes to protecting the environment? a) Democrats, b) Republicans. [Duh...]
Congressman Tom DeLay has been indicted for money laundering and forced to step down as Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Do you think Tom DeLay is fit or unfit to retain his House seat? a) fit, b) unfit, c) undecided. [Seems to me it's more important to ask this question to people from Sugarland, TX]

But the clincher was this question, under the heading of "leadership."

What is the most important priority for Democrats in Congress right now? a) terrorism, b) new jobs, c) affordable health care, d) better schools.

Seems to me there are a whole lot of things that might be at least as, if not more important than any of these, such as protecting the country from being taken over by Bush the dictator, preserving civil liberties and civil rights, ending the war against Muslims, winning back our standing in the world, protecting the country from bird flu, bringing back the rule of law, ending torture, etc., etc.

The problem is that these questions tell you what they think we think is important. They don't even care what we actually answer. These people are still stuck in the Tom Daschel mode, and, if they stay there, they're going to lose again, no matter how unpopular Bush becomes.

Assault on free speech in UK repelled for now

A week or so ago, the House of Commons caved to Blair and voted to approve a bill making it a criminal offense to "glorify terror." This would have made it illegal, for example, to opine that because the Palestinians have been offered no alternative means of achieving their legitimate objectives, their suicide attacks against innocent civilians are regretable, but necessary. I don't agree with that, but it's certainly a position that can be debated with some legitimacy, particularly if the targets are military and police targets instead of civilians. Yet, debating it would have potentially led to jail time in the new UK for glorifying terrorism.

Luckily, the House of Lords overturned the legislation for the second time. What happens now, who knows?

The government was tonight defeated in the Lords over its controversial terror bill as peers voted to reject a clause creating a new offence of "glorifying" terrorism.

The bill will now go back to the House of Commons in a battle of wills between the two houses which is referred to as "parliamentary pingpong".

Charles Clarke, the home secretary, immediately hit back, saying: "I am disappointed that the Lords have chosen to ignore the clear and repeated signal from the Commons that glorification of terrorism is unacceptable.

Interesting, isn't it, that I haven't seen any of our pro-free speech, pro anti-Muslim cartoon crowd complaining about this bill?


Its hard to get a clear read on what's going on in Iraq today, but it certainly doesn't look good. Everytime I click on the news the number of dead in today's rampages has increased. Now it's reported to be 66, but, at the rate we're going, it could end up being many more.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A series of suicide attacks, car bombs and mortar barrages rocked Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 66 people and wounding scores as Iraq teetered on the brink of sectarian civil war. Iraqis suffered through days of reprisal killings and attacks on Sunni mosques after bombers blew apart the gold dome of a Shiite Muslim shrine north of Baghdad on Wednesday. Fears were complicated by the continuing struggle among Iraqi politicians to form a government based on parliamentary elections nearly three months ago.

These attacks are going on all around the country, and, as many bloggers have discussed, the Washington Post puts the number of people killed since the blast at the Shiite shrine at about 1,300. I very much doubt this situation can be brought back under control for any sustained period of time.

Don't cry "wolf" unless there's really a wolf at the door

Frankly, I think much of the media coverage of today's Supreme Court ruling on abortion protests is terribly simplistic and misleading. For example, this article's headline reads, "Supreme Court backs Abortion Protesters."

The headline and the first paragraph create the impression that this was an anti-abortion decision, probably a result of the new appointments tipping the Court. It wasn't that at all.

In fact, what the Court did was to deny use of the Racketeering laws and a 55 year-old law to prevent extortion as a device to prevent protests at abortion clinics. As Stephen Breyer correctly pointed out, in 1994 Congress enacted a law specifically designed to protect abortion clinics from the excesses of some protesters. As the article states, once you read it closely, many social activists and the AFL-CIO joined in the suit to stop the use of these laws to prevent protests, fearing they could be used to stop other legitimate protests as well.

I'm quite sure I would have voted the same way the Court did on this one. There's much to worry about regarding this Court and Roe v. Wade, but this particular decision isn't part of it.

If progressives and the press complain about this kind of thing, we may end up having cried "wolf" once too often.

The Almighty Market and Wealth-Income Distribution

Maybe the most important thing Krugman said in his NYT column yesterday is this:

The idea that we have a rising oligarchy . . . . suggests that the growth of inequality may have as much to do with power relations as it does with market forces. Unfortunately, that's the real story.

Is it true market forces that drove CEO incomes up to 400 times worker wages (or whatever obscene multiple in that general range it currently is), versus 30x or so about 40 years ago? In my book, the many, many most highly-rewarded members of the economics profession who have driven the "market-forces" narrative for rising inequality have been bought lock, stock and barrel. Mostly, I suspect, they don't even know it.

It's a long, long story, of course, but somebody someday will weave together into an elegant grand theory such phenomena as residual hatred of TR, Wilson, FDR and their welfare-state creation; the relentless attack on labor and the very idea of collective bargaining; the highly intellectualized and beneath-the-radar attack on antitrust law; the attack on tort law, class action lawsuits and plaintiffs' lawyers; management's general lack of accountability to shareholders and its ability to control the corporation under dominant Delaware corporation law; the tiny number of individuals who populate the boards of the top corporations (and could fit in a relatively small theater).

The common theme is power: the wealthiest elites, presumably, reclaiming the power to tear up the post-Depression/World War II social contract formed on the belief that lesser economic disparities -- not equality per se, which was never part of the American social contract -- would benefit everyone. As a debating proposition at minimum, I would contend that the "market" has had barely anything whatsoever to do with how income and wealth have become re-distributed today. Can modern economists deal with such concepts that are hard to reduce to calculus? Indeed, while we are on a big-picture roll here, was the introduction of deep quantification as a professional necessity for gaining stature in the economics profession itself a technique of control that facilitated the Great Rollback?

The knock-out punch?

KISSweb posted below that the Jerusalem Post is reporting that the Dubai Ports World company participates in the Arab boycott of Israeli products. If this proves to be true, the media will be screaming it from the rooftops. (Or, if they don't, we'll know for sure that they've been completely corrupted).

If anything could take Bush down for good, this should be it!

Update: I'm planning to send a link to the article to several senators. I have Joe Lieberman particularly in mind, since he's supported the prez on this one.

A mountain of evidence

The evidence is amassing to take down Cheney along with Scooter. I wonder if Fitzgerald will have the guts to take on Cheney.

WASHINGTON - Handwritten notes taken by the CIA show Vice President Cheney's top aide knew the name of CIA spy Valerie Plame a month before her cover was blown.

It appears to be the first known document in the hands of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that directly contradicts Lewis (Scooter) Libby's claim he learned from reporters in July 2003 that Valerie Plame was a CIA employee.

Libby, who was Cheney's chief of staff, has been indicted for perjury in the CIA leak investigation...

The filing suggests Cheney may have been present when Libby griped to his CIA briefer about agency officials slamming the veep in the press.

Dubai Firm Enforces Arab Boycott of Israel?

Salon, NYT and the big blogs don't seem to be picking this up yet, but the Jerusalem Post is reporting it. Doing business with such companies is supposed to be a violation of U.S. (and who knows what other) law. Some investigation!

Buying them off

The U.S. has settled a lawsuit filed by a Muslim who was falsely arrested and deported for $300,000.

The federal government has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by an Egyptian who was among dozens of Muslim men swept up in the New York area after 9/11, held for months in a federal detention center in Brooklyn and deported after being cleared of links to terrorism.

The settlement, filed in federal court late yesterday, is the first the government has made in a number of lawsuits charging that noncitizens were abused and their constitutional rights violated in detentions after the terror attacks.

It removes one of two plaintiffs from a case in which a federal judge ruled last fall that former Attorney General John Ashcroft, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other top government officials must answer questions under oath. Government lawyers filed an appeal of that ruling on Friday.

I' m guessing that they didn't want this to come to trial for fear it would expose the fact that they are arresting people willy nilly without any pretence of having reason to believe them guilty.

More polls

This has not been a good month for the dictators. Today, we find a Zogby poll that says 72% of the troops in Iraq want a pullout within one year. Meanwhile, the CBS poll I mentioned in the previous post puts Cheney's approval ratings at 18%.

Lame Duck

Bush's approval dropped eight points from its level at the end of January to a miserable 34% according to the CBS poll published last night. I really think this is the tipping point. Many Americans tend to adopt the same political views as their friends and colleagues. Now, with almost two out of every three people either disliking Bush or being too clueless to know, the chatter around the water cooler is likely to be distinctly anti-Bush. I suspect that's going to tip even more people into the anti-Bush camp, not unlike what happened to his daddy towards the end of his term.

This duck is so lame, we may have to call in Dick Cheney to put him out of his misery with an errant shot.

Bush's Burgeoning Ranks of the underemployed

This issue had legs for Sen. Kerry in Debate #3 thanks to Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post in an Monday, October 11, 2004 article. To bad Kerry could not articlulate it.

“The growing ranks of what economists call the "contingent" workforce, the vast and growing pool of workers tenuously employed in jobs that once were stable enough to support a family. In a single generation, "contingent employment arrangements" have begun to transform the world of work, not only for temp workers, but also for those in traditional jobs who are competing with a tier of employees receiving lower pay and few, if any, benefits”.

“The rise of that workforce has become another factor undermining the type of middle-wage jobs, paying about the national average of $17 per hour and carrying health and retirement benefits, that have kept the nation's middle-class standard of living so widely available.”

“The impact of the temp trend on the American middle class can hardly be overstated. As the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago noted in a paper last year, temporary workers "receive much lower wages than permanent workers, although they frequently perform the same tasks as permanent staff members." An analysis by Harvard University economist Lawrence F. Katz and Princeton University economist Alan B. Krueger found that states with the highest concentration of temps experienced the lowest wage growth of the 1990s.”

“Toyota executives say they use temporary workers as a buffer, to insulate their full-time staff from the ups and downs of consumer demand. Since it opened in 1988, through two recessions, their Georgetown, KY plant has never laid off an employee, said Daniel Sieger, manager of media relations for Toyota Motor Manufacturing in North America.”
“Even without layoffs, however, the plant's full-time staff has declined by 706 positions from the 7,787 employees it had in 2000, according to Toyota. Over that time, the temp workforce dipped from 409 in 2000 to 301 in 2002, then rose to 425 late this summer.”
Toyota managers say they will try to hire all of their long-term temporaries by the end of the year or in early 2005, after they see how many Toyota workers accept an early retirement package. Forty-seven temps were hired in late September. The management move came after The Washington Post spent a week in Kentucky examining the temporary employment issue at the Georgetown plant. Before September's hires, it had been two years since the plant hired a full-time "team member," Toyota managers said, a period during which the plant shed 240 full-time positions. Temporary employment during that time rose by 124.

Third Reich Redux: part 2

On the 2/4/05, a parallel was drawn between three axioms of the Third Reich and the M.O. of the Bush Administration.
1. Exaggerate an existing threat
2. Create a Madison Ave slogan to symbolize the threat.
3. Underpin the slogan with a divisiveness message.

Consider axioms four and five.

4) Create the Cult of Deference. By reinforcing faulty premises that President is trustworthy and create imbedded loyalty to Administration team.

Then: Reich marshals crafted legislation giving Hitler control of civil liberties cited earlier in Scatablog
Now: Circumventing the constitution to keep us safe

5) Control of the Media to reinforce 1-3, especially 3 including ghoulish exploitation of the events connected to the exaggerated threat
Then: -Sudetenland welkomen -Goebbels big lie
Now: -Iraq sees US as saviors -Fox News-GOP propaganda arm

Examples include Chris Matthews and Tim Russerta. impugning the Out-party media sources, i.e. NYT leaked the Plame story.

Necessary Conditions for 3rd Reich Redux

Those of unwarranted faith in U.S. voters do not want to be reminded of Mencken’s classic statement: "no one ever lost a fortune (or an election) underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

What is underpinning the Third Reich Redux?

1. Declining educational base of the US voting public abided by government intrusion into academic discourse. Example: a right wing fringe of PA legislators tried to pass a bill in the PA legislature to muzzle professors deemed to be “politically biased.” Burn those text books while you are at it.

2. Apathy of US voting public, including the contrast of Gen Y “give me my TV, don’t cut my services or raise my taxes" apathy with the Baby Boom political protesters.

3. Fatalism driven non-resistance. The old cope out that one vote can’t alter a large system.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Can you find a Republican who isn't corrupt?

Almost every day now, there's a new story of a corrupted Rethuglican bought and paid for by Abramoff & Co. Here's today's, via Raw Story.

A Georgia congressman omitted a trip paid for by a client of fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff from travel disclosure forms, even though he declared it on his personal income filings, RAW STORY has found.

The congressman -- Rep. John Linder (R-GA) -- took a five-day trip to Puerto Rico with his wife in August 1998. The trip was paid for by Future of Puerto Rico, Inc., a nebulous lobbying group that sought to advance Puerto Rican statehood and other island causes. The group was a client of Jack Abramoff, the former conservative superlobbyist who pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials in January.

Linder, the longest-serving Republican in the Georgia House delegation, was first elected in 1992. He sits on several powerful committees -- including Ways and Means and Homeland Security -- and was chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee from 1996-1998…

The article goes on to say that prior to the boon doggle, Linder had routinely voted against Puerto Rico's proposals, believing the island to be mainly Democratic and not wanting to favor it for those reasons. However,

… following his trip to Puerto Rico, he supported all island measures Abramoff was lobbying on that came to a House vote.

Linder vote yes on the Work Improvement Act of 1999, the Financial Freedom Act of 1999, the Defense Department Appropriations Act of 2001 and the Community Renewal & New Markets Act of 2000. Abramoff registered to lobby on all the measures according to forms filed with the Senate by Future of Puerto Rico, Inc.

Caught in the act

A couple of days ago, I commented on the IRS findings regarding political activity in tax exempt organizations and worried about whether the IRS is misusing its power to intimidate. Today, this article appears in the Washington Post:

The Internal Revenue Service recently audited the books of a Texas nonprofit group that was critical of campaign spending by former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) after receiving a request for the audit from one of DeLay's political allies in the House.

The lawmaker, House Ways and Means Committee member Sam Johnson (R-Tex.), was in turn responding to a complaint about the group, Texans for Public Justice, from Barnaby W. Zall, a Washington lawyer close to DeLay and his fundraising apparatus, according to IRS documents.

Johnson, a member of the subcommittee responsible for oversight of the tax agency, sparked the IRS's interest by telling IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson in a letter dated Aug. 3, 2004, that he had "uncovered some disturbing information" and received complaints of possible tax violations.

Johnson said he was sure the IRS would follow up. "I ask you to report back your findings of each of these investigations directly to me," he told Everson in the letter, according to a copy obtained by The Washington Post.

The IRS sent two auditors last year to comb the 2003 books of Texans for Public Justice and an affiliated foundation that collected donations for the organization. No tax violations were found, according to a letter the IRS sent the group.

But the circumstances behind the effort -- which were uncovered by the group's director and founder, Craig L. McDonald, using the Freedom of Information Act -- prompted him to allege that the audit was an abuse of the IRS's mandate. He said there was no evidence of wrongdoing in the complaints.

"This audit was political retaliation by Tom DeLay's cronies to intimidate us for blowing the whistle on DeLay's abuses," McDonald said.
[A hat tip to Josh Marshall at TPM]

Income inequality

Paul Krugman has an interesting column (thanks to Truth Out, this link is not behind the subscription wall) in the Times today on income inequality. He picks up on an answer the new Fed chairman, Bernanke, gave in Congressional testimony the other day.

But Mr. Bernanke did stumble at one point. Responding to a question from Representative Barney Frank about income inequality, he declared that "the most important factor" in rising inequality "is the rising skill premium, the increased return to education."
He argues that Bernanke's view of income inequality arising due to better jobs for the better educated is bunk.

So who are the winners from rising inequality? It's not the top 20 percent, or even the top 10 percent. The big gains have gone to a much smaller, much richer group than that.

A new research paper by Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon of Northwestern University, "Where Did the Productivity Growth Go?," gives the details. Between 1972 and 2001 the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent, or about 1 percent per year. So being in the top 10 percent of the income distribution, like being a college graduate, wasn't a ticket to big income gains.

But income at the 99th percentile rose 87 percent; income at the 99.9th percentile rose 181 percent; and income at the 99.99th percentile rose 497 percent. No, that's not a misprint.

Just to give you a sense of who we're talking about: the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that this year the 99th percentile will correspond to an income of $402,306, and the 99.9th percentile to an income of $1,672,726. The center doesn't give a number for the 99.99th percentile, but it's probably well over $6 million a year
Now, of course, this is a long-term trend, and the data he refers to are from the pre-Bush period, but there's no doubt that Bush has accelerated the trend since he's been in office.

21 does not equal 6, please tell the press.

Please explain to me why it is that even though the fact that the Dubai Ports deal involves not just six but 21 US ports came to light at least two days ago, the press continues to refer to the deal as a six port deal? Last night, BBC World was still referring to it as a six port deal. Today, the LA Times refers to it as a six port deal. CNN continues to talk of the six ports. It just goes on and on. Don't these people even read the newspapers they write? I don't get it. If I can learn about it two days ago, without the advantage of having a Lexis/Nexis account, you'd think they could have figured it out by now, wouldn't you?

Who cares, it's just your grandkids' money?

Today's NY Times informs us that even though Halliburton overcharged us $250 million to deliver fuel to Iraq, the Army has decided to pay anyway. Does anyone else see Cheney hiding behind the curtains on this one?

Handing over the keys

Updated below:

Marty Lederman has some preliminary observations after completing his first reading of the proposed Specter bill to redo FISA.

[The draft bill] is not simply a reenactment of the "FISA framework" -- instead, it's a wholescale dismantling of that framework, a substantive amendment to FISA that would vastly increase the surveillance authority of the President. It would give the Executive branch everything it has always wanted, and much more: The punishment for having broken the law with impunity would be a wholesale repeal of the law that has governed electronic surveillance for almost 30 years (and not only with respect to Al Qaeda or terrorism). In one fell swoop, the Specter legislation would undo the detailed regulatory scheme that both political branches have so carefully calibrated over more than a quarter-century.

…the bill would permit domestic electronic surveillance targeted at U.S. persons merely upon a showing of "probable cause" that the surveillance program as a whole -- not even the particular targeted surveillance -- will intercept communications of anyone who has "had communication" with a foreign power or agent of a foreign power, as long as the government is seeking to monitor or detect that foreign power (or agent)! (See the new section 704: The standard for the FISA Court's review of the application is whether "there is probable cause to believe that the electronic surveillance program will intercept communications of the foreign power or agent of a foreign power specified in the application, or a person who has had communication with the foreign power or agent of a foreign power specified in the application.")

This is breathtakingly broad because the pre-existing definitions of "foreign power" and "agent of foreign power," which would not be changed, include not only terrorist organizations, but all components of a foreign government, all foreign-based political organizations, and all persons acting in the U.S. as agents of such govenrments and organizations.

… In other words, there would no longer be any meaningful substantive statutory restriction on the federal government's electronic domestic surveillance of U.S. persons -- the end of FISA as we know it. The only check would be an odd constitutional check: The FISA court would be required to certify that the program as a whole (again, not any particular surveillance) is "consistent with" the Fourth Amendment. This would, if I'm not mistaken, bring us right back to the pre-FISA days, when the Fourth Amendment was the only legal constraint on domestic electronic surveillance by the federal government. To be sure, under the Specter bill the Fourth Amemdent bona fides would have to be approved in advance, by the FISA court. But the proceedings would be secret, and ex parte. Moreover, the FISA Court could not possibly review the surveillance for, e.g., the "particularity" that the Fourth Amendment requires, because the FISA Court would be tasked not with determining whether any particular interception is constutitional, but somehow with making "wholesale" determinations that the program writ large is "consistent with" the Constitution.

A day or so ago I quoted someone as saying that the difference between Bush and the Roman emperors is that the Roman senate authorized the Roman emperors to take power, whereas Congress has not authorized Bush to do so. Enter Arlen Specter handing the keys to Bush.

Update: Glenn Greenwood has a somewhat different take on the Specter legislation. He believes that even the relaxed version of FISA in Specter's proposal will not be acceptable to the administration.

While it is true that, as Marty Lederman noted yesterday, the burden which the Administration would have to meet in order to eavesdrop under the Specter legislation would be substantially lowered as compared to what FISA currently requires, it is also true that the legislation provides meaningful – one could even say stringent – mechanisms for both judicial and Congressional oversight, and vests the FISA court with rather broad discretion to approve or reject the eavesdropping programs submitted by the Administration. For that reason, this bill is far from some magic bullet that will quietly resolve this scandal to the satisfaction of the Administration, because I do not believe the Administration can or will accept this legislation...
Beyond this always-paramount crisis is the fact that the Administration, in light of the positions it has emphatically staked out, cannot possibly accept the meaningful limitations and oversight contained in the Specter proposal. The Administration has repeatedly claimed that national security requires that it be able to eavesdrop with total secrecy and without any limitations from the courts or Congress. It therefore cannot and will not accept a framework which imposes such limitations.

For these reasons, I believe that this legislation could actually achieve a good result for this scandal – in a sense, it calls the Administration’s bluff. From the beginning of this scandal, the Administration has claimed that it eavesdropped outside of FISA because the FISA standards are too restrictive and the FISA process too cumbersome to enable the eavesdropping it wants.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Deer hunting

This article describes how a contract hunter sneaks around at twilight in the suburbs of Minneapolis shooting at deer with a high powered rifle, while the residents are unaware of his presence. The purpose is to reduce the deer population.

Now, I have no problems with hunting per se, nor do I have any problem with culling the deer population. After all, there are said to be more deer now than there were when the Americas were discovered.

But, I don't think I want someone wandering around my back yard shooting at deer when I don't even know he's there. What if he gets a Cheney complex?

A moving/falling object

You will recall when the prez fell off his bike and hit a Scottish police officer some time ago. Now, the police report on the incident has finally been released:

The official police incident report states: "[The unit] was requested to cover the road junction on the Auchterarder to Braco Road as the President of the USA, George Bush, was cycling through." The report goes on: "[At] about 1800 hours the President approached the junction at speed on the bicycle. The road was damp at the time. As the President passed the junction at speed he raised his left arm from the handlebars to wave to the police officers present while shouting 'thanks, you guys, for coming'.

"As he did this he lost control of the cycle, falling to the ground, causing both himself and his bicycle to strike [the officer] on the lower legs. [The officer] fell to the ground, striking his head. The President continued along the ground for approximately five metres, causing himself a number of abrasions. The officers... then assisted both injured parties."

…At hospital, a doctor examined the constable and diagnosed damage to his ankle ligaments and issued him with crutches. The cause was officially recorded as: "Hit by moving/falling object."

…Details of precisely how the crash unfolded have until now been kept under wraps for fear of embarrassing both Bush and the injured constable. But the new disclosures are certain to raise eyebrows on Washington's Capitol Hill.

Jim McDermott, a Democrat Congressman, last night quipped: "Not only does he break the law over here on eavesdropping and spying on our own citizens, but it seems he can't even keep to your law when it comes to riding a bike. It's another example of how he can't keep his mind on the things he should be thinking about."

…In Scotland, an accident such as the one at Gleneagles could have led to police action. Earlier this year, Strathclyde Police issued three fixed penalty notices to errant cyclists as part of a crack-down on rogue riders. Legal experts also suggested lesser mortals could have ended up with a fixed penalty fine, prosecution, or at least a good ticking-off from officers.

John Scott, a human rights lawyer, said: "There's certainly enough in this account for a charge of careless driving. Anyone else would have been warned for dangerous driving.

"I have had clients who have been charged with assaulting a police officer for less than this. The issue of how long the police officer was out of action for is also important. He was away from work for 14 weeks, and that would normally be very significant in a case like this."

Obviously, this incident in and of itself is rather insignificant, but if it can generate the impression that the man really can't walk and chew gum at the same time, it may help to take him down, a la Gerald Ford.

A hat tip to Georgia10 at DailyKos.

Half full or half empty?

Hamas has said it's prepared to recognize Israel. I'm inclined to look at the glass as half full in this instance, even though there is clearly a long way to go before Israel and Hamas can actually reach an agreement. It's just enough of a change in tone to suggest there's a possibility of progress.

The Palestinian prime minister-designate says Hamas is ready to recognise Israel if it gives the Palestinian people their full rights and a state in lands occupied since 1967, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Hamas chose Ismail Haniya, a 43-year-old Gazan viewed by many Palestinians as a pragmatist, as the new prime minister after sweeping elections on 25 January. The group hopes to complete forming a Palestinian government within two weeks.

"If Israel declares that it will give the Palestinian people a state and give them back all their rights, then we are ready to recognise them," Haniya told the Washington Post in an interview posted on its website on Saturday.

Let's pass a law to make it illegal to break the law

Glenn Greenwood alerts us to the fact that Senator Specter has offered new legislation to require the President to apply to the FISA court before conducting domestic spying. He goes on as follows:

It is, of course, so disorientingly bizarre to hear about a proposed law requiring FISA warrants for eavesdropping because we already have a law in place which does exactly that. It's called FISA. That's the law the Administration has been deliberately breaking because they think they don't have to comply with it and that Congress has no power to make them. Reading this article about Specter's proposed legislation is somewhat like hearing that a life-long, chronic bank-robber got arrested for robbing a bank over the weekend and, in response, a Senator introduces legislation to make it a crime to rob banks...

Specter's new law would be treated by the Administration as being just as irrelevant and optional as it has treated FISA. Enacting a new law which the Administration is claiming it has the right to ignore is an exercise in futility and idiocy. The Administration has seized the power to break the law. Until that problem is resolved, Specter and his distinguished colleagues and friends in the Senate can pass all of the laws they want, but those laws will continue to be viewed by the Administration as optional suggestions which can be followed if the Administration wants to, rather than actual laws that compel adherence.

I actually think that the Administration's theories vesting George Bush with law-breaking powers are so radical and dangerous that people like Specter can't get themselves to actually accept that the Administration has really embraced these theories and is living them. Notwithstanding the fact that the Administration has expressly advocated these positions in numerous instances in many different contexts over several years now, it's as though people in Congress -- and the media -- think they're not really serious about believing them. I wonder what else needs to be revealed about the Administration's law-breaking for people to start realizing that this Administration really does not only believe that George Bush has these law-breaking powers, but also that they have been exercising those powers for quite some time now and have vowed to continue to do so.

Frankly, I don't give Specter anywhere near as much credit as Greenwood does. I think the whole purpose of this is to cover up the fact that Bush broke the law before. With the new law, everyone can trot along saying he's in compliance. What Specter and his pals are hoping is that even though Bush will continue to break the new law, he won't get caught before his term expires, and Specter won't have to answer to his critics on the far right for making poor Mr. Bush's life more difficult.

Assurances from the EPA

The EPA is giving us assurances that dumping the residue from the nerve gas VX into the Delaware River is both safe and environmentally sound.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency won't oppose the U.S. Department of Defense and DuPont Co.'s plan to dump a wastewater byproduct of a deadly nerve agent into the Delaware River.

The agency said it's assured of a safe treatment for up to 4 million gallons of caustic wastewater created in the treatment for VX, a chemical weapon with a pinhead-size potency to kill a human. DuPont is treating VX for disposal at its Newport Chemical Depot in Indiana.

The agent, once neutralized, would be shipped to DuPont's Chambers Works plant in Deepwater, N.J., for discharge into the river.

"EPA believes that all of our previously identified ecological concerns have been resolved," said Walter Mugdan, director of the agency's Environmental Planning and Protection division in New York, in a letter released Friday to CNN and obtained by The News Journal in Wilmington, Del.

You know, I really wish I could trust them. Back in the days before the Bush administration made it illegal to actually look at facts, I would have. But, we already know that Christie Whitman and the EPA declared ground zero to be safe, and now the people that worked there on rescue and recovery are dying of complications from their exposure. I simply don't trust the Bush EPA, particularly when a major corporation stands to benefit from their ruling (full disclosure: I own some DuPont common stock). I swim and canoe in the Delaware... or at least I did swim and canoe in the Delaware.

Bush worse than the Roman dictators

Steve Clemons at the Washington Note is usually reserved in his criticism of the Bush administration, often madingly so, but he seems to be getting a bit shrill here:

Nonetheless, Bush has become the epitome of a Roman dictator in the 21st century in his assertion of "unitary executive" authority which this White House has argued has "inherent and limitless powers in his role as commander in chief, above the system of checks and balances." The problem is that unlike Rome, where the Senate granted the dictator great powers, Congress has not -- in fact -- given Bush the authority to operate beyond his Constitutional authority. Bush has, instead, asserted that authority and taunted Congress to stop him.

This power grab should dominate our media and our civic discourse. Our President -- via a deranged, anti-democratic team of power-obsessed thugs in Vice President Cheney's office -- is engaged in a clear assault on the core architectural joists of American democracy.

Keep knitting, Madame Defarge

I hope Madame Defarge has her knitting needles ready. This piece in today's NY Times about the Bagram prison in Afghanistan should provide some great copy for her tapestry of the crimes of the Bush administration.

While an international debate rages over the future of the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the military has quietly expanded another, less-visible prison in Afghanistan, where it now holds some 500 terror suspects in more primitive conditions, indefinitely and without charges.

Pentagon officials have often described the detention site at Bagram, a cavernous former machine shop on an American air base 40 miles north of Kabul, as a screening center. They said most of the detainees were Afghans who might eventually be released under an amnesty program or transferred to an Afghan prison that is to be built with American aid.

But some of the detainees have already been held at Bagram for as long as two or three years. And unlike those at Guantánamo, they have no access to lawyers, no right to hear the allegations against them and only rudimentary reviews of their status as "enemy combatants," military officials said...

From the accounts of former detainees, military officials and soldiers who served there, a picture emerges of a place that is in many ways rougher and more bleak than its counterpart in Cuba. Men are held by the dozen in large wire cages, the detainees and military sources said, sleeping on the floor on foam mats and, until about a year ago, often using plastic buckets for latrines. Before recent renovations, they rarely saw daylight except for brief visits to a small exercise yard.

Just as with Guantanamo, it's obvious that most of the prisoners are either innocent or small fry, else why would they be slotted for eventual release under an amnesty program? Yet, here we are treating them like ... well, I can't think of any beast that we'd treat this badly.

DeLay receives the "Spirit of Enterprise" award

Endorsement for a crook an alleged crook, because he "always votes for business" (and he's probably cheap to bribe too). I guess we know what the "spirit of enterprise" is all about.

LEAGUE CITY -- U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay received an enterprise award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce today as well as getting an endorsement from the national group.

DeLay, R-Sugar Land, was presented with the "Spirit of Enterprise" award from the chamber group during a Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Peter Havel, regional executive director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Dallas, presented the award to DeLay for his "outstanding leadership" and "for voting with the business community on a consistent basis."

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Howard Dean in retrospect

As we watch with anxiety the possible descent of Iraq into an anarchy and civil war that our government has brought upon it, it is interesting to be reminded that that political wild man, Howard Dean, saw it coming and tried to warn us.

Glenn Greenwald has posted a piece in Crooks and Liars with extensive excerpts from a speech which Dean gave in February 2003, before the invasion and after the Senate's vote authorizing the use of force against Iraq. Lest one think it merely partisan, Dean also chastised the Democratic senators who vote for the resolution. Let me repost some of the speech's lines from Greenwald's post (full text of the speech here):

I believe it is my patriotic duty to urge a different path to protecting America's security: To focus on al Qaeda, which is an imminent threat, and to use our resources to improve and strengthen the security and safety of our home front and our people while working with the other nations of the world to contain Saddam Hussein. . . .

Had I been a member of the Senate, I would have voted against the resolution that authorized the President to use unilateral force against Iraq - unlike others in that body now seeking the presidency. That the President was given open-ended authority to go to war in Iraq resulted from a failure of too many in my party in Washington who were worried about political positioning for the presidential election. The stakes are so high, this is not a time for holding back or sheepishly going along with the herd.

To this day, the President has not made a case that war against Iraq, now, is necessary to defend American territory, our citizens, our allies, or our essential interests.The Administration has not explained how a lasting peace, and lasting security, will be achieved in Iraq once Saddam Hussein is toppled.

As a doctor, I was trained to treat illness, and to examine a variety of options before deciding which to prescribe. I worried about side effects and took the time to see what else might work before proceeding to high-risk measures. . . .

We have been told over and over again what the risks will be if we do not go to war. We have been told little about what the risks will be if we do go to war. If we go to war, I certainly hope the Administration's assumptions are realized, and the conflict is swift, successful and clean. I certainly hope our armed forces will be welcomed like heroes and liberators in the streets of Baghdad.

I certainly hope Iraq emerges from the war stable, united and democratic.

I certainly hope terrorists around the world conclude it is a mistake to defy America and cease, thereafter, to be terrorists.

It is possible, however, that events could go differently, . . . . Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms. Anti-American feelings will surely be inflamed among the misguided who choose to see an assault on Iraq as an attack on Islam, or as a means of controlling Iraqi oil. And last week's tape by Osama bin Laden tells us that our enemies will seek relentlessly to transform a war into a tool for inspiring and recruiting more terrorists.

Further, even then Dean was dubious of the WMD justification for the invasion:

Now, I am not among those who say that America should never use its armed forces unilaterally. In some circumstances, we have no choice. In Iraq, I would be prepared to go ahead without further Security Council backing if it were clear the threat posed to us by Saddam Hussein was imminent, and could neither be contained nor deterred.

However, that case has not been made, and I believe we should continue the hard work of diplomacy and inspection. . . .

Secretary Powell's recent presentation at the UN showed the extent to which we have Iraq under an audio and visual microscope. Given that, I was impressed not by the vastness of evidence presented by the Secretary, but rather by its sketchiness. . .

Is there time to bring Howard Dean back to prominence, or at least to respect? Sadly, I fear there is not now. But perhaps at least the model of his courage to speak out will be remembered and repeated.

The perils of being a nuclear state

Israel's Haaretz reports:
If the United States launches an attack on Iran, the Islamic republic will retaliate with a military strike on Israel's main nuclear facility.
In effect, Iran is threatening to turn Israel's own nuclear power against it. I assume a successful strike on the Israeli reactor would lead to radioactive contamination of a sizeable population of Israelis.

A bit ironic, n'est ce pas?

But, perhaps Iran should think about this too. Who's to say the game can't be played in reverse?


I just received the following e-mail:
It has come to our attention that you may now qualify for a diploma from a prestigious non-accredited university based on your present knowlegde and/or professional experience.

If you qualify, no required tests, classes, books or examinations are required.
Prestigious non-accredited university? Doesn't something about that sound wrong? Or, am I just being an elitist?

Portgate scandal dredging on

There are two new bits of information about the Dubai Ports deal that have leaked out over the past day. First, the deal doesn't just involve six US ports. It involves 21 US ports. Second, it appears that even though Chertoff says he knew nothing about the deal, the Department of Homeland Security initially objected to it for security reasons and only later agreed to go along, once some meaningless restrictions were imposed. That alone should have triggered the 45 day review of the deal required under the law, but this administration doesn't pay any attention to laws that restrict its freedom of action.

Kevin Drum wonders why no one told the press about the additional 15 ports involved in the deal. I wonder why the press took so long to figure this out. After all, all the information is in the public domain.

The false postulates

A number of bloggers have commented on the National Review article by the Dean of all conservative thinkers, William F. Buckley. In it he says we have essentially lost the Iraq war, which has been the newsworthy item that all have pointed to. Few have commented directly on the following paragraphs from that article:

A problem for American policymakers - for President Bush, ultimately - is to cope with the postulates and decide how to proceed.

One of these postulates, from the beginning, was that the Iraqi people, whatever their tribal differences, would suspend internal divisions in order to get on with life in a political structure that guaranteed them religious freedom.

The accompanying postulate was that the invading American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymkers to cope with insurgents bent on violence.

This last did not happen. And the administration has, now, to cope with failure. It can defend itself historically, standing by the inherent reasonableness of the postulates. After all, they govern our policies in Latin America, in Africa, and in much of Asia. The failure in Iraq does not force us to generalize that violence and antidemocratic movements always prevail. It does call on us to adjust to the question, What do we do when we see that the postulates do not prevail - in the absence of interventionist measures (we used these against Hirohito and Hitler) which we simply are not prepared to take? It is healthier for the disillusioned American to concede that in one theater in the Mideast, the postulates didn't work. The alternative would be to abandon the postulates. To do that would be to register a kind of philosophical despair. The killer insurgents are not entitled to blow up the shrine of American idealism.
I think these comments perfectly summarize what's wrong with the intellectual wing of the conservative movement in this country. Buckley refers to two underlying "postulates" about the war in Iraq which he later equates with American ideals. Here are the two "postulates:"

1) that the Iraqi people, whatever their tribal differences, would suspend internal divisions in order to get on with life in a political structure that guaranteed them religious freedom.


2) the invading American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymkers to cope with insurgents bent on violence.

It is certainly true that these, or something very like them, were the driving force behind the neo-conservative thinking that led up to the war. That, indeed, is the problem with the neo-conservatives. They start from some sort of "first principles" that have no empirical support in reality, and then build a foreign policy based on them. Even now that Buckley admits the first principles were wrong in Iraq, he won't let go of them. As with the Bush administration in general, they have abandoned the "reality based" community. Foreign policy for these people becomes a matter of faith, not analysis of fact.

Second, Buckley's first principles, outlined above, have little or nothing to do with the American ideals Buckley likens them to. Whether or not we would succeed in training Iraqis to cope with insurgents has nothing to do with America's first principles which, in part, include tolerance for divergent points of view, belief in the ultimate soundness of democratic decisions made by an informed populace, and respect for the rights of the individual. They have nothing whatever to do with training militias.

Perhaps Buckley's first "postulate" can be stretched and massaged to sound something like these American ideals, but it takes a good deal of stretching and massaging. There are all kinds of reasons why the Iraqi people, with their tribal differences, could not suspend internal divisions in order to get on with life in a political structure that guaranteed them religious freedom. None of them in any way threaten the foundation of American ideals.

First and foremost, the impetus for the introduction of democracy in Iraq did not come from within Iraq -- it was imposed on it from outside.

Somehow, I don't think we Americans would have been that happy if the French had invaded the colonies, thrown out the English rulers, and imposed a French style "democracy" here, based on a French-style constitution, written by long-term exiles from the colonies hand-picked by the French, relying on Napoleonic law (which, of course, didn't exist then) instead of the English common law, while simultaneously fortifying Pittsburgh (Ft. Duquesne) and other areas around the country to become permanent French military bases. Add to that repeated insults, up to and including killings and torture, to the "boobish" local population by the "cultured" French, the theft of enormous sums intended to rebuild the country from the destruction of war, and the inability of the French to prevent attacks by the Native Americans on towns and outposts near the wilderness, and I suspect we would have welcomed King George back with open arms.

The missing e-mail

Apparently the White House has found and turned over to Patrick Fitzgerald hundreds of pages of heretofore "missing" e-mails relating to the Valerie Plame leak.

Friday 24 February 2006

The White House turned over last week 250 pages of emails from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. Senior aides had sent the emails in the spring of 2003 related to the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald revealed during a federal court hearing Friday.

The emails are said to be explosive, and may prove that Cheney played an active role in the effort to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s prewar Iraq intelligence, sources close to the investigation said.

Sources close to the probe said the White House “discovered” the emails two weeks ago and turned them over to Fitzgerald last week. The sources added that the emails could prove that Cheney lied to FBI investigators when he was interviewed about the leak in early 2004. Cheney said that he was unaware of any effort to discredit Wilson or unmask his wife’s undercover status to reporters.

Frankly, I doubt that they would have been turned over if they are that incriminating. However, you never know. Maybe Bush and Cheney think they'll just stonewall Congress and the Courts on this one. After all, they answer to no one. From the Clinton Justice Department:

In 1973, the Department concluded that the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions. We have been asked to summarize and review the analysis provided in support of that conclusion, and to consider whether any subsequent developments in the law lead us today to reconsider and modify or disavow that determination.1 We believe that the conclusion reached by the Department in 1973 still represents the best interpretation of the Constitution.
If you can't indict a sitting president, does that apply to the president of vice as well? It turns out there is precedent for indicting a sitting vice president. Aaron Burr was indicted while holding the office. But, that was a "pre 9/11 world." I'm sure Bush and Cheney would have some argument why you can't do it in a post 9/11 world.

The Bush bog

It looks as though Bush is digging in his heals on the Dubai Ports contract, even in the face angry objections from most Republican members of the House and Senate and even from Tom Kean.
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration said Friday it won't reconsider its approval for a United Arab Emirates company to take over significant operations at six U.S. ports. The former head of the Sept. 11 commission said the deal "never should have happened."
Someone should probably tell him that when you're standing in quick sand you shouldn't dig in your heels, but I'm keeping my lips sealed... sealed but smiling.

Why I don't go after Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin

A number of progressive blogs like to wail and scream about the assinine antics of people like Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter. I suppose that's fine, but I just can't get too interested in them. Even the wingnuts think they're out in the extreme fringe. And, you can find stuff that's just as outrageous coming straight from those who are running this dictatorship. I'd rather spend my time focusing on them. They are the real villains.

Great progress in training the Iraqi troops

You will probably recall sometime back when we learned that the number of Iraqi battalions cleared to level "1", meaning they were prepared to fight on their own without American leadership, had declined from 3 to 1. Well folks, it's now declined to zero.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The only Iraqi battalion capable of fighting without U.S. support has been downgraded to a level requiring them to fight with American troops backing them up, the Pentagon said Friday.

So much for how well we're doing the job of training the Iraqis to replace us. And, of course, the insurgency is in its last throes. Or do you suppose Cheney really meant, in its last throws (as in the pitcher's warmup before the ball game)?

Update: Meanwhile, in the other universe, the National Review claims our victory in Iraq is inevitable and writes:

During this sort of waiting game in Iraq, the American military silently is training tens of thousands of Iraqis to do the daily patrols, protect construction projects, and assure the public that security is on the way, while an elected government reminds the people that they are at last in charge.

[Hat tip to Brad DeLong]

Friday, February 24, 2006

Bush's poodle

More and more, Tony Blair is beginning to sound as if he is Bush's clone and not just his poodle. The piece is from the UK's Independent.

Tony Blair remained defiant last night in the face of a torrent of protests over Britain's human rights record, accusing his critics of having "the world the wrong way round".

The Prime Minister was under pressure over his support for US " rendition flights", his failure to call openly for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay camp in Cuba, and over draconian anti-terror laws, after damning reports by the Labour-led Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and by Amnesty International. His comments on the state of Iraq came on another day of bloodshed in the country.

He even appeared out of step with his own Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, who warned his cabinet colleagues that terrorist suspects were entitled to the same legal protections as "law-abiding citizens".

Speaking at the London School of Economics, Lord Goldsmith said: " Determining if a particular person is, or is not, a terrorist requires more than mere assertion on the part of an authority, however genuine and well-intentioned that authority may be."

In a combative performance, Mr Blair used his monthly press conference at Downing Street to reject criticism of the Government's attempts to return terror suspects to countries such as Algeria and Egypt which have a record of torturing prisoners. "We hear an immense amount about their human rights and their civil liberties. But there are also human rights of the rest of us to live in safety," he said.

I find it hard to fathom why Blair has been so completely seduced by the Bush megalomania. Whatever the reason, I find it truly frightening when the two countries that have led the world in promoting freedom and democracy have abandoned those ideals at the same time.

What they say v. what they do

What was it that Bush said about full cooperation with the Plame leak investigation? Didn't he say he had ordered everyone in his administration to cooperate? Well, forget that. They're now firing anyone who cooperated:

Plame Whistleblowers Targeted by Administration
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report
Friday 24 February 2006

Two top Bush administration officials who played an active role in the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, have been removing from their jobs career State Deptartment weapons experts who have spoken to investigators during the past two years about the officials role in the leak, according to a half-dozen State Department officials.

The State Department officials requested anonymity for fear of further retribution. They said they believe they are being sidelined because they have been cooperating with Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the outing of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, and have disagreed with the Bush administration's intelligence that claimed Iraq sought 500 tons of yellowcake uranium ore from Niger - an explosive piece of intelligence that was included in President Bush's January 2003, State of the Union address that was found to be based on crude forgeries, but helped pave the way to war.

The reshuffling, which has been conducted in secret since late last year, has led to a mini-revolt inside the State Department, numerous officials who work there said.

The IRS and Political Activity of Tax Exempts

The Associated Press reports today that the IRS has finished an investigation of political activity by churches and other tax exempt organizations during the 2004 election. They found that three out of four churches they examined had, in fact, violated the restraints on political activity. Most were given warnings, a few were fined, and three non-church tax exempts had their tax exempt status revoked.

All of this may be fine and good if it's being done in an even-handed manner, but the IRS did not name any of the organizations warned or fined, so it's impossible to tell whether they handled this properly. The only thing I know from the public press is that an Episcopal church in Southern California was threatened with loss of its tax exempt status by the IRS because it had a guest preacher who gave an antiwar sermon. I've never heard that any of the churches on the far right have been warned even though many of them were making outright political calls. One Baptist minister excommunicated (or whatever Baptists do) every Democrat in his church. And, recall that the Catholic Church refused to give communion to John Kerry. That seems to me to be far more blatant political activity than an antiwar sermon.

Frankly, with Bush in power, I don't trust the IRS (or any other branch of this government) to do something like this in an even-handed way. They are much more likely to be just as "fair and balanced" as Faux News.

Afraid of their own shadow

Earlier today, I posted about the guy who was harassed by agents of the Department of Homeland Security because he had antiwar signs on his truck.

Now, (via Americablog) I read another similar story:

LONDON, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- British rocker Morrissey says agents from the FBI and Britain's Special Branch picked him up for questioning after he labeled President Bush a "terrorist."

"They were trying to determine if I was a threat to the government, and similarly in England," Morrissey told Sky News Friday. "But it didn't take them very long to realize that I'm not."

Morrissey said he was surprised at the interest since he does not subscribe to any political group and doesn't "really say anything unless I'm asked directly and I don't even demonstrate in public."

He said his experience proves freedom of speech is an illusion.

"My view is that neither England or America are democratic societies," he said. "You can't really speak your mind and if you do you're investigated."
I'm sure we all feel alot safer with the FBI and Homeland Security spending their time on these matters.

Oh, and by the way, Bush is a terrorist. There. Let's see if they come after me.

Poll: Dems now beat Bush on National Security

Bush is losing his image as the Great Protector:

From a political perspective, President Bush's national security credentials have clearly been tarnished due to the outcry over this issue. For the first time ever, Americans have a slight preference for Democrats in Congress over the President on national security issues. Forty-three percent (43%) say they trust the Democrats more on this issue today while 41% prefer the President.

The preference for the opposition party is small, but the fact that Democrats are even competitive on the national security front is startling. In Election 2002, the President guided his party to regain control of the Senate based almost exclusively on the national security issue. On Election Day that year, just 23% rated the economy as good or excellent, but the President's Party still emerged victorious.

In Election 2004, national security was again the decisive issue as the President won re-election. Voters consistently expressed a preference for George W. Bush over John Kerry when it came to issues surrounding the War on Terror.

Bush has now fallen into negative territory on every aspect of governance, from foreign to domestic policy. As I said a couple of days ago, this has the potential to be a watershed week.

Ban Republicans from adopting

As you may know, Ohio Republicans are proposing legislation to ban gays in the State from adopting. Here's the response of one Democratic legislator:

State Sen. Robert Hagan sent out e-mails to fellow lawmakers late Wednesday night, stating that he intends to "introduce legislation in the near future that would ban households with one or more Republican voters from adopting children or acting as foster parents." The e-mail ended with a request for co-sponsorship.

The ultimate data bases

You may recall several years ago when John Poindexter (yes, that John Poindexter) was appointed to head up a Pentagon program called TIA (Total Information Intelligence) to collect huge volumes of data on every American in order to use "data mining" techniques to identify people the government didn't like (referred to by the government as "terrorists").

When news of that program got out, Congress closed it down (or thought it did), and Poindexter went on to other projects.

Now, Raw Story reports that the program was not closed at all, just moved to other agencies and re-named to hide it from Congress and the public.

A controversial intelligence data mining program, which was closed by lawmakers over privacy concerns two years ago, has continued to receive funding and remained in operation under different code names in different agencies, according to today's National Journal.

Excerpts from the Journal's article follow:

Research under the Defense Department's Total Information Awareness program -- which developed technologies to predict terrorist attacks by mining government databases and the personal records of people in the United States -- was moved from the Pentagon's research-and-development agency to another group, which builds technologies primarily for the National Security Agency, according to documents obtained by National Journal and to intelligence sources familiar with the move. The names of key projects were changed, apparently to conceal their identities, but their funding remained intact, often under the same contracts.

Two of the most important components of the TIA program were moved to the Advanced Research and Development Activity, housed at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Md., documents and sources confirm. One piece was the Information Awareness Prototype System, the core architecture that tied together numerous information extraction, analysis, and dissemination tools developed under TIA. The prototype system included privacy-protection technologies that may have been discontinued or scaled back following the move to ARDA. ...

Once more, the administration ignores Congress and does whatever it pleases even when Congress has said, "no."

How the Dept. of Homeland Security spends its time

This article is about a federal employee who was harassed by agents of the Department of Homeland security for having an antiwar sign on his truck, which was parked in the parking lot at his workplace. The agents told him that it was a violation of the law to "post signs on federal property." He asked them, what about the Fedex delivery van. They still forced him to remove the truck.

You can bet they don't go after the Fedex van or the guys with pro-war signs on their cars.

One more relatively minor erosion of our freedoms.

But, gad! Doesn't the Department of Homeland Security have better things to do than to go around harassing people with antiwar signs? I'm beginning to think that this is the Department of Homeland Message Control. Security be damned.

Drip, drip, drip

Murray Waas reports that Jay Rockefeller has written a letter to John Negroponte complaining about all the leaks of classified information from the administration used for political ends.

Did the Bush administration “authorize” the leak of classified information to Bob Woodward? And did those leaks damage national security?

The vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) made exactly that charge tonight in a letter to John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence. What prompted Rockefeller to write Negroponte was a recent op-ed in the New York Times by CIA director Porter Goss complaining that leaks of classified information were the fault of “misguided whistleblowers.”

Rockefeller charged in his letter that the most “damaging revelations of intelligence sources and methods are generated primarily by Executive Branch officials pushing a particular policy, and not by the rank-and-file employees of intelligence agencies.”
The hypocracy of this administration is beyond belief. They complain vehemently about the leaks they don't like, but most of the leaks come right from them.

Atrocity after atrocity

Knight Ridder reports a bit more on the FBI memos that the ACLU obtained through a FOIA disclosure request:

WASHINGTON - Military interrogators posing as FBI agents at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, wrapped terrorism suspects in an Israeli flag and forced them to watch homosexual pornography under strobe lights during interrogation sessions that lasted as long as 18 hours, according to one of a batch of FBI memos released Thursday.

FBI agents working at the prison complained about the military interrogators' techniques in e-mails to their superiors from 2002 to 2004, 54 e-mails released by the American Civil Liberties Union showed. The agents tried to get the military interrogators to follow a less coercive approach and warned that the harsh methods could hinder future criminal prosecutions of terrorists because information gained illegally is inadmissible in court.

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was in charge of the prison at the time, overrode the FBI agents' protests, according to the documents.

The memos offer some of the clearest proof yet that the abuses and torture of prisoners in U.S. military custody weren't the isolated actions of low-ranking soldiers but a result of policies approved by senior officials, the ACLU said.

I just don't get why the American public (and the press) isn't more up in arms about this. It's just disgusting. Torture of detainees seems to be the rule rather than the exception, and it clearly emanates from the top down.

Unfortunately, we've heard so much of this that it's almost becoming passé. The administration seems to be trying to exhaust our capacity to be outraged. Atrocity after atrocity, outrage after outrage. It's just wearing us down.

What's the truth about 9-11?

If you have an hour and twenty-two minutes to spare, click here and watch a pretty chilling documentary. It raises a whole lot of questions about 9-11. I don't think I buy the answers it provides (i.e., that Bush did it), but ...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Scooter Libby in search of an excuse

Now Scooter is claiming that Fitzgerald's appointment was unconstitutional.

In a court filing, lawyers for I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby said his indictment violates the Constitution because Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald was not appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate.

I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me that they're getting pretty far fetched. First, trying to argue that being to busy with important matters is an excuse for lying, and now claiming that the prosecutor is not vested with the authority to indict. What do you suppose they'll dream up next? Maybe that the Courts aren't empowered to hear a case involving someone as important as Libby?

Everything hunky dory in Iraq

As Iraq spirals out of control with more than 30 Sunni mosques attacked over 130 killed today in the chaos of sectarian fighting that has broken out after the destruction of the Shiite shrine and with seven American soldiers killed in unrelated incidents, the US spokesman steps up and says:

As of now seven attacks on mosques across Iraq have taken place that resulted in damage to mosques. Two Sunni imams (prayer leaders) and one Sunni sheikh were murdered," Lynch told reporters, playing down the sectarian strife.
"Some drive-by shootings against mosques have been reported ... that's where we are. So we are not seeing civil war igniting in Iraq. We are not seeing 77, 80, 100 mosques damaged in Iraq. We are not seeing death on the streets."

"We are not seeing death on the streets." I guess he has his eyes closed. I did hear earlier today that Americans have been ordered not to go into the streets and to remain in their bases. So perhaps they haven't seen death in the streets.

Oh, and yes, I'm sure we can probably find at least one school that had electricity for more than an hour today.

Family income issues

The tri-annual Survey of Consumer Finances by the Federal Reserve Board is out. AP summarizes some of the results:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The average income of American families, after adjusting for inflation, declined by 2.3 percent in 2004 compared to 2001 while their net worth rose but at a slower pace.

The Federal Reserve reported Thursday that the drop in inflation-adjusted incomes left the average family income at $70,700 in 2004. The median, or point where half the families earned more and half less, did rise slightly in 2004 after adjusting for inflation to $43,200, up 1.6 percent from the 2001 level.

Matt Yglesias responds with:

Read a bit down in the article and you'll see that median family income, which matters more, has gone up during the same time period. I'm a bit baffled by the result, which suggests that the Bush economy is curbing income inequality and appears to contradict every other economic indicator I've seen, but that's what the survey says.
The fact that the median income rose slightly while the average income fell does NOT necessarily mean that income inequality is decreasing. This can be easily proven through a simple counter example. Suppose we have a three family economy. At the beginning the three families are earning $100,000, $40,000, and $20,000, respectively. That gives the economy a median income of $40,000 (the middle family's income) and an average income of $53,333. Now, suppose the incomes change to $110,000, $40,500, and $5,000. The median income has increased by $500, and the average income has fallen to $51,833, but no one would say that income inequality was lessened when the rich family got richer but the poor family got poorer.

For whatever that's worth.

ACLU: Torture approved at highest levels

Here's part of a new press release from the ACLU:

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today released newly obtained documents showing that senior Defense Department officials approved aggressive interrogation techniques that Federal Bureau of Investigation agents deemed abusive, ineffective and unlawful.

“We now possess overwhelming evidence that political and military leaders endorsed interrogation methods that violate both domestic and international law,” said Jameel Jaffer, an attorney with the ACLU. “It is entirely unacceptable that no senior official has been held accountable.”

Included in today’s release is a memorandum prepared by FBI personnel on May 30, 2003, which supplies a detailed discussion of tensions between FBI and Defense Department personnel stationed at Guantánamo in late 2002. According to the memo, Defense Department interrogators were encouraged by their superiors to “use aggressive interrogation tactics” that FBI agents believed were “of questionable effectiveness and subject to uncertain interpretation based on law and regulation.” The May 2003 memo specifically names Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who was then Commander of Joint Task Force-Guantánamo, as having favored interrogation methods that FBI agents believed “could easily result in the elicitation of unreliable and legally inadmissible information.” The memo states that FBI personnel brought their concerns to the attention of senior Defense Department personnel but that their concerns were brushed aside.

This is just one more piece of evidence for the war crimes trials against Bush and his thugs. And, it's one more reason they can never leave office. Maybe I'm way off the deep end on this, but I truly fear they will decide to remain in office after 2008. Even another Rethuglican regime isn't likely to protect them from eventually being brought to justice. The only thing short of remaining in office that will protect them is massive use of presidential pardons. I just don't see Bush pardoning himself. It's not in his makeup to admit the guilt required to receive the pardon.

Hoist by his own

Publius asks how Bush and Frankenstein are alike. Here's his answer:

What do the following characters all have in common: Dr. Frankenstein, Austen's Emma Woodhouse, Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, and George W. Bush. Answer - their creations all eventually turned on them.

Whatever the merits of the port issue may be (and we need more information to decide), it is a bit rich to hear Bush pleading for cultural understanding about the Middle East. People simply shouldn't rush to judgment and lump the UAE in with other less desirable Muslim and Arab factions he says. That's true of course, but rich nonetheless.

I say that because one of my main gripes about the administration's marketing of the Iraq War was that it exploited and fostered public ignorance about Muslims and Middle East society more generally. In fact, public support for the war depended on blurring the precise kinds of distinctions that Bush is now attempting to draw...

Bye, bye Ricky

The Philadelphia Inquirer has this:

The flap over Sen. Rick Santorum's unorthodox $500,000 mortgage for his family home in Leesburg, Va., took another twist yesterday when a leading watchdog group filed a formal complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee - charging that the loan from a private bank was an illegal gift because Santorum did not meet its stated guidelines.

The complaint by the Committee for Responsible Ethics in Washington, or CREW, alleges that the mortgage from Philadelphia Trust Co. is a gift in violation of Senate Rule 35, which says that senators can receive loans or other banking services only on terms "generally available to the public."

Iraq and Pol Pot: Connecting Dots

With the threat of civil war in the country the U.S. invaded never more ominous than now, isn't it time to reflect on the days of American bombing and incursions into Cambodia during the Vietnam War -- followed in time, arguably as a matter of cause-and-effect, by the "Killing Fields"?

Will these people ever learn a lesson from history? Our military presence sometimes has been a good thing. Sometimes, however, where it may be impossible for any participant cooperating with us to achieve legitimacy with the population, we can only make it worse.

Budget cuts

I have some things to do this morning, so there won't be much blogging on my part till later in the day, but this story about the consequences of Bush's Medicaid cuts just made me sick.

Seldom does a budget cut help cripple a child. Yet when Maryland cut $7 million last year and eliminated health care coverage for some recent immigrants, surgery was canceled on Eelaaf Zahid's malformed hip. Now, as her family looks to the courts and other state programs for help, an outgrown medical device implanted in her hip three years ago protrudes from her small body. The Glen Burnie kindergartener walks with a limp. . . .

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Privatizing Ports and Other Critical Functions

Evaluating the Dubai port operations issue, Walldon below makes a critically important point in these days of unthinking de-regulation and rampant privatization.

I don't like the fact that a British company was doing it either. I don't even think it should be done by a private American company. Some things just
shouldn't be privatized, and in my mind port security is one of them. Look at
the disaster that privitization led to with the airport screening people. The
tendency in any kind of privatization like this that's on a contract to the
government is to reduce the service rendered to the minimum, provide that
service with the lowest paid and least qualified people you can find, and walk
away with the profits. The problem is that once the contract is let, there is no
competition, and, even at contract renewal time, government functionaries will
find it easier to stay with the company they know than to re-institute a search
for a better alternative.

I am all for minimizing regulation and maximizing the free market. I seldom consider "profit" a dirty word, although "golden parachute" and its ilk is usually another story. Most of us “lefties” – i.e., progressives and proud card-carrying liberals -- stopped believing in Soviet-style state-planned economies, if we ever did (and few actually did), absolutely no later than 1989. However, if the purpose is good (oh, let’s say not dumping PCBs into the Great Lakes and destroying the fishing industry, or not sending your 8-year-old daughter to work 12-hours-a-day in a decrepit coal mine, or operating an aircraft carrier, just to name a few), we just happen to draw the line when it reaches the point of failing to achieve the purpose intended.

Back in the bad old “Progressive Era,” and at least as late as the 1960s, most intelligent policy-makers at least understood to ask one question: Will the operation face any competition, or not? If not, if there still may be value in a profit incentive, can it be regulated well-enough with enough public accountability to prevent gouging and service deterioration from rampant profit maximization? If not, maybe it should not be privatized. Duh.