The Aeration Zone: A liberal breath of fresh air

Contributors (otherwise known as "The Aerheads"):

Walldon in New Jersey ---- Marketingace in Pennsylvania ---- Simoneyezd in Ontario
ChiTom in Illinois -- KISSweb in Illinois -- HoundDog in Kansas City -- The Binger in Ohio

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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Where there's a Bush Progam there's a Payoff for his Cronnies

As pointed out by ROBERT PEAR in NYT, 4/28/06,
two companies, UnitedHealth Group and Humana (heavy contributors to the GOP have captured nearly half of the vast new market for prescription drug insurance under Medicare, according to new data issued Friday by the Bush administration. The figures provided a snapshot of a business that has been plagued by start-up problems, but could prove to be a fast-growing and profitable enterprise for insurers. More than 80 companies are offering more than 1,400 prescription drug plans around the country. But three companies — UnitedHealth, Humana and WellPoint — account for 52 percent of the enrollment. And the top 10 companies have 80 percent of the total.

Holier than thou: Gitmo now a safe haven

Oh, please.

The NYT headline reads, "U.S. Says It Fears Detainee Abuse in Repatriation". We can't send home the prisoners we took (those no longer considered dangerous or wrung dry of information),
because of concern among United States officials that the prisoners may not be treated humanely by their own governments, officials said.
Does this government know what "humanely" means? If so, then see WallDon's article today on the movie, "Trial at Nuremburg". In any case, the situation is especially tough for over 100 Saudi releasable detainees because

According to a State Department human rights report released in March, the Saudi authorities have used "beatings, whippings and sleep deprivation" on Saudi and foreign prisoners. The report also noted "allegations of beatings with sticks and suspension from bars by handcuffs."
Oh, those nasty Saudis. Guess they need to borrow a few German shepherds and some heavy metal CDs, so they can treat their prisoners right.

The last two paragraphs of the article describe the situation of several Russian detainees sent home. Let me break it down:

The one clear case in which repatriated detainees have suffered serious abuse involves seven Russians sent home from Guantánamo in May 2004. At the time, American officials were primarily concerned with ensuring that the men would continue to be detained. Instead, they were jailed briefly and released without charge.
So they were not really supposed to be released-- there's a flaw for you! Were they even charged with anything? Oh, wait, they don't have to be! I keep forgetting. Good thing Mr Putin, that former KGB apparatchik, can observe a democratic judicial system up close, huh?

But at least four of the men were later rearrested by various security forces.
That's good, right?

Three reported being beaten or tortured into confessing to an involvement in terrorism. . . ,
Ah, Mr. Putin's lessons are coming along well. . . .

and although one was later acquitted after a jury trial, he has since been arrested again.
What? A jury trial? Acquittal? Who do those bleeding heart Russians think they are? No, wait-- they arrested him again. Ooh, subtle-- hope AG Gonzalez is watching!

This is how it all looks in the real, Middle Eastern world:

"It is kind of ironic that the U.S. government is placing conditions on other countries that it would not follow itself in Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib," said a Middle Eastern diplomat from one of the countries involved in the talks. He asked not to be named to avoid criticizing the United States in the name of his government.
Glad to share our secrets of genu-ine democracy with you, young man. Now how about lowering those oil prices a tad for ol' Uncle Sam, eh?

Bush and the law

Glenn Greenwald has more on the President's claim to be above the law:

It is not uncommon for a President to refrain from executing a law which he believes, and states, is unconstitutional. Other Presidents have invoked that doctrine, although Bush has done so far more aggressively and frequently. But what is uncommon - what is entirely unprecedented - is that the administration's theories of its own power arrogate unto itself not just the right to refrain from enforcing such laws, but to act in violation of those laws, to engage in the very conduct which those laws criminalize, and they do so secretly and deceitfully, after signing the law and pretending that they are engaged in the democratic process. That is why the President has never bothered to veto a law -- why bother to veto laws when you have the power to violate them at will?

I have pointed out many times before that scandals which harm or bring down a presidency do not develop overnight. Americans have to really be persuaded that there is serious and deliberate wrongdoing in order to demand that meaningful action be taken. But that is clearly starting to happen, and the Globe and Charlie Savage should be congratulated for that rarest of acts -- journalists who are fulfilling their journalistic purpose by informing Americans as to what this government really is doing.

Troubled dollar

This prediction of the collapse of the dollar sounds plausible to me:

THE dollar has embarked on a big decline that will see it fall against all leading currencies, according to analysts.

The plunge is being prompted by America’s $800 billion (£438 billion) current-account deficit, they say.

The dollar has been under pressure following last weekend’s meeting of G7 finance ministers and central bankers, which emphasised “global imbalances” and said currencies should reflect economic fundamentals. Then China raised its key interest rate to 5.85%, its first hike for months, and Ben Bernanke, the new Federal Reserve chairman, hinted that American rates would pause at 5% after a rise in May.

Analysts say that without interest-rate support, the dollar will be weighed down heavily by America’s imbalances.

“I think this is it,” said Tony Norfield, global head of currency strategy at ABN Amro. “The dollar has been supported by high yields but markets are saying that is no longer enough. The question for policymakers is going to be how to manage the dollar’s decline. It won’t be a one-way street but the fall is likely to be biggest against Asian currencies.”

The euro has already risen to an 11-month high of more than $1.26, while the dollar is at a three-month low of 113.70 against the yen. The Canadian dollar, known by traders as the “loonie”, rose to a 28-year high on Friday, boosted by a hike in Canadian interest rates.

Time to rebalance the portfolio into foreign stocks.

Incompetence raised to the nth.

We've heard this before, but today there's new confirmation of the fact that Bush refused to kill Zarqawi when he had the chance. The reason: Because he wanted to invade Iraq.

The United States deliberately passed up repeated opportunities to kill the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, before the March 2003 US-led invasion of that country.

The claim, by former US spy Mike Scheuer, was made in an interview to be shown on ABC TV's Four Corners tonight...

Mr Bush had Zarqawi in his sights almost every day for a year before the invasion of Iraq and he didn't shoot because they were wining and dining the French in an effort to get them to assist us in the invasion of Iraq," he told Four Corners.

And, that worked real well too, didn't it?

Judgment at Nuremburg

I happened to watch Judgment at Nuremburg last night for the first time since it was released back in 1961. It's an absolutely fascinating movie with a great cast, including Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland (believe it or not), and Montgomery Clift. You'll even find a young William Shatner in a minor role.

If you don't recall, it's the story of the war crimes trial of four German judges, who were accused of enabling and abetting the holocaust by going along with and enforcing the "illegal" laws promulgated by the NAZIs.

But, what I hadn't counted on when I tuned in was how eerily like America today the depiction of the Germans' justification for their crimes sounded. National security, patriotism, fear of enemies both within and without, love of a STRONG leader in the face of those fears, denial -- the "we didn't know how bad it was" syndrom, and the way in which seemingly insignificant compromises with justice grew into the massive atrocities of the holocaust.

I never really did believe there was some unique flaw in the German charcter that led to the holocaust, but I also never believed I would see my own country falling into the same despicable patterns of behavior.

No, we aren't yet doing it on the scale the Germans achieved. But, near the end of the movie, the German judge Ernst Janning, played by Burt Lancaster, begs the American judge, played by Spencer Tracy, to believe him that he didn't know the scope of the atrocities. Spencer Tracy replies that it doesn't matter, "The first time you sentenced a man you knew to be innocent to death, you participated in the killing of all those millions." [Badly paraphrased]

The fact that we aren't doing it on the same scale as the Germans is irrelevant. It's the fact that we're doing it that counts. And, we're all complicit in the atrocities if we don't stand up and fight them in whatever way we can.

Americans in Iraq

Remember the four private security guards that were hung from the bridge in Falluja? They were Blackwater employees. Their families are now suing Blackwater. From the Left Coaster:

The story that is coming out is an ugly one: namely that one of Blackwater's managers wanted to punish one of the men, Scott Helvenston, and sent him and three others into Falluja insufficiently manned (there should have been six men, not four assigned to the delivery) and with unarmored vehicles (because that allowed Blackwater to increase their profits). The Nation has a long and comprehensive look at what this suit is all about.

I wouldn't be surprised if the administration steps in to quash this suit on national security grounds.


John Kenneth Galbraith, RIP

Setting aside the law

We knew it was bad, but I didn't know it was quite this bad:

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.
Article Tools

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, ''whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty ''to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to ''execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.

White House press dinner

Stephen Colbert did his shtick at the White House Press dinner last night. The prez wasn't at all pleased. Nor, do I think Tony Snow, now known as "snow job" liked it either. If you want to see the last half, Crooks and Liars has it here.

Truce in the war with Canada

I had seen news of this a couple of days ago, but it took co-blogger Simon in Ontario to remind me of its importance. Maybe this is one thing the Bush administration did right. I'm not close enough to the issue to really know.

International Trade Minister David L. Emerson, Industry Minister Maxime Bernier and Canada’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Wilson today issued the following statement on the Canada-U.S. Agreement Ending the Softwood Lumber Dispute.

“I am pleased to confirm that we have reached an agreement with the United States effectively ending our long-standing dispute over softwood lumber. The Agreement outlines the terms for a fair and durable resolution and reflects Canada’s objectives and interests,” said Minister Emerson.

“The Agreement will see not only the revoking of duties but also the return to Canadian lumber producers of at least 80 percent of the deposits collected since 2002,” he added.

“For the next seven to nine years, when lumber prices are over US$355 per thousand board feet, no border measures will be imposed. If the softwood agreement were in place today, Canadian lumber would enter the United States without any restriction,” said Minister Bernier. “When prices are lower, a province will be able to choose the export measure that works best for its industry. Moreover, any charges collected will remain in Canada.”

It's Rich

Frank Rich is finally back at the NY Times (behind subscription wall). Here's the conclusion of his op-ed today:

SET against this reality, the debate about Donald Rumsfeld's future is as much of a sideshow as the installation of a slicker Fleischer-McClellan marketer in the White House press room. The defense secretary's catastrophic mistakes in Iraq cannot be undone now, and any successor would still be beholden to the policy set from above. Mr. Rumsfeld is merely a useful, even essential, scapegoat for the hawks in politics and punditland who are now embarrassed to have signed on to this fiasco. For conservative hawks, he's a convenient way to deflect blame from where it most belongs: with the commander in chief. For liberal hawks, attacking Mr. Rumsfeld for his poor execution of the war means never having to say you're sorry for leaping on (and abetting) the blatant propaganda bandwagon that took us there. But their history can't be rewritten any more than Mr. Bush's can: the war's failures were manifestly foretold by the administration's arrogance and haste during the run-up.

A new defense or press secretary changes nothing. The only person who can try to save the administration from itself in Iraq is the president. He can start telling the truth in the narrow window of time he has left and initiate a candid national conversation about our inevitable exit strategy. Or he can wait for events on the ground in Iraq and political realities at home to do it for him.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


This sad story sort of grabbed my interest:

With their bare hands and the most basic of tools, prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have fashioned a secret garden where they have grown plants from seeds recovered from their meals. For some of the detainees - held without charge for more than four years and who the US say are now cleared for release - the garden apparently offers a diversion from the monotony and injustice of their imprisonment.

Using water to soften soil baked hard by the Caribbean sun and then scratching away with plastic spoons, a handful of prisoners have reportedly produced sufficient earth to grow watermelon, peppers, garlic, cantaloupe and even a tiny lemon plant, no more than two inches high.

The revelation of the garden has now been seized on by campaigners, seeking to close the prison camp in Cuba, who have urged supporters around the world to send them seeds which they will in turn seek to send to the prisoners. They have termed their campaign "Seed of Hope".

The existence of the garden - apparently prohibited by the US military authorities - was revealed by the Boston-based lawyer Sabin Willett who was informed of it by one of his clients, Saddiq Ahmed Turkistani, held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002.

Of course, if the garden is prohibited by the US goons in charge of Guantanamo, the fact that the news is now out will almost certainly lead to its discovery and destruction. Sad.

Bye bye Berlusconi

Berlusconi has finally decided to step down, as Prodi manages to form a government.

Romani Prodi, the incoming Italian prime minister, has received a boost with his candidates notching a double victory in parliament and his rival announcing his resignation.

Silvio Berlusconi said on Saturday that he would tender his resignation as prime minister on Tuesday, Italian news agency Ansa reported.

Closing down the press

As I've noted before on this blog, I suspect the Bush administration is preparing the way to essentially close down the press -- or at least any part of it that tries to investigate what's going on in government. The particular targets will be the NY Times for its piece on the NSA evasdropping and the Washington Post for its story on CIA gulags. The Times has more on this today:

Earlier administrations have fired and prosecuted government officials who provided classified information to the press. They have also tried to force reporters to identify their sources.

But the Bush administration is exploring a more radical measure to protect information it says is vital to national security: the criminal prosecution of reporters under the espionage laws.

Such an approach would signal a thorough revision of the informal rules of engagement that have governed the relationship between the press and the government for many decades…

Because such prosecutions of reporters are unknown, they are widely thought inconceivable. But legal experts say that existing laws may well allow holding the press to account criminally. Should the administration pursue the matter, these experts say, it could gain a tool that would thoroughly alter the balance of power between the government and the press.

…Critics of the administration position say that altering the conventional understanding between the press and government could have dire consequences.

"Once you make the press the defendant rather than the leaker," said David Rudenstine, the dean of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York and a First Amendment scholar, "you really shut down the flow of information because the government will always know who the defendant is."

…Curiously, perhaps the most threatening pending case for journalist is one brought against two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac. The lobbyists, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, were indicted in August on charges of violating the 1917 law by receiving and repeating national defense information to foreign officials and reporters.

The lobbyists say the case against them is functionally identical to potential cases against reporters.

"You can't say, 'Well, this is constitutional as applied to lobbyists, but it wouldn't be constitutional if applied to journalists,' " Abbe D. Lowell, a lawyer for Mr. Rosen, said at a hearing in the case last month, according to a court transcript.

In court papers filed in January, prosecutors disagreed, saying lobbyist and journalist were different. But they would not rule out the possibility of also charging journalists under the law.

"Prosecution under the espionage laws of an actual member of the press for publishing classified information leaked to it by a government source would raise legitimate and serious issues and would not be undertaken lightly," the papers said. Indeed, they continued, "the fact that there has never been such a prosecution speaks for itself."

Some First Amendment lawyers suspect that the case against the lobbyists is but a first step.

"From the point of view of the administration expanding its powers, the Aipac case is the perfect case," said Ronald K. L. Collins, a scholar at the First Amendment Center, a nonprofit educational group in Virginia. "It allows them to try to establish the precedent without going after the press."

The Government in the darkness act

Glenn Greenwald has a great post up on the government's decision to invoke the State Secrecy Privelege to force the judge to dismiss the suit against AT&T over the NSA wiretaps. The whole thing is worth a read, but this particular passage really jumped out at me:

Unsatisfied with the mere power to unilaterally block courts from obtaining relevant documents while he is in office, President Bush, while the rubble from the World Trade Center was still sitting in lower Manhattan and everyone was distracted by that, had the presence of mind to extend this power to assert the State Secrets Privilege to both his father and to himself for life and even thereafter:

In November 2001 President Bush issued executive order 13233 that would permit former presidents to independently assert the state secrets privilege to bar disclosure of records generated during their tenure.

More than that, the Bush order would make the state secrets privilege hereditary, like some divine right of kings, enabling the heirs of deceased presidents to assert the privilege after their death.

"This is a power heretofore unrecognized either in courts or politics," Weaver and Pallitto observe.

I recall when he did this, but I had no idea how broad the directive was. I assume a new president can issue an executive order nullifying this, if we ever have a new president. But, I'm beginning to really worry that this guy is not going to leave office. If the right to classify documents is hereditary, certainly the office of the president should be too, shouldn't it? So, I can see Bush remaining there until he dies, whereupon his daughters (or his brother) would take over. Of course, that assumes the military would support him.

Unemployment Numbers: Hollow Victory?

Marketingace started it, and Walldon and I have followed up, and I think Scatablog is doing the best job around of examining what’s really going on. Here’s another view, following up on Marketingace’s initial review of the startling data. It's right there for the taking on the BLS website. The term “hollowing out” has been used to describe the historic shift in the economy from well-paying jobs producing real goods to lower paying jobs providing retail and other services. It certainly is the apt description for what you will see below – especially in light of what apparently is a highly deceptive official unemployment figure that Republicans use, with mainstream press cheerleading, to tout the economy. If you suspected but wondered whether the “low” unemployment figure is deceptive, you won’t question it after you see this stuff: a deep-dive comparison in jobs performance between the Clinton years (we’ll skip the causal connection for now) and the GW Bush years.

· Under Clinton, the working age population grew by 20 million, but 19 million new jobs were created. Under Bush, that population has grown by 14 million, but only 6 million more people are employed.

· We know we are in a long-term shift to more of a services economy. Notwithstanding that trend, total manufacturing jobs under Clinton grew 2%. Under Bush, they have declined 17% -- and no doubt will decline more before his term is out.

· Durable goods jobs: under Clinton, they grew 2%, under Bush, down 17%.

· Fabricated metal products manufacturing: Up 17% under Clinton, down 13% under Bush.

· Machinery: Up 10% under Clinton, down 19% under Bush.

· Computer and electronic products: Up 12% under Clinton, down 29% -- yes, you can look it up -- under Bush.

· Semiconductors and components: Up 38% under Clinton, down 37 % under Bush

· Electrical Equipment and Appliances: Up 2% under Clinton, down 25% under Bush

· Motor vehicles and parts: Up 16% under Clinton, down 14% under Bush

· Plastics: Up 12% under Clinton, down 15% under Bush

OK, OK, so Bush has presided over an epochal shift from manufacturing jobs to services. Whoops.

· All services: under Clinton, up 23%, under Bush up 4% (well, at least something’s up for once)

· Private sector services: under Clinton, up 27%, under Bush up 4% (at 4.1%, actually less than the 4.3% for all services – which should not be the case for the private-sector-loving Republican Party.

· How about those hot Information services? Under Clinton, up 40%, under Bush DOWN 17% -- believe that, if you can.

· Broadcasting: Up 23% under Clinton, down 6% under Bush

· Telecommunications services: under Clinton up 40%, under Bush down 25%

So where has the Bush era performed relatively well and created new jobs? Considering all the money Bush has been sloshing around mostly for the rich, you should have guessed it by now: yep, Financial Services, up 7% under George W. But damn it all, that blankety-blank Clinton oversaw a bigger increase than Bush even in this sector, 17%. (That’s because stocks go up more under Democrats than Republicans, Stupid!) Education and health care – duh, we Baby Boomers are straining our elbows tipping those lattes now – are two areas that even Bush has not been able to screw-up completely (sorry, I just couldn’t hold to my causal neutrality promise throughout this whole thing -- think of Dr, Strangelove's hand). There has also been a 5% increase in local, state and federal government employment under Bush – wait a second, this is the Republican Party, isn’t it?

It’s scary. Moving in the right direction? – I don’t think so. Chris Matthews, NOW do you see why Americans aren’t as optimistic as you think they should be sitting in your Washington digs or your Nantucket retreat? And to think we haven’t even touched on stagnant wages, declining health coverage and undermining of the pension system yet. Wait a second again: it's all driven by supply-and-demand, right? So if unemployment is low, then employers should be ratcheting up their wage offers, and the bennies, correct? That's the theory, anyway. Cato people, we need you to explain something here.

Sex will do it every time

Now that the Duke Cunningham scandal has got sex involved, the media is lapping it up, and we can bet that it will get the broadest possible coverage.

From the Washington Post:

Federal authorities are investigating allegations that a California defense contractor arranged for a Washington area limousine company to provide prostitutes to convicted former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) and possibly other lawmakers, sources familiar with the probe said yesterday...

The Cunningham investigation's latest twist came after Mitchell J. Wade, a defense contractor who has admitted bribing the former congressman, told prosecutors that Wilkes had an arrangement with Shirlington Limousine, which in turn had an arrangement with at least one escort service, one source said. Wade said limos would pick up Cunningham and a prostitute and bring them to suites Wilkes maintained at the Watergate Hotel and the Westin Grand in Washington, the source said...

The San Diego Union-Tribune yesterday cited a letter from Baker's lawyer, Bobby Stafford, saying that Baker "provided limousine services for Mr. Wilkes for whatever entertainment he had in the Watergate" from the company's founding in 1990 through the early 2000s. The letter also stated that Baker was "never in attendance in any party where any women were being used for prostitution purposes." Reached by telephone yesterday, Stafford would not comment on the letter.

At least this time, the news of Rethuglican monkey business might get out.

Bush's brain in danger

Jason Leopold, who seems to have an inside track on the Fitzgerald investigations, says the indictments of Rove are alread written:

Despite vehement denials by his attorney who said this week that Karl Rove is neither a "target" nor in danger of being indicted in the CIA leak case, the special counsel leading the investigation has already written up charges against Rove, and a grand jury is expected to vote on whether to indict the Deputy White House Chief of Staff sometime next week, sources knowledgeable about the probe said Friday afternoon.

Let's start speculating on what will happen once Rove is indicted. Instant pardon? Secret promise of delayed pardon? Intransigence -- arguing that, as his chief assistant, Rove is just as much above the law as Bush? Fire Fitzgerald? Resignation?

And, what will Bush do without his brain? If you thought he was stupid before ...

The IAEA findings on Iran: No evidence

From reading the news articles about the IAEA findings on Iran yesterday, you'd think they had uncovered an arsenal of nukes. In fact, as Juan Cole points out, they found no evidence. Here are some of the findings (as Cole transcribes them):

33. All the nuclear material declared by Iran to the Agency is accounted for. Apart from the small quantities previously reported to the Board, the Agency has found no other undeclared nuclear material in Iran. However, gaps remain in the Agency’s knowledge with respect to the scope and content of Iran’s centrifuge programme. Because of this, and other gaps in the Agency’s knowledge, including the role of the military in Iran’s nuclear programme, the Agency is unable to make progress in its efforts to provide assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.

34. After more than three years of Agency efforts to seek clarity about all aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme, the existing gaps in knowledge continue to be a matter of concern. '

As Cole goes on to say, "This ambiguity is being twisted by the Bush administration to make it seem as though Iran has done something illegal. The report can be read to say that there is no evidence that Iran is doing anything illegal.

"In fact, under the NPT, countries do have the right to do the sort of experiments Iran is doing. Most of the complaints are not about substance but about something else."

What office is Scalia running for?

Adam Cohen has a long rant against Scalia behind the subscription wall at today's NY Times. Here's a bit of it.

Jutice Antonin Scalia has gone too far — and he keeps on doing it.

He made national headlines recently for making a gesture that may or may not be obscene. If it wasn't obscene, it was certainly coarse and undignified.

He recently called those who disagree with his unconventional views of the Constitution "idiots."

His public statements often make him sound more like a political partisan than a judge. He is particularly bad on the subject of Bush v. Gore, the decision that put President Bush in the White House, a low point in the Supreme Court's history that Justice Scalia should not be pulling down any lower.

Worst of all, Justice Scalia refuses to abide by the basic principles of recusal, the law that forbids judges from hearing cases in which they are not impartial, or will not be viewed as impartial. A few weeks ago, he took part in a case involving the rights of detainees after making inflammatory statements that seriously called his fairness into question.

Justice Scalia is certainly hurting his own reputation. After one of his ethical lapses involving Vice President Dick Cheney, Jay Leno joked on "The Tonight Show" about an "embarrassing moment" when Mr. Cheney visited the White House — "Security made him empty his pockets and out fell Justice Antonin Scalia!"

More important, Justice Scalia's actions are damaging the reputation and moral authority of the Supreme Court. Not since Abe Fortas and William O. Douglas stirred up controversy in the 1960's and 70's has there been a justice whose personal conduct has done as much to diminish the court's reputation.

…If Justice Scalia keeps flouting basic recusal principles, the court should consider changing its rules. Currently, justices are the only federal judges who are allowed to decide on their own whether to recuse themselves. There is an inherent illogic in allowing a judge to be the final word on his own impartiality — if they are so biased that they cannot hear a case, they may well be too biased to decide if they are too biased. But it is a system that works only if justices do their utmost to be fair to the arguments for recusal.

The court could decide to allow the justices as a whole, or an alternating panel of three justices, to rule on recusal motions aimed at their colleagues. Such an approach would have its own problems — conceivably, justices in one ideological camp could vote to recuse their ideological opposites to affect the outcome of a case. But if individual justices abuse their right to decide their own motions, such a change would be an improvement.

Finally, Congress should be doing more. Respected members from both parties should speak out when Justice Scalia makes outrageous comments, and make it clear that better is expected of him.

They should also reconsider the rules of recusal. Congress could amend the federal recusal statute to require that the whole Supreme Court, or a panel of justices, rule on recusal motions. Short of amending the law, some pointed criticism from members of Congress, particularly on the Republican side of the aisle, could encourage Justice Scalia to do better in ruling on his own recusal motions.

More than any modern justice, Justice Scalia seems intent on presenting himself to the world as an outspoken champion of conservative values. But conservatives are people who believe in respecting and preserving existing institutions. There is nothing conservative about diminishing a great institution like the Supreme Court by making inflammatory and partisan off-the-bench statements and ignoring the rules of ethical judging.

Karl Marx to ride again?

Speaking of the economy and the odd disconnect between "growth" in output and wages, which are not growing in proportion, as WallDon & KissWeb did here yesterday, one has to wonder if this is not primarily because just about all the increased profits are being directed to corporate higher-ups and certain investors.

Not only does current tax policy drastically favor the wealthier, but it seems the wealthy and powerful have few compunctions these days against further enriching themselves at the corporate trough without regard for workers beneath them. (As far as I am concerned this factors not only into wages, but hiring/firing/outsourcing practices and lack of environmental concern as well.) Egregiously excessive CEO pay packages, which resemble the abuses of banana republic dictators and their suitcases stuffed with cash & diamonds, are simply the tip of the iceberg.

As I think back to the Cold War and before that to the struggle between Marxism and capitalism throughout the 20th century, I somehow think that the reason "we" won was because western capitalist countries enacted a generally social-democratic form of capitalism that alleviated the worst excesses of early industrial capitalism. This development undercut (or addressed) Marx's economic analysis and offered an alternative to revolution and outright socialism. In this regard, the labor unions may have been one of "our" best weapons, no?

Here's the point: if not checked, I think that Reagan/Bush capitalism will engender a resurrection of Marxist or Marxist-like movements (Happy Easter, Karl). Capitalism as such did not "win" the struggle with socialism: it was more of a Hegelian synthesis of the two that emerged. Turning back the economic clock to the 19th century, only now exploiting labor on a global basis, is not going to stop time.

I know I am writing this in a blog well-stocked with economists, so fire away!

Are the comprehension challenged American voters finally getting it as Herbert believes?

Bob Herbert, NYT, reporter sums it up:

If George W. Bush could have been removed from office for being a bad president, he would have been sent back to his ranch a long time ago. If incompetence were a criminal offense, he'd be behind bars.

But that's just daydreaming. The reality is that there are more than two and a half years left in the long dark night of the Bush presidency — nearly as long as the entire time John Kennedy was in office.

The nation seems, very belatedly, to be catching on to the tragic failures and monumental ineptitude of its president. Mr. Bush's poll numbers are abysmal. Republicans up for re-election are running from him as if he were the bogyman.
Callers to conservative talk radio programs who were once ecstatic about the president and his policies are now deeply disillusioned.

The libertarian Cato Institute is about to release a study titled "Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush." It says, "Unfortunately, far from defending the Constitution, President Bush has repeatedly sought to strip out the limits the document places on federal power." While I disagree with parts of the study, I certainly agree with that particular comment. In the current issue of Rolling Stone, Sean Wilentz, a distinguished historian and the director of the American Studies program at Princeton University, takes a serious look at the possibility that Mr. Bush may be the worst president in the nation's history.

What in the world took so long? Some of us have known since the moment he hopped behind the wheel that this reckless president was driving the nation headlong toward a cliff.
The worst thing he did, of course, was to employ a massive campaign of deceit to lead the nation into a catastrophic war in Iraq — a war with no end in sight that has already claimed tens of thousands of lives and inflicted scores of thousands of crippling injuries.
When he was a young man, Mr. Bush used the Air National Guard to hide out from the draft in a time of war. Then, as president, he's suddenly G. I. George, strutting around in a flight suit, threatening to wage war on all and sundry, and taunting the insurgents in Iraq with a cry of "bring them on."
When the nation needed leadership on the critical problem of global warming, Mr. Bush took his cues from the honchos in the oil and gasoline industry, the very people who were setting the planet on fire. Now he talks about overcoming the nation's addiction to oil! This is amazing. Here's the president of the United States scaling the very heights of chutzpah. The Bush people and the oil people are indistinguishable. Condoleezza Rice, a former Chevron director, even had an oil tanker named after her.
Among the complaints in the Cato study is that the Bush administration has taken the position that despite validly enacted laws to the contrary, the president cannot be restrained "from pursuing any tactic he believes to be effective in the war on terror." This view has led to activities that I believe have brought great shame to the nation: the warrantless spying on Americans, the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the creation of the C.I.A.'s network of secret prisons, extraordinary rendition and the barbaric encampment at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in which detainees are held, without regard to guilt or innocence, in a nightmarish no man's land beyond the reach of any reasonable judicial process.

The sins of the Bush administration are so extensive and so egregious, they could never be adequately addressed in a newspaper column. History will be the final judge. But I've no doubt about the ultimate verdict.

Remember the Clinton budget surplus? It was the largest in American history. President Bush and his cronies went after it like vultures feasting in a field of carcasses. They didn't invest the surplus. They devoured it.

Remember how most of the world responded with an extraordinary outpouring of sympathy and support for America in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11? Mr. Bush had no idea how to seize that golden opportunity to build new alliances and strengthen existing ones. Much of that solidarity with America has morphed into outright hostility.

Remember Katrina? The major task of Congress and the voters for the remainder of the Bush presidency is to curtail the destructive impulses of this administration, and to learn the lessons that will prevent similar horrors from ever happening again.

Friday, April 28, 2006

How Many SMOKING GUNS Does It Take To Make A Mushroom Cloud?

From Activist website

Every day brings new and even more damning evidence of the willful lies told by the White House to bait the American people into the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has wrecked our budget, our military and our respect worldwide. Oil prices are soaring with no end in sight as a direct result of the administration's perverse and bungled military threats. The more they talk about nuking Iran the more gas prices will skyrocket. And people ask, what WILL it take to actually commence impeachment of Bush and Cheney?What it will take --- are more people to speak out, and in particular brave and courageous NEW candidates for office, who are not afraid to speak the truth which must be spoken. And when they DO, like Charles W. Sanders is doing in the 3rd district of OH right now, progressives must throw the full weight of our support behind them. Charles has an action page getting thousands of submissions from all over the country calling for the IMMEDIATE impeachment of both Bush and Cheney. Sanders puts his position succinctly:

As Americans, we are very proud of our heritage, but I wonder what future generations will think if we sit idly by and do nothing when we actually do know the truth, that the White House knew there were no weapons of mass destruction. The United States of America is plagued with continual mission creep in Iraq and increasing cost with no retribution in sight. We were told that Iraq, presently sitting on top of two trillion gallons of unrefined crude, would be able to pay for its own reconstruction. Three years ago, the Administration had that specific proposal before it and failed to pursue it because it was a Democratic idea. This Administration has never vetoed a spending bill and we are over eight trillion dollars in debt. Remember the Downing Street Memo? It was just swept under the table. The normal response by this White House is change the theme and fire anybody who disagrees with their official version. Enough is enough. There are 1000 days left, honesty, integrity and trust really do matter. I will stand up for the truth, please join me in cleaning up Washington.


Sanders is running as many radio spots in his home district as he can, calling on all his constituents to raise their own voices, and is showing just the kind of leadership the country needs. Progressives can make an example of him, and show other candidates that if they show real backbone they will get the support of the people too.

The economy

Economist Brad DeLong is stumped:

Another near-five percent output growth quarter, accompanied by a growth of labor input that I measure as about 1.6 percent at an annual rate. That means productivity growth at more than three percent per year.

So why aren't real wages rising faster? Why does labor demand growth appear so weak?

If Brad can't figure it out, I'm sure I can't.

But, I keep wondering whether they might be cooking the numbers' books a bit. They certainly feel free to cook all the other information they disseminate.

The moral high ground

Lest you've begun to forget, Amnesty International has given a report to the UN Committee Against Torture, accusing the US of continuing to encourage the torture of its detainees. Among the findings:

As of now, the U.S. has yet to prosecute a single official, military officer or private contractor for "torture" or "war crimes" related to its occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, or the "war on terror."

"The heaviest sentence imposed on anyone to date for a torture-related death while in U.S. custody is five months," notes Curt Goering, Senior Deputy Executive Director for Amnesty International USA. "[That's] the same sentence that you might receive in the U.S. for stealing a bicycle."

The five month sentence resulted from the death of a 22-year-old taxi-driver, who had been hooded and chained to a ceiling, then kicked and beaten until dead.

Doesn't it just make you proud to be an American?

Cognitive dissonance

The State Department recently published its annual terrorism assessment. Here's some of the news about it today.


More than 11,000 "terrorist" attacks took place around the world last year, killing 14,600 people, a US State Department report has said.
The annual Patterns of Global Terrorism figures showed that attacks had increased almost fourfold from the 3,129 in 2004.

Counter point:

The US says the increase is because of a change in methodology that devotes more energy to uncovering evidence of attacks on civilians.

Sure, all those dead people are still dead.

But the figures may fuel criticism of the Bush administration's claim that it is winning the "war on terror".

Sure will.


About 3,500 of last year's attacks took place in Iraq, the report said.


Despite this, the State Department says Iraq is not a haven for terrorism.

No, never!


The al-Qaeda network remains the most dangerous terrorist threat facing the US, despite the arrest of top operational planners in 2005, the State Department said.


Today, the Bush administration said that we have disrupted the operations of al-Qaeda by killing and capturing its leaders.

Jean Schmidt gets a reprimand

From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

COLUMBUS - A unanimous Ohio Elections Commission voted to issue U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt a public reprimand Thursday for "false statements" - claiming she had a second undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati that she never received.

A letter citing the campaign's "reckless disregard for truth" was to be sent by the commission today to Schmidt, her campaign and her husband, Peter, as committee treasurer. It's the most serious punishment short of fines or criminal prosecution.

I wonder if the Ohio voters are rethinking their vote for mean Jean over Paul Hackett. What a turkey she's turned out to be.

Bush at (hard, hard) work today

Bush has come out against the Spanish version of the Star Spangled Banner. Get a life. As Atrios pointed out yesterday or the day before, many native born Americans are of Spanish descent, and many come from families that have lived in this country longer than those of most other Americans.

We should all be proud that they want to sing the national anthem, whatever language they sing it in.

Bush also came out against a windfall profits tax on the oil companies. No, a tax probably doesn't solve the problem, but the revenues from it could certainly be put to good use -- e.g., accelerating development of alternative fuels. And, why give it away in half billion dollar bonuses to the CEO?

The main thing Bush wanted to emphasize was the GREAT ECONOMY. Yeah, that and $2.00 will get most people a one way ride on the IRT shuttle from Times Square to Grand Central. This economy may be great for the CEOs and other high level corporate officers, but it hasn't been that great for most of the rest of us. Real wages are DOWN. Employment growth is strictly limited to the low level service jobs. The good jobs have gone south (or east or west). Take a look at Marketingace's post from a couple of days ago.

Bush can tout the economy all he wants, but when 66 percent of so of the population thinks the country is headed in the wrong direction, it's not going to get him very far. What would you believe, your pocket book or government GDP stats?

Strange behavior

What's is it with the Rethuglicans these days? Are they all going crazy? First, Scalia starts behaving oddly, flashing the bird to a reporter in a Catholic Church and giving crazy speeches around the world about cases he is about to hear in the Supreme Court. Now, Sen. Pete Domenici has a hissy fit on the floor of the Senate. From Raw Story:

Before bolting from the Senate chamber, U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) shouted at Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR,) "I just violated the rules!"

Domenici had interrupted Wyden's introduction of an amendment under the pretense that he was attempting to ask a question. Rather, he blasted the Senator's plan, after doing so announcing, "I just violated the rules! I didn't ask a question, I gave a speech. I hope you listened."

Wyden had been on the Senate floor for nearly five hours. Under Senate rules, a lawmaker can push a vote on his or her amendment so long as they can stand on the floor.

The Wyden amendment would eliminate royalty relief subsidies for drilling on government land if oil prices exceed $55 per barrel.

Iraq war costs exceed Vietnam in real terms

From the UK's Independent:

The Iraq war has already cost the United States $320bn (£180bn), according to an authoritative new report, and even if a troop withdrawal begins this year, the conflict is set to be more expensive in real terms than the Vietnam War, a generation ago.

And, this doesn't even begin to reflect the cost to the US of loss of standing around the world.

Five Dems arrested

Five Democratic Congressmen were arrested today for demonstrating against the Darfur atrocities in front of the Sudanese embassy.

Do you suppose they'll be labeled "enemy combattants" and shipped off to Guantanamo?

While I doubt that will happen (we're not quite there yet), I can hear Tony Blankley, Bill Bennett, and the chorus of right wing bloggers calling for their blood.

Hastert caught ditching hydrogen car for a gas guzzler

This, via Raw Story, is really hilarious. Dennis Hastert goes to a gas station for a photo op in a hydrogen powered car. A few blocks after he leaves, he ditches the hydrogen car for his gas guzzling SUV:

The Associated Press has photographed Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) ditching his brightly colored hydrogen automobile in favor of a gas-guzzling black SUV after exiting a news conference and photo opportunity at a Washington, DC gas station.

After the conference, which addressed high gas prices, Hastert and other Congressmen had been carted away in fuel saving and alternatively powered automobiles. Just blocks away from the scene, Hastert is reported to have ditched his in favor of his usual official car.

Bush seeks greater powers

This comment by Bush is very revealing:

On Thursday, the president said he wants to raise fuel-efficiency standards on automobiles, as members of both parties jockeyed for political position on the issue of rising gas prices.

Bush called on Congress to give him the authority to set the standards for passenger cars sold in the United States as a means of reducing the nation's demand for gasoline.

"I encourage them to give me that authority," Bush told reporters during a visit to a service station in Biloxi, Mississippi. "It's an authority I used for light trucks, and I intend to use it wisely if Congress will give me that authority."

Instead of proposing a fuel efficiency standard for Congress to pass, Bush asks for more power to do whatever he dam well pleases. Now, he wants to run the auto industry as well as the government. As a commenter at Talking Points Memo put it:

It is just one more effort on his part to consolidate any and all power within the presidency.

If anybody in Congress moves to give him greater power, they should be laughed out of office. The more power he has, the more he will screw up. How would you like to drive a car built by George W. Bush?

Scooter loses another motion

You will recall that Scooter Libby's lawyers argued for a dismissal of the charges on the grounds that Fitzgerald did not have the legal authority to bring those charges. Well, that argument didn't fly.

The defense is trying the old legal trick of throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks. It's beginning to look as though this wall was treated with teflon (tm).

Rumor: Porter Goss and call girls

I've hesitated to blog about this because it's still in the highly speculative stage, but the blogosphere is buzzing about it, and, if true, it really is a juicy story. Porter Goss caught up in the Duke Cunningham call girl blackmail scheme? Here's a summary by Steve Soto at the Left Coaster:

The far more interesting story started this morning with a piece in the Wall Street Journal, where it was reported that the contractor who bribed Duke Cunningham, Brent Wilkes, apparently ran call girls for members of Congress. According to David Shuster of MSNBC, the federal prosecutors who are working the Duke Cunningham case are trying to get Cunningham and Wilkes to roll over on members of Congress who have been compromised by Wilkes’ blackmail operation. And who may be one of those members with ties to Wilkes? None other than a man we speculated upon two months ago: Porter Goss.

This is the guy who is telling former employees of the CIA that they can't criticize the administration (including, presumably, Porter Goss).

Oh how the mighty doth fall.

Iraq, haven for terrorists

Remember the "Saddam supports terrorists" line? Nah. One more deception.

But now, according to the State Department's annual terrorism report,
Iraq is becoming a safe haven for terrorists and has attracted a "foreign fighter pipeline" linked to terrorist plots, cells and attacks throughout the world. . . . WASHINGTON (CNN)
Congratulations to Bush, Cheney, and especially Rummy for their masterful victory in the Global War on Terror. Mission Accomplished, boys!

But, seriously, how can the American people ever make amends to the Iraqi people for the unending horror we have imposed upon them?

We're already re-positioning the troops for the Iran strike

Does this all seem like déja vu? It sure does to me.

In Sofia where Rice was meeting with NATO leaders, the secretary inked an agreement with the Bulgarian government granting U.S. troops access to military facilities in the country.

The deal is part of a strategy of shifting troops based in Europe farther east and will deploy up to 2,500 U.S. troops to Bulgaria. It has raised suspicions in Bulgaria that the United States could one day use European soil to launch a military strike on Iran if it refuses to rein in its disputed nuclear program.

Tehran faces a Friday deadline from the Security Council to stop enriching uranium, a process that can lead either to nuclear power for electricity or to development of weapons. Iran says it only wants to generate electric power

"It's pretty clear Iran is not going to meet those requirements," Rice said. "When that happens the international community, represented by the Security Council, is going to have a choice."

"Is the Security Council going to be credible?" Rice said after meetings with NATO foreign ministers.

For Rove, not if but when

Here's what Elisabeth Bumiller and Dave Johnston had to say about Rove in today's NY Times:

WASHINGTON, April 27 — Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the C.I.A. leak case, is expected to decide in the next two to three weeks whether to bring perjury charges against Karl Rove, the powerful adviser to President Bush, lawyers involved in the case said Thursday.

With the completion of Mr. Rove's fifth appearance before the grand jury on Wednesday, Mr. Fitzgerald is now believed to have assembled all of the facts necessary to determine whether to seek an indictment of Mr. Rove or drop the case.

Lawyers in the case said Mr. Fitzgerald would spend the coming days reviewing the transcript of Mr. Rove's three hours of testimony on Wednesday and weigh it against his previous statements to the grand jury as well as the testimony of others, including a sworn statement that Mr. Rove's lawyer gave to the prosecutor earlier this year. The lawyers were granted anonymity so they could speak about the internal legal deliberations in Mr. Rove's case.

A lawyer with knowledge of the case said that Mr. Rove had known for more than a month that he was likely to make another appearance before the grand jury, and that he had known since last fall that he would be subject to further questions from Mr. Fitzgerald before the prosecutor completed his inquiry.

Now, consider for a moment who this information came from. One thing we know with pretty good certitude is that it didn't come from anyone connected with Fitzgerald. His office has the reputation of being tighter than a drum. So, my bet is that this came from Rove's attorneys. And, the story now is quite a bit less rosey than it was two days ago when they were saying that Rove had just gone in to tie up some loose strings.

If this is the story from Rove's side, think about where the real truth must lie.

Stay tuned folks! We may have some firework displays coming soon.

CIvil War?

This from Juan Cole sounds pretty much like civil war to me:

A battle between 100 guerrillas and Iraqi army forces in Baqubah (northeast of Baghdad) on Thursday left 30 persons dead, with casualties on both sides. Local Iraqi forces spoke of a guerrilla force as big as 500! It is unusual for guerrillas to field such a comparatively large force. Local Iraqis also said that US forces came in to aid them when called on. You have a sense that if the US troops weren't around to be called on, Baqubah would pretty quickly fall to the guerrillas altogether. I suspect the guerrillas were mostly Iraqi, not foreign jihadis.

Drowning it in the bathtub

Friend Arthur in KC sent me this rather than go to the effort to post it himself! It dovetails pretty well with my post yesterday about the effort to prove government can't work by appointing incompetents to head every government agency.

Radical Plan to Kill or Realign Federal Programs

"Sunset Commission" Bill Could Leave Public Powerless to Save Important

Whether you care about safe workplaces or farmers' markets, public parks or
domestic abuse shelters, the programs that you care about are at risk from a
bill that would create a backdoor for their elimination. Without you or your
representatives' say, programs and even whole agencies could be killed or
restructured to the point of making their work impossible.

A threat is now building in the House of Representatives: some lawmakers are
pushing legislation that would force all federal programs--from Head Start
to Even Start; from EPA to OSHA; and from urban development to rural
healthcare--to defend themselves before an unelected commission.

This one "sunset commission" would make recommendations to kill,
consolidate, or "realign" all programs (with rare exception), and would have
the power to force its recommendations through Congress, limiting your
representatives' ability to save important programs from the chopping block.

People who rely on these services and the nonprofit organizations that
provide them could be left completely in the dark, with no way of knowing
whether their programs are on the chopping block and no way to save them.

The threat is real. In the scramble for votes to pass the budget, a handful
of lawmakers were able to strike a deal with House leaders: in exchange for
their votes, they were promised that a bill for sunset commissions would be
put to a vote in the coming months. We expect this vote as early as June.

OMB Watch is following these dangerous proposals and working with other
groups to stop this radical plan. To learn more and stay on top of the
latest developments, check out

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Get a life

BOSTON (Reuters) - Two families filed a lawsuit on Thursday against a Massachusetts town and its public school system after a teacher read a gay-themed fairy tale to children without notifying them first.

"Build a Wall Around America" Party might win in 2008

This piece of news is weird, and a bit scary.

April 27, 2006--Democrats currently hold a 12-point advantage over Republicans on a generic 2008 Presidential ballot. However, a third-party candidate focusing on immigration enforcement issues could fundamentally alter those political dynamics.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national opinion survey finds that 44% of Americans say they would vote for a Democrat if the Presidential Election were held today. Just 32% would vote for a Republican. Those figures are likely a reflection of unhappiness with the Bush Administration rather than a commentary on prospective candidates from either party (see crosstabs).

The survey also asked respondents how they would vote if "a third party candidate ran in 2008 and promised to build a barrier along the Mexican border and make enforcement of immigration law his top priority."

With that option, support fell sharply for both major parties. The Democrats still come out on top with support from 31% of Americans. The third party candidate moved into a virtual tie at 30% while the GOP fell to 21%.

I suspect it's reasonably likely that some group like the "Minutemen" might well start a third party effort orgainized around a "build a wall around America" theme. This poll suggests they might even have a shot at winning.

I'm very happy about the Republicans being in the cellar here, but I'm not happy at all about the strength of this anti-immigrant sentiment. It's narrow minded, bigoted, and ugly. It has no place in this country.

Bush's screwups may be deliberate

Avendon Carol makes a good point about the Congressional move to dismantle FEMA.

... the purpose of this administration is to eliminate any competence in government to serve the public. No, let's just make sure the EPA doesn't do it's job so Republicans can say, "See? Government can't do anything! You pay taxes for this and you don't get it!" After which they can safely eliminate the programs without lowering your taxes. Eventually, the programs will be gone and you won't be hearing all that anti-tax rhetoric anymore - it will be patriotic to pay taxes, again.

In the meantime, they'll demand that we fork over huge amounts of money in the name of national security (or "fighting terror", she laughed bitterly), while making sure that any measure that would actually protect our security is round-filed. I mean, it's not like we should worry about nuclear materials being illegally imported into our country, undetected, by people whose purposes are not friendly to our citizens.

So first you wreck the program, then you claim its failures are the result of the fact that "government programs don't work" - relying on amnesia about the fact that it worked just fine before they started "fixing" it - and then they decide we need to abolish it rather than putting it back the way it was when it used to work.

Oh, and just to make it seem like it's coming from sensible people, we have some specially-labelled "moderates" - one from each party - to make a proposal to abolish, oh, say, FEMA. Like Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Leiberman (R-DLC). And the start of hurricane season just a month away, too!

If you recall, FEMA worked just fine during the Clinton years. Unfortunately, Bushco has so screwed things up that people will believe that government can't work.

[Note: The White House did announce this afternoon that it did not support the Congressional move to dump FEMA. I suspect that's more due to the fact that dumping it will reflect badly on Bush's management than that he really wants to fix it.]

[A hat tip to Digby]

No criticism of the prez permitted

John Avarosis is on a roll today. Here's another gem he unearthed:

The CIA has imposed new and tighter restrictions on the books, articles, and opinion pieces published by former employees who are still contractors with the intelligence agency. According to several former CIA officials affected by the new policy, the rules are intended to suppress criticism of the Bush administration and of the CIA. The officials say the restrictions amount to an unprecedented political "appropriateness" test at odds with earlier CIA policies on outside publishing.

The move is a significant departure from the CIA's longtime practice of allowing ex-employees to take critical or contrary positions in public, particularly when they are contractors paid to advise the CIA on important topics and to publish their assessments.

All current and former CIA employees have long been required to submit manuscripts for books, opinion pieces, and even speeches to the agency's Publications Review Board, which ensures that the works don't reveal classified information or intelligence sources and methods. The board has not generally factored political opinions into its decision-making, former CIA officials say. But in recent years, former employees have written memoirs and opinion pieces challenging the CIA and the Bush administration, particularly for its use of prewar intelligence to justify the war in Iraq. The board did not find that any of those pieces revealed secrets, a fact that makes the CIA's new review standards troubling, former officials and intelligence-community analysts said.

It's bad enough if it just applies to those still under contract to the CIA, but I wonder. Any former employee of the CIA is forced (I believe by law) to submit books or articles to the CIA for pre-publication review to make sure no classified information is accidentally (or purposely) revealed. I wouldn't be too surprised if the same review standards are being used regardless of whether the person is or is not still under contract. In effect, this may mean that no former employee of the CIA is permitted to criticize Dear Leader or his goons.

Democrats file suit against Bush Administration

John Avarosis at Americablog has this post up. I haven't yet checked around to confirm it, so you'll have to take his word for it. He's generally pretty reliable:

Developing story coming from the top House Democrats. They are filing a lawsuit against Bush and his administration to prevent implementation of the "Budget Deficit Act of 2005." That's the legislation which Bush signed even though the House and Senate passed different versions (basically because the Republican illegally changed the legislation).

This is pretty big news. The lead plaintiff is John Conyers, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. He is joined by 10 other ranking members of the other House Committees: Dingell, Rangel, Miller, Oberstar, Frank, Peterson, Thompson, Stark, Brown and Slaughter.

They are seeking to enjoin the budget act because the constitutional process -- you know, from "How a Bill becomes a Law" -- wasn't followed. For all those strict constructionists, here's the actual language:

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States:

The House and Senate passed different versions. What's more, they knew they passed different versions and instead of re-voting, they just fudged it. Bush, Hastert and Frist decided to overrule established constitutional law, just like they do in so many other areas.

I wonder if the Court will say the Dems don't have standing to sue. Weigh in on that, KISSweb.

Specter threatens to cut funding if White House doesn't cooperate in NSA spying investigation

I'll believe it when I see it, but I really hope Arlen follows through on this:

WASHINGTON - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said Thursday he is considering legislation to cut off funding for the Bush administration's secret domestic wiretapping program until he gets satisfactory answers about it from the White House.

"Institutionally, the presidency is walking all over Congress at the moment," Specter, R-Pa., told the panel. "If we are to maintain our institutional prerogative, that may be the only way we can do it."

Playing at being a Republican policy maker

I see now that the Senate Republicans have another great idea up their sleeve, a $100 check to everyone in America to lessen the gas crunch. Tied to it, however, is opening up the ANWR to drilling.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Every American taxpayer would get a $100 rebate check to offset the pain of higher pump prices for gasoline, under an amendment Senate Republicans hope to bring to a vote Thursday.

However, the GOP energy package may face tough sledding because it also includes a controversial proposal to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration, which most Democrats and some moderate Republicans oppose.

Let's see. There are probably about 170 million adult Americans. So, we're talking about perhaps $20 billion to process and pay the rebate checks. That might fill two or three tanks at today's gas prices. That's probably less than a week's driving for those who are really feeling the pinch. Whoopee!

Meanwhile, we get to destroy the environment and enrich the big oil companies too. That's just great!

Let's see if we can come up with something else to make this thing really fly. Let's see, maybe we don't give the rebate to out-of-the-closet gays. We certainly won't give it to the African Americans who were displaced by Katrina, because we don't know where they are. Perhaps we should also exempt the poor and lower middle class from the rebate, since they don't deserve it. After all, they don't contribute as much to the economy as the CEOs of the world.

I've got it. Let's just give the rebate to the richest 1%. That'll reduce the cost alot.

Republicans exempt big oil from ban on gas gouging

Atrios points out the Bill Frist's Senate bill to eliminate gas gouging exempts the large oil companies and only targets the small gas stations.

Apparently the Frist-backed Senate gas gouging bill exempts wholesale gouging and only applies to retail gouging. I have no idea if the big oil companies are engaged in wholesale price gouging, but that's the only type of gouging which will have any actual impact on people. Otherwise we're just talking about preventing the occasional and isolated jacking up of the price by a local gas station. Big whoop.

Sister's murger gets headlines, brother's murder ignored

I don't get it. Today the fact that the sister of the Iraqi VP was murdered is making big headlines all over the place.

Two weeks ago or so the guy's brother was murdered and that hardly made the news at all. In fact, I don't even recall the incident.

Maybe the press expects a slow news day today. Who knows?

In any event, this is just one more demonstration that the insurgency is in its last throes I suppose.

The sister of Tareq al-Hashemi, Iraq's vice-president, has been shot dead in a southern Baghdad neighbourhood.

An interior ministry official said Mayssun Hashemi was travelling in her car in al-Ilam neighbourhood when "gunmen ambushed her car and sprayed it with bullets, killing her and her driver".

The television station of Hashemi's Iraqi Islamic Party interrupted its programming to show picture's of her bulletriddled and blood-stained mini-bus.

The vehicle had been blocked by a car and gunmen then swarmed the mini-bus and fired 32 shots at Hashemi's sister and her driver, said a station announcer.

An Iraqi Islamic Party official said no one in the neighbourhood rushed forward to provide medical care to the victims out of fear.

Earlier this month, Hashemi's brother, Mahmud, was similarly shot dead in Baghdad.

Bush law to kill woman who is not brain dead or terminal

What's the word I'm looking for? Eureka, "hypocrisy."

HOUSTON---The countdown has begun on the life of Andrea Clark, a patient at St. Luke's Hospital.

Six days left.

No, she's not terminal, her family says and she's not brain dead. Her sisters say that she wants to live. The Houston hospital is going to unilaterally remove a woman from life support, apparently based on the decision of a lone physician even though her family wants her to continue to receive care.

The central issue in the Andrea Clark case is the same as that in the Terri Schindler Schiavo case, whether the state should be able to sanction the removal of a human being from life support.

What's even more significant in the Clark case is that the Texas bill that allows health care providers to end a human life despite the wishes of the patient and the patient's family was signed into law in 1999 by President George W. Bush as Texas Governor. However, in 2005, he rushed back to the White House from Easter vacation to sign a bill rushed through Congress which was designed to save the life of Terri Schiavo because of his "presumption in favor of life".

Of course, this is a case where the woman is poor. We can't have these poor people living. They might pollute the genetic strains of the master race.

[A hat tip to Raw Story for this one.]

Rove "unsure" whether he will be indicted

From today's Washington Post:

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove sought to convince a federal grand jury yesterday that he did not provide false statements in the CIA leak case, testifying for more than three hours before leaving a federal courthouse unsure whether he would be indicted, according to a source close to the presidential aide.

In his fifth appearance before the grand jury, Rove spent considerable time arguing that it would have been foolish for him to knowingly mislead investigators about his role in the disclosure of the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to the media, the source said. His grand jury appearance, which was kept secret even from Rove's closest White House colleagues until shortly before he went to court yesterday, suggests that prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald remains keenly interested in Rove's role in the case.

This doesn't have the earmarks of just tieing up loose strings, as the testimony was described by Rove's buddies yesterday. Three hours of gruelling testimony? Unsure of indictment? Loose strings?

Big brother is watching your kids

Who cares about privacy when you need to recruit kids to get slaughtered in an illegal (and unwinnable) war?

NEW YORK - The Defense Department is violating the privacy of millions of high school students nationwide with a detailed database it uses for military recruitment, a federal lawsuit filed Monday claims.

The New York Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of six high schoolers, saying the department is ignoring privacy rules set by Congress regarding the collection and distribution of students' personal information.

Military officials have said they have about 30 million names in the database. The
Pentagon said last year the list includes high school students ages 16-18 and college students, and includes such information as the students' Social Security numbers, gender and race.

Hope Reichbach, a 17-year-old senior at Hunter College High School in Manhattan and a plaintiff, said she contacted the NYCLU after she had tried unsuccessfully to get her name removed from lists and databases that she said subjected her to repeated phone calls from military recruiters.

"I want them to leave me and other students alone," Reichbach said.

The department is flouting a 1982 military recruitment law that specifies that it refrain from collecting information on students under 17, that it store the information for no more than three years and that the information be kept private, the lawsuit said.

The current database includes information on 16-year-olds, is storing the information for five years and is being shared with law enforcement and other agencies, the lawsuit said.

You've come a long way baby

Do you remember when Kerry was widely accused of being wildly speculative by the main stream media when he said in a debate that the cost of the war would exceed $200 billion?

From today's Washington Post:

The cost of the war in Iraq will reach $320 billion after the expected passage next month of an emergency spending bill currently before the Senate, and that total is likely to more than double before the war ends, the Congressional Research Service estimated this week.

"The costs are exceeding even the worst-case scenarios," said Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (S.C.), the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

New poll: more questions than answers

The new NBC/WSJ poll shows Bush hitting a new low (in that poll) of 35% approval. However, this is the second poll in the week showing that in the "generic" Congressional race the Democrats' advantage has slipped markedly, from a 13 percentage point lead in March to a 6 percentage point lead now.

I don't get it. The president is clearly in free fall. Congressional ratings are in free fall. The VP has already hit the ground and gone splat, so he can't fall any further. So, why has the Democrats' lead slipped so much?

Is it because the Dems' leaders continue to show themselves to be spineless?


The other day, I read a piece about how FEMA was preventing reporters from interviewing people living in the FEMA Katrina compounds and preventing those living in the compounds from talking to reporters unless they left "the base."

Today, the NY Times reports that FEMA is shutting down its housing compensation for Katrina victims, despite the fact that the beneficiaries and local authorities insist that FEMA promised compensation for a full year.

And, yesterday, a Senate panel determined that FEMA was unfixable and should be abolished and replaced.

Heck uv a job, Georgie!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Economic mobility in the US lower than elsewhere

I have blogged about this before, but here's some new evidence to support my earlier remarks. Economic mobility in the US from poor to rich is among the lowest in the developed world. We like to think of America as the place that the hard worker can rise from the ashes to become wealthy. Think again:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - America may still think of itself as the land of opportunity, but the chances of living a rags-to-riches life are a lot lower than elsewhere in the world, according to a new study published on Wednesday.

The likelihood that a child born into a poor family will make it into the top five percent is just one percent, according to "Understanding Mobility in America", a study by economist Tom Hertz from American University.

By contrast, a child born rich had a 22 percent chance of being rich as an adult, he said.

"In other words, the chances of getting rich are about 20 times higher if you are born rich than if you are born in a low-income family," he told an audience at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank sponsoring the work.

He also found the United States had one of the lowest levels of inter-generational mobility in the wealthy world, on a par with Britain but way behind most of Europe.

"Consider a rich and poor family in the United States and a similar pair of families in Denmark, and ask how much of the difference in the parents' incomes would be transmitted, on average, to their grandchildren," Hertz said.

"In the United States this would be 22 percent; in Denmark it would be two percent," he said.

Am I trying to bash America with this? No. Do I hate America? No. I love my country. But, I also love the myths about my country -- land of the free, home of the brave, the place where the streets are paved with gold and any immigrant can come here and make it big if they just try. Yes, I know some who have, but the vast majority don't. And, we have no useful safety net for those who don't. Why not? Because of the assholes who think that God endowed the rich with greater gifts than the poor. They happen to be Republicans.

It's called "social Darwinism," and it happens to dovetail with Hitler's Nazism. Those who have made it, have made it because they are SUPERIOR BEINGS. Those who are poor are poor because they are INFERIOR BEINGS. That's the Rethuglican message. They're doing it now with the immigrants because it isn't in vogue to do it with the blacks. It's disgusting, and I don't want to come within touching distance of their nutball theory.

It's high time we found another way to conduct discourse in this country.

Readers of liberal blogs are not the crazies, as the press portrays us

Chris Bowers at MyDD has summarized a poll of liberal blog readers. Here's the summary:

Active readers of Democratic political blogs are very highly educated, highly politically active, quite well-to-do, voracious consumers of media, not very young, and skew male. Apart from the male part, these indicators fly in the face of stereotypes about progressive bloggers, who are supposedly drooling, rabid, anti-social, uneducated, teenage extremists with no political value and out of touch with current events. Quite to the contrary, active blog readers have a tremendous amount of political capital to spend, and are in search of adventurous progressive politicians and organizations to spend it on. Is there any major progressive political group in the country that would not want to appeal to the demographics of this readership? High concentrations of wealthy, highly educated, highly active media junkies cannot be found in many areas in either this or any other country. Mischaracterize and misjudge them at your own peril.