Friday, December 30, 2005

The Justice Department Plumbing Service

I'm sure that when they finish investigating who revealed the illegal spying program, the Justice Department will get right on investigating the actual illegal spying program.

The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the leak of classified information about President Bush's secret domestic spying program, Justice officials said Friday.

The officials, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe, said the inquiry will focus on disclosures to The New York Times about warrantless surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Revelation of the secret spying program unleashed a firestorm of criticism of the administration. Some critics accused the president of breaking the law by authorizing intercepts of conversations — without prior court approval or oversight — of people inside the United States and abroad who had suspected ties to al-Qaida or its affiliates.

The surveillance program, which Bush acknowledged authorizing, bypassed a nearly 30-year-old secret court established to oversee highly sensitive investigations involving espionage and terrorism.
When you're bypassing a secret court that will rubber-stamp any request you make -- since 1979, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved 18,742 applications and rejected four (thanks Josh), you're either intent on breaking the law or you object to any checks on your authority whatsoever.

And instead of investigating that, Justice is looking into who revealed the program.

This ridiculous probe is an obvious attempt by the Bush administration to chill the climate for potential future leakers. It used to be that the threat of character assassination at the hands of Karl Rove was enough to keep administration critics quiet. But the damage the administration suffered over the lack of WMDs in Iraq, the lack of an exit strategy in Iraq, the Downing Street Memo, prisoner abuse at Abu Grahib and Gitmo, extraordinary rendition, the revelation that Bush had to be talked out of bombing al-Jazeera (a third time), Bush's horribly glib response to a question about the number of Iraqis killed in his war of choice, out-of-control deficits, Dick Cheney, the failed attempt to destroy Social Security, the total failure that was the response to Hurricane Katrina, the interminable vacations, the shameless exploitation of Terry Schiavo, the lack of armor for military vehicles in a war zone, tax cuts for the rich, "Mission Accomplished," the refusal to meet with gold-star mother Cindy Sheehan while she camped in a ditch on the side of a road leading to his "ranch," the Harriet Miers nomination, the verbal attacks on John Murtha, the opposition to John McCain's anti-torture amendment, the revelation of secret CIA prisons and the indictment of Scooter Libby in the Valerie Plame leak investigation have emboldened administration opponents. It's time for the Bushies to go on offense.

Let's not confuse the Plame leak investigation with this new leak investigation. In the former case, what was revealed was the name of an undercover CIA operative who specialized in weapons proliferation. Outing her did nothing but punish a critic of the administration and, because identifying her made it impossible for her to do her job, cost this country an expert in an area key to national security. To knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover agent is illegal.

That is, the leak itself is a crime.

In the Justice Department's new project, what was revealed was that the Bush administration has been spying on people inside the United States without bothering to get warrants from a secret court that's all too happy to hand them out.

That is, the leak uncovered a crime.

See the difference? Could you explain it to Alberto Gonzales?

What a tangled web

I'm not trying to be cynical, but given recent reports about the Bush administration's spying activities and its well-known respect for the law, you have to admit that this story is credible. Well, everything but the first seven words.

Without the knowledge of the Bush administration, an outside contractor has been using Internet tracking technologies that may be prohibited to analyze usage and traffic patterns on the White House's Web site, an official said Thursday.

The disclosure – the second such revelation in a matter of days – came in response to questions posed by The Associated Press.

The White House Web site uses what's known as a Web bug to anonymously keep track of who's visiting and when. A Web bug is essentially a tiny graphic image - a dot, really - that's virtually invisible. In this case, the bug is pulled from a server maintained by WebTrends and lets the traffic analytic company know that another person has visited a specific page on the site.

Last week, the National Security Agency halted its cookie use after a privacy activist complained and Wednesday, agency officials acknowledged they had made a mistake.

Until Tuesday, the NSA site was creating two cookie files that do not expire until 2035 — likely beyond the life of any computer in use today.

As for the White House web site, David Almacy, the White House's Internet director, is promising that there will be an investigation into whether the practice is consistent with a 2003 policy from the White House's Office of Management and Budget banning the use of most such technologies at government sites.

"No one even knew it was happening," Almacy said. "We're going to work with the contractor to ensure that it's consistent with the OMB policy."
We're going to "work with" the contractor (a favorite expression of the administration, because it sounds vaguely positive but doesn't actually mean anything, and so doesn't require anything specific of the administration). Not "We're going to conduct a thorough investigation to make sure that nobody's right to privacy has been violated and that any lawbreakers are held accountable."

This doesn't seem like the kind of administration that would monitor Internet traffic to its site, does it? It's not like this sort of information would be of interest to the Bush administration, right?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Federal emergency, unmanaged

What do you do when the Federal Emergency Management Agency is itself an unmanaged federal emergency?

Weaknesses in FEMA's response system during Hurricane Katrina were just one symptom of major management challenges at the Homeland Security Department, an internal report issued Wednesday concludes.

The report by the department's inspector general also questions Homeland Security's ability to properly oversee billions of dollars worth of contracts it awards annually.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, an arm of the Homeland Security Department, was singled out as a top concern by investigators who pointed to the agency's "overburdened resources and infrastructure" in dealing with the double-whammy of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Investigators found that several key FEMA programs — distributing aid to disaster victims, emergency response information systems, modernizing flood maps and managing contracts and grants — remain inadequate.

Moreover, "when one considers that FEMA's programs are largely administered through grants and contracts, the circumstances created by hurricanes Katrina and Rita provide an unprecedented opportunity for fraud, waste and abuse," the report found.
In that last sentence lies the key: Privatization of such matters is a mistake because when private interests are involved, public interests become secondary. Using private interests guarantees that doing something cheaply will be more important that doing it right. And when oversight of private interests is handled as poorly as it is in FEMA, abuse will be rampant.

And I'm not just talking about skimming a few bucks from the public trough -- that's pretty much a given. The pursuit of profits can take more repugnant forms, such as lobbyists for defense contractors opposing provisions of a defense department proposal prohibiting defense contractor involvement in human trafficking for forced prostitution and labor, as documented here.

Response to federal emergencies is too important to be left to profiteers and agencies incapable of providing effective oversight. So is health care, by the way, but our elected officials will have to be dragged screaming to a viable solution for that. Right now they're too busy maintaining a role for profiteers, also known as "insurance companies" or "health administrators," in an area where they don't belong. Of course, the only health they're interested in protecting is that of their bottom line.

Some things must be handled by the public sector to eliminate the pursuit of profits and therefore the potential for abuse. The free market, regardless of what Republicans and right-wing think tankers would have you believe, is concerned with only one thing: profits.

Prescription for profits

Most CEOs in this country aren't smart enough to look past tomorrow. If they were, this would have been widely implemented a long time ago. But even with evidence and common sense pointing them in the right direction, it will take years for this to become the rule instead of the exception. After all, most of these people still think there's something to be gained from enforcing dress codes.

If employers would pay more for their employees' prescription and nonprescription medicines, workers and companies could spend less on health care.

It might sound like a radical idea -- spending more for drugs now to save money later -- but the concept is simple: Employers would have more productive workers who would require medical care less often and need fewer days off if employers pay for the medicines that keep employees healthy.

Pitney Bowes Inc., for instance, has saved more than $1 million each year since it cut co-pays for diabetes, hypertension and asthma drugs. The city of Asheville, N.C., reduced the average annual cost of care for its diabetic workers by $2,000
per person as soon as it started paying the whole cost of diabetes drugs. After the success with diabetes, the city added hypertension and asthma programs and
saw similar positive results. And both employers report that the programs have cut employee use of sick time and short-term disability.

"We asked our employees what happened," said Pitney Bowes corporate medical director Dr. Jack Mahoney. "They said the price came down so they got their medications. ... Really there is no rocket science here. If you encourage people to be well and you provide a service, but you put an access barrier there in terms of cost, you have just limited your success rate."

Many businesses are used to reducing health-care plan costs by charging employees higher premiums, deductibles and co-pays. It has worked to slow increases, in some instances.

But researchers at Harvard Medical School and Medco Health Solutions Inc. report that higher co-pays can also discourage employees from filling prescriptions for medicines that could prevent serious -- and expensive -- health complications.
Makes sense. After all, look how great the economy is doing after years of layoffs, eliminating benefits and raises that don't keep up with the cost of living. Look how well these short-sighted, unenlightened policies have kept profits up.

This is an important story for executives to read because the only way you're going to get their attention is to show them that this approach will maximize profits. That it's the right thing to do from a human decency standpoint is irrelevant.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Slave labor

If you thought Dick Cheney's negotiating against a torture ban was unseemly, get a load of this:
Three years ago, President Bush declared that he had "zero tolerance" for trafficking in humans by the government's overseas contractors, and two years ago Congress mandated a similar policy.

But notwithstanding the president's statement and the congressional edict, the Defense Department has yet to adopt a policy to bar human trafficking.

A proposal prohibiting defense contractor involvement in human trafficking for forced prostitution and labor was drafted by the Pentagon last summer, but five defense lobbying groups oppose key provisions and a final policy still appears to be months away, according to those involved and Defense Department records.

The lobbying groups opposing the plan say they're in favor of the idea in principle, but said they believe that implementing key portions of it overseas is unrealistic. They represent thousands of firms, including some of the industry's biggest names, such as DynCorp International and Halliburton subsidiary KBR, both of which have been linked to trafficking-related concerns.
Go read the rest.

"You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.''

Is there ANYONE who believes this crock of shit? I hope someone in the press corpse has enough brains to read at least one of these books and attempt to discuss it with Bubble Boy.

President George W. Bush is spending part of his Christmas holiday reading about the post-presidential years of Theodore Roosevelt and the lives of U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Bush was reading "When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House," by Patricia O'Toole, and "Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground," by Robert Kaplan while on holiday at his Texas ranch, said White House spokesman Trent Duffy.

The book about Teddy Roosevelt is about the former president's African safari and his attempt to re-enter politics after he left the White House in 1909.

"Imperial Grunts" is an account of the daily lives of U.S. elite forces as told by journalist Robert Kaplan, who toured with several of the units in various countries.

Asked whether there was any significance that Bush, who has three years left in office, was reading a book about the post-White House years of a former president, Duffy replied that Bush is a "history buff" and "avid reader."
av·id adj. 1. Having an ardent desire or unbounded craving; greedy. 2. Marked by keen interest and enthusiasm.

Isn't this the guy who bragged that he doesn't read newspapers? Isn't this the guy who didn't read his Presidential Daily Briefs, with tragic results? Does that sound like unbounded craving or keen interest to you? Sidney Blumenthal:
Bush, in fact, does not read his President's Daily Briefs, but has them orally summarised every morning by the CIA director, George Tenet.


"I know he doesn't read," one former Bush national security council staffer told me. Several other former NSC staffers corroborated this.
buff n. Informal. One who is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about a subject.

Too easy.

Now it's not news that the administration lies about pretty much everything, even subjects as mundane as how Bush is spending his time on yet another vacation. But it's important to point out when government spokespeople lie, because lying shouldn't be Standard Operating Procedure for the president of the United States and the people who speak for him. And accepting that the Bush administration lies to us constantly shouldn't be S.O.P. for the American public.

It's a sad state of affairs when your government lies to your face and it's no big deal because you've come to expect it. But that's exactly where we are. Just because you expect it doesn't mean you have to accept it.

Don't tell me that this guy is thoughtful and intelligent. I've seen his work. Don't tell me that this guy spends his leisure time in intellectually stimulating pursuits, because I've seen no evidence of that and plenty of evidence that he does nothing more challenging with his leisure time than watching "Bumfights" DVDs.

Maybe I'm making a big deal out of nothing. But I'm fucking tired of being lied to.

Monday, December 26, 2005

I'd like to welcome all the readers from the NSA

If this surprises you, you haven't been paying attention.

The volume of information gathered from telephone and Internet communications by the National Security Agency without court-approved warrants was much larger than the White House has acknowledged, The New York Times reported on Saturday.

Citing current and former government officials, the Times said the information was collected by tapping directly into some of the U.S. telecommunication system's main arteries. The officials said the NSA won the cooperation of telecommunications companies to obtain access to both domestic and international communications without first gaining warrants.

A former telecommunications technology manager told the Times that industry leaders have been storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible terrorists since the September 11 attacks.

Some officials described the program as a large data mining operation, the Times said, and described it as much larger than the White House has acknowledged.
And let's give a shout-out to the captains of industry who rolled over like $2 crack whores and didn't demand warrants from the regime. How many "no comments" will you hide behind before you acknowledge, even to yourself, your lack of spine?

Thanks, pussies.

But being the optimist that I am, I've spotted the silver lining in all this: The Bush administration's transgressions aren't so esoteric anymore. No longer is it simply whether Tom Noe illegally funneled funds to the Bush 2004 campaign or the alleged crimes of Jack Abramoff -- which, by the way, have damaged the GOP, not the president directly. Now we're talking about something close to the hearts of Americans: their right to privacy. Add this violation of the law to the geologic rate at which progress is being made in the Gulf Coast and the administration's embarrassing efforts to prevent torture from being specifically prohibited by statute, and a key issue in next year's Congressional elections might be a candidate's stance on impeachment.

By the way, it's a good thing Noe was indicted. With $13 million acknowledged to be missing from the $50 million rare coin investment he managed, Bush's propensity for appointing cronies to key positions and John Snow on thin ice at Treasury, the possibilities make one shudder.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

"I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Kwazy Kwanza, a tip-top Tet, and a solemn, dignified Ramadan."
-- Krusty the Clown

Friday, December 23, 2005

The cost of low prices, always

Ah, justice.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. must pay $172 million in damages and compensation to about 116,000 current and former employees for denying meal breaks, a California jury ruled on Thursday.

Concluding the class-action court challenge against the world's biggest retailer in Alameda County, California, near San Francisco, a local jury held that Wal-Mart had broken a state law governing breaks for meals.

The four plaintiffs who launched the lawsuit in 2001 had claimed Wal-Mart had failed to pay hourly employees for missed or interrupted meal breaks.

"What was compelling for the jury was that we put a lot of evidence before them of memos by Wal-Mart from seven years ago that concluded they had been breaking the law," said Jessica Grant, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. "Instead of taking steps to solve the problem, Wal-Mart concealed it."

The jury ruled Wal-Mart must pay $57.2 million in compensation and $115 million in punitive damages. The ruling applies only to current and former Wal-Mart employees in California.

Wal-Mart faces similar lawsuits in over 30 states, said Grant, whose firm is pressing two of the court challenges, one in Maryland and the other in Massachusetts, on behalf of 80,000 class-action plaintiffs.
Hopefully this will make it harder for people to silence their conscience in favor of saving a tiny bit of money. For everyone who cares about American workers enough to proudly display "Buy American" stickers on your vehicle, click here to get your "Boycott Wal-Mart" stickers.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Damon defects

Johnny Damon signed a four-year, $52 million deal with the Stinkins. The deal makes the Stinkins better at a key defensive position and gives them a bona-fide leadoff man. But just as importantly to the Stinkins, signing Damon makes the Red Sox weaker.

There are few good center-field options for the Red Sox, who have another hole up the middle, at shortstop. They pretty much have to go after Jeremy Reed of the Mariners now, which up until yesterday probably meant losing Matt Clement. However, with the Red Sox low on options, that price may have just gone up.

If you're looking for a silver lining in this signing, think of how that contract will look when Damon is 36.

Peter Gammons said on ESPN that the Damon signing might force the Sox to keep Manny Ramirez, but just as likely it could force the Sox to trade him. Manny is just about the only player with any serious trade value left on the team, and they have holes all over the field. To fill the void in center, the Sox could dangle Manny to try to get Carlos Beltran from the Mets. I would want another player too, perhaps for the bullpen, coming back, but that would solve the center field issue and put another solid bat in the order. Beltran might not be the prototypical leadoff hitter, but he has speed and if can keep his OBP up, he could fill that role nicely, especially in the AL, where leadoff hitters get more RBI opportunities thanks to the stupid DH.

Speaking of leadoff hitters, the Sox missed out an opportunity to sign a player who could fill that role as well as play the outfield when Kenny Lofton signed with the Dodgers. It may be worth looking into how much LA values him. Besides, the Dodgers obviously like Red Sox -- Derrick Lowe, Grady Little, Bill Mueller and Nomah Gahciaparra all will wear Dodger blue next season. Maybe David Wells can bring a speedy leadoff hitter to Boston. It would be nice to have at least one player with wheels.

As for the talk surrounding Troy Glaus: Only if he can play first base. How many third basemen can one team have?

I don't care how long it is until spring training: Things aren't looking good in Boston. No first baseman. No shortstop. No closer. No center fielder. Mike Lowell. And very few options.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Fun with Dick

Remember, none of their bullshit works if you're not scared.

Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday vigorously defended the Bush administration's use of secret domestic spying and efforts to expand presidential powers, saying "it's not an accident that we haven't been hit in four years."
It's also not an accident that the administration has won exactly zero convictions against the people it accuses of participating in terror activities.

"I believe in a strong, robust executive authority and I think that the world we live in demands it.
Executive authority unrestrained by the Constitution, apparently. Is it surprising that Dick Cheney essentially supports the idea of unchecked power for himself?

Cheney spoke from his plane's private cabin as he was making a trip aimed at boosting the United States' image abroad and its relationships with its war-on-terror partners. But after visiting Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, he was cutting his travels short, skipping planned stops in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to return to Washington to be on hand for session-ending Senate activity that could require his tie-breaking votes.
As if the session-ending votes came as a surprise. Maybe the trip was cut short because sending Dick Cheney on a trip to boost the United States' image abroad makes about as much sense as hiring a vampire to encourage people to donate blood.

Why do they lie about every little thing?

Cheney said he believes the American people support President Bush's terror-fighting strategy. "If there's a backlash pending," because of reports of National Security Agency surveillance of calls originating within the United States, he said, "I think the backlash is going to be against those who are suggesting somehow that we shouldn't take these steps to defend the country."
Wanna bet? Congress, the attorney general's office and Supreme Court may look the other way, but history will note who was on the right side of this issue, and who wasn't.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Party lines

Next time you're on the phone, be sure to say hi to all the NSA personnel listening in. And don't say anything negative about the administration or discuss oil prices, the war in Iraq, Ramadan or anything French. Unless you want to wake up in Uzbekistan.

President Bush said Monday he intends to continue using secret wiretaps to monitor activities of people in the United States suspected of being connected to al Qaeda.

"To save American lives we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks," Bush said during a year-end news conference at the White House.
It's too bad that Bush wasn't interested in acting fast on August 6, 2001. But hey, he was on vacation.
"So, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, I authorized the interception
of international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and
related terrorist organizations."

"I've reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September 11 attacks and I intend to do so for so long as the nation faces a continuing threat from an enemy that wants to kill American citizens," Bush said.
For the interceptions of these communications to be consistent with U.S. law, the interceptors would need a warrant. What Bush has authorized is ignoring the law. If the eavesdropping were consistent with U.S. law, special authorizations from Bush would be unnecessary.

Simply saying what you're doing is "consistent with U.S. law" doesn't make it so. But given the results the administration has gotten from repeating lies over and over, you can hardly blame them for trying. It's up to us to decide when we're going to reject their lies.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Nomah watch

Nomar Garciaparra signed with Boston West, also known as the Los Angeles Dodgers.

So you can relax now, unless the fact that the Sox have zero shortstops, zero first basemen, no closer, two GMs and three third basemen bothers you.

Eye of the beholder


The United States operated a secret prison in Afghanistan as recently as last year, torturing detainees with sleep deprivation, chaining them to the walls and forcing them to listen to loud music in total darkness for days, a human rights group alleged Monday.

The prison was run near Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report based on the accounts of several detainees at the U.S. prison for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.

According to the report by the rights group, the detainees were kept in total darkness — they called the facility "Dark Prison" — and were tortured and mistreated by American and Afghan guards in civilian clothes, an indication the facility may have been operated by the CIA.

"They were chained to walls, deprived of food and drinking water, and kept in total darkness with loud rap, heavy metal music, or other sounds blared for weeks at a time," the report said.

"Some detainees said they were shackled in a manner that made it impossible to lie down or sleep, with restraints that caused their hands and wrists to swell up or bruise."

Human Rights Watch did not speak with the detainees directly because the United States has not allowed rights organizations to visit detainees at Guantanamo or other overseas detention sites.

Instead, the detainees' accounts were given to their lawyers, who passed them on to the rights group. The group said the allegations were credible enough to warrant an official investigation.

The report said Benyam Mohammad, an Ethiopian-born Guantanamo detainee who grew up in Britain, claimed he was held at the facility in 2004.

"It was pitch black, no lights on in the rooms for most of the time," he was quoted as telling his lawyer. "They hung me up. I was allowed a few hours of sleep on the second day, then hung up again, this time for two days."

Mohammad went on to say that he was forced to listen to Eminem and Dr. Dre for 20 days before the music was replaced by "horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds."

"The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night," he was quoted as saying. "Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off."
Dick Cheney, in an interview with ABC News:

Moran: How so, when it comes to cruel, inhuman— What's the president's
prerogative in the cruel treatment of prisoners?

Cheney: There's a definition that's based on prior Supreme Court decisions and prior arguments, and it has to do with the Fourth, Thirteenth, and — three specific amendments to the Constitution. And the rule is whether or not it shocks the conscience. If it's something that shocks the conscience, the court has agreed that crosses over the line.

Now, you can get into a debate about what shocks the conscience and what is cruel and inhuman. And to some extent, I suppose, that's in the eye of the beholder.
Shocking the conscience, huh? Where do you attach the electrodes for that?

Perhaps the administration's definition of torture takes the Court's language literally: "As you can see, your honor, this technique shocks only the detainee's testicles, leaving his conscience unscathed. Therefore, this cannot possibly be construed as torture."

Kidding aside, whose conscience are we talking about? I hope it's not Cheney's, or Donald "Why is standing limited to four hours?" Rumsfeld's. What if your leaders have no conscience?

Charity, and then some

What good is a little charity if you can't grease a few friends in the process? And First is one greasy Republican.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's AIDS charity paid nearly a half-million dollars in consulting fees to members of his political inner circle, according to tax returns providing the first financial accounting of the presidential hopeful's nonprofit.

The returns for World of Hope Inc., obtained by The Associated Press, also show the charity raised the lion's share of its $4.4 million from just 18 sources. They gave between $97,950 and $267,735 each to help fund Frist's efforts to fight AIDS.
The tax forms, filed nine months after they were first due, do not identify the 18 major donors by name.

Frist's lawyer, Alex Vogel, said Friday that he would not give their names because tax law does not require their public disclosure. Frist's office provided a list of 96 donors who were supportive of the charity, but did not say how much each contributed.

The donors included several corporations with frequent business before Congress, such as insurer Blue Cross/Blue Shield, manufacturer 3M, drug maker Eli Lilly and the Goldman Sachs investment firm.

World of Hope gave $3 million it raised to charitable AIDS causes, such as Africare and evangelical Christian groups with ties to Republicans — Franklin Graham's Samaritan Purse and the Rev. Luis Cortes' Esperanza USA, for example.

The rest of the money went to overhead. That included $456,125 in consulting fees to two firms run by Frist's longtime political fundraiser, Linus Catignani. One is jointly run by Linda Bond, the wife of Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo.
The charity also hired the law firm of Vogel's wife, Jill Holtzman Vogel, and Frist's Tennessee accountant, Deborah Kolarich.

Kolarich's name recently surfaced in an e-mail involving Frist's controversial sale of stock in his family founded health care company. That transaction is now under federal investigation.
At least some of the money went to a worthy cause, even if a lot didn't. Does everything they do have to be so dirty?

Good luck with that '08 White House run, Bill.


Sounds like a confession to me.

Facing angry criticism and challenges to his authorityin Congress, President Bush on Saturday unapologetically defended his administration's right to conduct secret post-Sept. 11 spying in the United States as "critical to saving American lives."

Often appearing angry in an eight-minute address, the president made clear he has no intention of halting his authorizations of the monitoring activities and said public disclosure of the program by the news media had endangered Americans.

Since October 2001, the super-secret National Security Agency has eavesdropped on the international phone calls and e-mails of people inside the United States without court-approved warrants. Bush said steps like these would help fight terrorists like those who involved in the Sept. 11 plot.

"The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time," Bush said. "And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad."

The president had harsh words for those who revealed the program to the media, saying they acted improperly and illegally. The surveillance was first disclosed in Friday's New York Times. "As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have," Bush said. "The unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk."
One could say pretty much the same thing about outing an undercover CIA operative who tracked weapons proliferation. But on that issue, Bush isn't talking.

This is damage control, Bush/Rove style. When you're caught breaking the law, refusing to talk about it looks cowardly and makes people think the allegations are true. The CIA's secret prisons are a perfect example. And because that story broke so recently and the "no comments" the administration issued to try to deflect it were so ineffective, it was essential to go on the offensive over the NSA story. So the president admits it, justifies it and blames whoever talked about it for breaking the law. Never mind that the activities Bush said he authorized and plans to continue to authorize are illegal.

That's the mind of Karl Rove at work: When you're caught breaking the law, accuse your accuser of breaking the law and justify your behavior any way you can. In the Bush administration, that way is almost always through the use of fear (note the 9/11 reference in Bush's attempted justification).

That logic -- justifying illegal behavior because it might save lives -- might sound familar to you movie buffs, and I think I know why:

Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. ... You weep for Santiago, and you curse the marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives.
It's not as ridiculous a comparison as it first appears, Bush with fictional Marine Col. Nathan Jessep. So what if Bush couldn't hack the Texas Air National Guard and Jessep commanded Marine forces at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba? Keep in mind how often and with what pleasure Bush refers to himself as a "wartime president," a title most presidents make every effort to avoid. And look at how both men don't feel restrained by the boundaries of the law, and their ability to justify their behavior, no matter how repugnant or illegal, and no matter how ridiculous the justification may sound to the rest of us.

Bush said his authority to approve what he called a "vital tool in our war against the terrorists" came from his constitutional powers as commander in
chief. He said that he has personally signed off on reauthorizations more than 30 times. James Bamford, author of two books on the NSA, said the program could
be problematic because it bypasses a special court set up by the 1978 Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act to authorize eavesdropping on suspected terrorists.

"I didn't hear him specify any legal right, except his right as president, which in a democracy doesn't make much sense," Bamford said in an interview. "Today,what Bush said is he went around the law, which is a violation of the law — which is illegal."
Nah, I'm not buying it either.

Bush's willingness to publicly acknowledge a highly classified spying program was a stunning development for a president known to dislike disclosure of even the most mundane inner workings of his White House. Just a day earlier he had refused to talk about it.

So Bush scrapped the version of his weekly radio address that he had already taped — on the recent elections in Iraq — and delivered a live speech fromthe Roosevelt Room in which he lashed out at the senators blocking the Patriot Act as irresponsible and confirmed the NSA program.
That is stunning. What is Bush doing at the White House on a Saturday?

Government officials have refused to provide details,including defining the standards used to establish such a link or saying how many people are being
Perhaps because "you can't handle the truth."

So if you're keeping score: After the existence of the CIA's secret prisons, the GOP called for an investigation of the leak instead of an investigation of the secret prisons. Now Bush is lashing out at the leaker of his domestic spying adventures. That the government is spying on its own citizens doesn't bother him. In fact, he said he authorized it and re-authorized it more than 30 times.

Kaffee: Did you order the code red?
Jessep: (quietly) I did the job you sent me to do.
Kaffee: Did you order the code red?
Jessep: You're goddamn right I did!!
If anyone in Congress cares at all about the Constitution, maybe this will end for Bush the same way it did for Jessep:
"You're under arrest, you son of a bitch."

Friday, December 16, 2005


Do you think these two stories are related? Keep in mind how long and how hard the White House has been fighting Sen. John McCain's anti-torture amendment.

Wednesday, December 14:

The U.S. Army has approved a new set of interrogation techniques that could complicate talks between Congress and the White House on legislation that would ban the torture and inhumane treatment of detainees, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

Citing defense officials, the newspaper said the Army has created a classified addendum to a new Army field manual that gives detailed examples on what techniques may or may not be used in different situations. The manual was sent to Stephen Cambone, under secretary of defense for intelligence policy, for final approval this week, it said.

Some military officials said the addendum could be perceived as pushing the limits on legal interrogation and might anger Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, whose legislation banning "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment of detainees passed the Senate 90-9 in October over White House objections.

The newspaper said the officials are concerned that McCain, who was tortured while a prisoner of war in Vietnam, will see the new guidelines as an attempt to weaken the amendment, which sets the U.S. Army field manual as the standard for interrogations.
Thursday, December 15:
President Bush reversed course on Thursday and accepted Sen. John McCain's call for a law banning cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of foreign suspects in the war on terror.

Bush said the agreement will "make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad."
We're supposed to believe that after years of torturing ghost prisoners in black sites around the world, after weeks of publicly opposing McCain's anti-torture amendment, after threatening to veto the 2006 defense appropriations bill if the language were included, after pressuring congressmen to oppose the bill and negotiaing to exempt CIA personnel from its provisions, that the Bush administration suddenly, finally saw the light.

Yeah, and the Bush administration's tax cuts will benefit all Americans. We're not that dumb.

And neither is John McCain, which makes me wonder why McCain decided to make peace and appear at an Oval Office photo-op with George Bush after the Army approved classified changes to the field manual that probably will make his amendment meaningless. It was widely suspected that the changes would complicate negotiations between McCain and the White House. Yet a day after the changes were reported, an agreement was reached.

How relevant to this agreement is McCain's desire to be president? After all, he needs to be able to show voters results, that he objected to the misguided policies of the Bush administration and took action to stop them. He also needs the backing of the Republican party if he's to win its nomination in 2008, so he has to play ball at least occasionally. And if he wants to be president, he has a stake in not letting public opinion of the Bush administration fall too far, lest Bush drag the rest of the GOP down with him and allow a Democrat to win in '08 by virtue of not being a Republican.

Until we know specifics about that classified addendum, healthy skepticism feels pretty appropriate. After all, McCain is a politician who aspires to higher office. And he's a Republican. He may be one of the least offensive Republicans, but he's still a Republican.

Freedom spies

Remember, this was done for our benefit, which is why we couldn't know about it.

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Nearly a dozen current and former officials, who were granted anonymity because of the classified nature of the program, discussed it with reporters for The New York Times because of their concerns about the operation's legality and oversight.

The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted.
Do you feel safer? I know I do. But did the feeling of safety always come with so much underlying dread?

Remember, until yesterday, the Bush administration considered cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners essential to fighting the war on terror. So a little domestic spying unsanctioned by any court isn't going to make them queasy.

Do you get it yet? To the Bush administration, your rights, due process of law and the Constitution of the United States of America are nothing more than an inconvenience.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hot stove update

I never did understand the signing of Edgar Renteria. The Sox's top minor-league prospect, Hanley Ramirez, was a season away. And if they weren't going to bring him up for this season, they could have re-signed Orlando Cabrera. So to sign Renteria for four years and $40 million made little sense to me.

And now they traded Renteria for Andy Marte, a third-base prospect, after trading Ramirez to Florida and getting Mike Lowell in return. Now the Sox have three third basemen -- Lowell, Marte and Kevin Youkilis -- and no shortstops.

Now the Sox are trying to re-sign Johnny Damon. If the rumors about trading Matt Clement to Seattle for Jeremy Reed are true, we better hope they can.

In other Sox news, the team announced last week that Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington wil be co-General Managers. This has friggin' disaster written all over it. The team maintains that they are holding out the possibility that Theo Epstein will return to the organization, but if the issues that prompted Epstein to leave haven't been resolved, there's not much reason to expect that he will return.

About the only encouraging news coming out of Beantown is that the team has made overtures to Roger Clemens. The Sox should pay him whatever he asks for, and hope the Stinkins still hold a grude over the retirement that wasn't.

Down and dirty

Gee, how unexpected.

An Associated Press analysis of a little-known government research project shows that black Americans are 79 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution is suspected of posing the greatest health danger.

Residents in neighborhoods with the highest pollution scores also tend to be poorer, less educated and more often unemployed than those elsewhere in the country, AP found.
But then you already knew that, didn't you? Since it's not exactly news, I guess what they mean by "little known government research" is "little acknowledged government research" or "little acted upon government research."

And don't expect action on this, or even bullshit Congressional hearings. The ongoing piss-poor response to Hurricane Katrina should make it clear where people of color and the poor rate on the GOP's list of priorities. And the administration's abysmal environmental record should make it clear where industrial polluters rate on that same list. (Hint: Much, much higher.)

Return of OSI

I guess the MSM wasn't sufficiently softened up for this in 2002. Let's see if there's the same backlash this time.

A $300 million Pentagon psychological warfare operation includes plans for placing pro-American messages in foreign media outlets without disclosing the U.S. government as the source, one of the military officials in charge of the program says.

Run by psychological warfare experts at the U.S. Special Operations Command, the media campaign is being designed to counter terrorist ideology and sway foreign audiences to support American policies.

The program will operate throughout the world, including in allied nations and in countries where the United States is not involved in armed conflict.

The three companies handling the campaign include the Lincoln Group, the company being investigated by the Pentagon for paying Iraqi newspapers to run pro-U.S. stories.

Military officials involved with the campaign say they're not planning to place false stories in foreign news outlets clandestinely. But the military won't always reveal its role in distributing pro-American messages, Furlong says.

"While the product may not carry the label, 'Made in the USA,' we will respond truthfully if asked" by journalists, Furlong told USA TODAY in a videoconference interview.

He declined to give examples of specific "products," which he said would include articles, advertisements and public-service announcements.

The military's communications work in Iraq has recently drawn controversy with disclosures that Lincoln Group and the U.S. military secretly paid journalists and news outlets to run pro-American stories.
We're spending $300 million to lie in the press. Oh, that's right, the stories will be "truthful." Keep in mind that the Bush administration also at one time considered the following statements truthful:

"We found the weapons of mass destruction."

"The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

"We know where they (the WMDs) are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

"I walked away from Kyoto because it would damage America's economy, you bet. It would have destroyed our economy."

"He (Saddam) had long established ties with al-Qaida."

"We do not torture."

There was no -- there was no incident -- there's -- I don't know exactly. There was some discussion that he appeared to have been driving too slow -- too slowly.

So forgive me if I'm not convinced by assurances that only "truthful" information will be planted in the media.

The Pentagon has hired the Lincoln Group to handle the campaign while it's supposedly investigating the company for paying Iraqi newspapers to run pro-U.S. stories. I guess the investigation revealed that the Lincoln Group is really good at planting propaganda.

When the Pentagon first tried to roll out the Office of Strategic Influence in 2002, the backlash from the MSM caused it to scrap the idea. Or perhaps mothball it, because here it is again. Think the MSM can get it up again?

Monday, December 12, 2005


Looks like a judge is forcing FEMA to do its job.

A government program that put Hurricane Katrina evacuees in hotels while they sought other housing must be extended a month beyond the deadline set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Judge Stanwood Duval extended the program until Feb. 7.

The temporary restraining order came from a class action lawsuit filed in November by advocates for hurricane victims. Attorneys pressing the lawsuit said FEMA has failed to provide aid to many who qualify and that information on the aid has been slow to reach those who need it most.
Remember, FEMA announced on November 15 that it planned to stop paying hotel bills on December 1 for families left homeless by the hurricane and, by extension, by the Bush administration's failure to act to prevent the tragedy and its ongoing failure to rebuild the region in a timely manner. (If only the administration were more concerned with rebuilding the region than with making sure the rest of us don't see pictures of what's really going on there).

Of course, according to the agency's tortured logic, it was stopping the payments for the benefit of the homeless families.

"Those affected by these storms should have the opportunity to become self-reliant again and reclaim some normalcy in their lives," (FEMA Acting Director R. David ) Paulison said.
Why do judges hate Hurricane Katrina victims?

Sunday, December 11, 2005


I don't know about you, but I feel safer.

Warning an outbreak may be inevitable, the White House on Saturday conducted a test of its readiness for a feared bird flu pandemic and said federal agencies fared "quite well" without offering any details.

Cabinet secretaries, military leaders and other top officials took part in the four-hour tabletop drill, which officials said was designed to assess the level of federal preparedness for a possible outbreak of bird flu or another deadly virus.

"This is about being ready for what inevitably will come," Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said.

But the White House refused to divulge details about the exercise and the test results, and officials said afterward that it was clear that state and local
governments would have to assume a leading role.

"Quite frankly, I think we did quite well," White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend said of the federal agencies that took part in the exercise.
Frankness has a limit. Since officials aren't releasing details of the exercise, we are just going to have to take her word for it. And we can do so with confidence, because we know administration officials would never lie to make their failures look like successes.

While we're talking about Townsend, she said
the biggest lesson from the test was the leading role that state and local governments would have to play in responding to a pandemic.

"This is not going to be a federal answer to the problem," she said. "The federal government has got a support role to play. But frankly, I think, really very important is the state and local efforts."
Is that what they talked about in the exercise, how to pass the buck? Well, according to White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend, the biggest lesson the exercise yeilded was that Americans should not look to the federal government for answers. Of course, few Americans needed an exercise to tell them that. Despite the best efforts of the administration and MSM, Katrina is still fresh in our minds.
HHS has projected that in a pandemic 92 million Americans will become sick and that as many as 2 million will die. Schools will close, businesses will be disrupted and essential services may break down.

Approximately 20 officials took part (in the exercise), including Townsend, Leavitt, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.

U.S. President George W. Bush did not participate.
What? Why not? With HHS warning that 92 million Americans will get sick and 2 million will die, and the White House warning that an outbreak may be inevitable, it seems pretty important. But Bush was tending to a different sort of exercise.
Bush, who went for a bike ride in Maryland during the preparedness drill, has proposed a $7.1 billion bird flu plan, but Congress has yet to fund it.
Oh, that's right. Bush doesn't show up for work on weekends, unless he's overseas trying to bolster sagging poll numbers or pandering the base by signing bullshit legislation about feeding tubes.

While Bush was riding his bike Saturday, four more American soldiers were killed in Iraq.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Miami airport shooting update

The facts begin to find their way through the fog.

The airline passenger shot to death by federal marshals who said he made a bomb threat was agitated even before boarding and later appeared to be desperate to get off the plane, some fellow travelers said.

One passenger said he "absolutely never heard the word 'bomb' at all" during the uproar as the Orlando-bound flight prepared to leave Miami on Wednesday.

Federal officials say Rigoberto Alpizar made the threat in the jetway, after running up the plane's aisle from his seat at the back of the jetliner. They opened fire because the 44-year-old Home Depot employee ignored their orders to stop, reached into his backpack and said he had a bomb, according to authorities.

Alpizar's brother, speaking from Costa Rica, said he would never believe the shooting was necessary.

"I can't conceive that the marshals wouldn't be able to overpower an unarmed, single man, especially knowing he had already cleared every security check," Carlos Alpizar told The Orlando Sentinel.

Some passengers, including John McAlhany, said they believe Alpizar was no threat to anyone.

"I heard him saying to his wife, 'I've got to get off the plane,'" McAlhany said. "He bumped me, bumped a couple of stewardesses. He just wanted to get off the plane."

McAlhany said he "absolutely never heard the word 'bomb' at all."

"The first time I heard the word 'bomb' was when I was interviewed by the FBI," McAlhany said. "They kept asking if I heard him say the B-word. And I said, 'What is the B-word?' And they were like, 'Bomb.' I said no. They said, 'Are you sure?' And I am."

Added another passenger, Mary Gardner: "I did not hear him say that he had a bomb."

Officials say there was no bomb and they found no connection to terrorism.

Witnesses said Alpizar's wife, Anne Buechner, had frantically tried to explain he was bipolar, a mental illness also known as manic-depression, and was off his medication.

Neighbors said the couple had been returning to their home from a missionary trip to Ecuador. Buechner works for the Council on Quality and Leadership based in Towson, Md., a nonprofit organization focused on improving life for people with disabilities and mental illness, the organization said in a statement.

David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, said he thinks the shooting may prove more "reassuring than disturbing" to the traveling public his organization represents. "This is a reminder they are there and are protecting the passengers and that it is a seriously deadly business," he said.
Yeah, knowing that federal air marshals shot an unarmed passenger makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Thank God the trade association is spinning this to prevent people from avoiding air travel.

Armed police boarded the aircraft after the shooting, with some passengers in hysterics. McAlhany said he remembers having a shotgun pressed into his head by one officer, and hearing cries and screams from many passengers aboard the aircraft after the shooting in the jetway.
Do you think McAlhany felt reassured?

"This was wrong," McAlhany said. "This man should be with his family for Christmas. Now he's dead."
That government officials lied to cover up incompetence so gross that it cost a man his life should surprise nobody. But what is surprising is that many people still believe more guns equals more safety.


Weird Al is said to have gone into hiding.

The latest salvo in the "war on Christmas" has been fired — this time over the lyrics to the venerable Christmas carol "Silent Night."

Many who believe Christmas has been overly secularized are pouncing on a Wisconsin school that will present the tune with different words, under the title "Cold in the Night."

'Mocking' a Traditional Song?

The controversy began when the father of a student at Ridgeway Elementary School in Dodgeville, Wis., was upset with the lyrics his child brought home to learn. He told the non-profit group Liberty Counsel they are: "Cold in the night, no one in sight, winter winds whirl and bite, how I wish I were happy and warm, safe with my family out of the storm."

Offended by the new words, he was unable to convince the school not to perform the song and contacted Liberty Counsel, which provides free legal assistance in religious freedom cases.

"We first try to educate a lot of people who are confused over the law," said Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel. "This kind of a situation is not so much confusion as it is an insensitivity and an attempt to secularize Christmas, because here they're actually taking a song and mocking it, in my opinion."

Dodgeville School District officials say traditional, unaltered carols will also be sung, and that "Cold in the Night" is part of a decades-old Christmas play that students have performed in years past, and is not an attack on the religious nature of the holiday.
Mocking a song? Bastards! Lock 'em up and throw the key in the ocean. While we're at it, we better round up all those little snot-nosed brats who work Batman into "Jingle Bells," just to be on the safe side.

At the risk of sounding Seinfeldian, who are these people? Christians are complaining about the secularization of Christmas and not boycotting every retailer in the country? I mean for turning the holiday into an orgy of spending, not for failing to display the word "Christmas" on sales floors.

It's amazing that the majority in this country can feel so persecuted. Poor Christians. Poor, marginalized white, male Christians. You're so much in the majority that the only discrimination you ever experience is so far from real discrimination it can only be described as "reverse discrimination." Ask a black woman in this country how she would like a little "reverse discrimination." She'd probably consider it a refreshing change of pace.

You want to know what it's like to have your holiday marginalized? Ask a Jew, or an African-American.

Why do you have to impose your beliefs on everyone else? Nobody is asking you not to celebrate the holiday season the way you want to. Why isn't that enough?


It's not only the Bush administration's Iraq folly and ham-handed, with-us-or-against-us approach to international relations that's isolating us from the rest of the world.

Industrialized and developing nations were close to a breakthrough on Friday on a deal to begin work on extending the Kyoto Protocol to fight global warming past 2012, but the United States resisted calls for new commitments to combat climate change.

On the final day of the November 28-December 9 U.N. conference on climate change, environmentalists said they were losing hope that the United States -- the largest producer of heat-trapping greenhouse gases -- would sign a separate agreement for all nations, not just Kyoto members.

Although the United States is not one of the 157 countries that have subscribed to Kyoto, Canada wants a deal on open-ended talks among all countries about long-term cooperation on climate change.

Delegates said U.S. climate negotiator Harlan Watson walked out of a session of talks overnight, saying host Canada's proposal for dialogue on long-term actions was tantamount to entering negotiations.

"By walking out of the room, this shows just how willing the U.S. administration is to walk away from a healthy planet and its responsibilities," said Jennifer Morgan, climate change expert for environmental group WWF.
Apparently, the U.S. delegation can't generate a lot of enthusiasm for its "pretend it isn't happening" approach to global warming. But it's easy to understand why they're skeptical about global warming, being that they're feeling so little warmth from the rest of the globe.

You get what you give, folks.

Not a moment too soon

Why does it sometimes seem that doing the right thing is so hard for our leaders?

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter on Thursday said he was launching a formal inquiry into Justice Department treatment of an American charged by the government after being held by the military for more than three years as an "enemy combatant."
The guy was held for THREE YEARS before he was charged with ANYTHING, and when he finally was charged, the charges had nothing to do with the Bush administration's justification for having held him that long.

It's nice that a senator finally stood up and did the right thing, but why did it take three years?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The pardon pile

is getting bigger.

A former national Republican Party official played a key role in an Election Day 2002 phone jamming plot against New Hampshire Democrats, the prosecution said Tuesday during opening statements.

James Tobin, President Bush's onetime New England campaign chairman, is being tried on one federal count of conspiring against voters' rights and several counts involving telephone harassment. He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Levchuk said the state GOP's former executive director, Chuck McGee, had Tobin's blessing for the scheme as well as his help in the plot to disrupt Democratic get-out-the-vote phone banks and a nonpartisan ride-to-the-polls line.

Tobin, 45, resigned as New England chairman of Bush's 2004 campaign in October 2004 when the phone jamming accusations became public. Tobin also has been political director of the Republican National Committee.
Let's see, that's pardons for Tobin, Scooter Libby, Tom DeLay, David Safavian, Jack Abramoff, Ken Lay, Michael Scanlon, Duke Cunningham, Tom Noe, Brian Hicks, and maybe Bill Frist, Bob Novak and Karl Rove. It's getting hard to keep track of all the people with ties to the Bush administration who have been either indicted or investigated. Whom did I forget?

No relief, just disaster

Tell me you're surprised.

Senior Republicans and Democrats are accusing President George W. Bush and Congress of not fulfilling the promise to do "whatever it takes" to rebuild the Gulf Coast after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

"We are at a point where our recovery and renewal efforts are stalled because of inaction in Washington, D.C., and the delay has created uncertainty that is having very negative effects on our recovery and rebuilding," said Mississippi's Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, a staunch Bush loyalist, in a speech on Wednesday.

Barbour said there was no money to rebuild highways and bridges; school districts were close to bankruptcy; homeowners whose houses were destroyed were awaiting help with their mortgages, and long-term state and local budgets were shrouded in uncertainty because of Congress' failure to act.

Sen. Trent Lott, another Mississippi Republican, said last week, "Mr. President, we need your leadership to ensure that the federal government fulfills its commitment to help Mississippians get back on their feet."

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd was even blunter. "It is December, the hurricane struck in August, and yet the victims seem forgotten by the White House," he said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Wednesday that Bush was actively involved in discussions on how to house people who lost their homes as well as whether to fund rebuilding the levee system that is designed to protect New Orleans.

In his September 15 speech from Jackson Square in the heart of New Orleans, Bush declared that New Orleans would rise again.

"We will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives," Bush pledged.

But others involved in the local recovery effort see only inaction. Monica Sussman, a housing expert with law firm Nixon Peabody, said she saw no signs of a plan to rebuild New Orleans so that its former citizens could return.

The administration has yet to say whether it will fund the reconstruction of the New Orleans levee system to protect against Category 4 or 5 hurricanes. The previous system only protected against Category 3 storms and was overwhelmed by Katrina.

Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, wants to add $18 billion to the budget for hurricane relief, much of it to help homeowners without flood insurance rebuild or repair their homes, on top of the $17 billion suggested by the administration.

But many Republican conservatives, especially in the House of Representatives, have resisted new spending, saying the country is already running a massive budget deficit.
So even Bush supporters like Lott and Barbour are begging Bubble Boy to do something, to live up to a pledge he made in a nationally televised speech. And the Republican conservatives who are crying poor when it comes to helping the people of New Orleans will be the same ones who vote in favor of another round of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Meanwhile, the White House says Bush is actively involved in discussions, whatever that means, about whether or not to rebuild the levees. That's right, the Bush administration is considering not rebuilding them. Which is particularly unconscionable when you consider that the residents of that once-great city have been encouraged to return home.

If those levees aren't repaired, wait'll you see what happens to that city next year. How many people will the administration have lured to their deaths by encouraging them to return to the area and then not protecting the area?

In other news, the Bush administration plans to ask Congress for up to $100 billion to fund its war of choice in Iraq.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Dallas dealing

There's a lot of action at the winter meetings in Dallas.

The Blue Jays threw a fortune at A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan, making their staff and bullpen better. The Stinkins signed Kyle Farnsworth to replace setup man Tom Gordon, who signed with Philadelphia, where he will close in place of departed closer Billy Wagner, who went to the Mets along with former Marlins Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca.

The Marlins also traded Juan Pierre to the Cubs. Pierre would have fit in nicely in center field and at the top of the Sox order, especially with uberasshole Scott Boras asking too much for Johnny Damon.

Meanwhile, the Braves might be interested in Edgar Renteria to replace Raphael Furcal, who joins former Sox manager Grady Little in Los Angeles. My advice: Trade him while you can and get an arm from the perennially pitching-rich Braves.

In addition, the Sox are shopping Manny Ramirez and David Wells. The only way Ramirez returns to Boston is if nothing close to fair value can be had for him or teams want the Sox to pick up too much of his enormous contract (he is owed $57 million over the next three seasons). The Sox are interested in Aubrey Huff as a possible replacement. Nice player, but a significant step down from Ramirez.

Wells wants to return to the West Coast, and don't be suprised if he's shipped back to San Diego in exchange for 2B Mark Loretta.

The Mets remain interested in Manny Ramirez. I guess his proximity to the Stinkins has led Mets GM Omar Minaya to adopt George Steinbrenner's "sign every player in the league" approach. Well, the Mets might get a lot of marquee players like the Stinkins, but they also probably will lose money like the Stinkins. The NY Daily News reported that the Stinkins lost between $50 million and $85 million last season. Still, that's the approach Minaya is taking. The Mets have spent like crazy and lost like crazy over the last couple of seasons, but they still think they can buy a title.

The Sox, now the only team with no GM, are looking for a first baseman, especially with John Olerud retiring, so Kevin Millar will not return. The Sox reportedly are interested in Sean Casey and Lyle Overbay. The Blue Jays also are interested in Overbay. Of the two, Casey is the better defensive player.

Casey, Overbay and Huff all are left-handed hitters. To prevent the lineup from being somewhat vulnerable to left-handed pitching, the Sox would need a big right-handed bat to replace Manny. There's no guarantee that Mike Lowell will return to form, and unfortunately, the other big bats who might be available, Bobby Abreu and Adam Dunn, both are left-handed. Alfonso Soriano, however, bats right. But he's basically Edgar Renteria with a little more pop.

Also on the trading block for the Sox are Matt Clement and Doug Mirabelli. Kelly Shoppach also is generating interest, but a deal for Mirabelli would force the Sox to hang on to Shoppach.

Stay tuned.

Official lie

This administration's policies are shameful and downright embarassing to right-minded citizens of this country.

"As a matter of U.S. policy," (Secretary of State Condoleezza) Rice said the United Nations Convention against Torture "extends to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the U.S. or outside the U.S."

The U.N. treaty also prohibits treatment that doesn't meet the legal definition of torture, including many practices that human rights organizations say were used routinely at the U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Bush administration has previously said the ban on cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment did not apply to Americans working overseas. In practice, that meant CIA employees could use methods in overseas prisons that would not be allowed in the United States.

Human rights organizations and critics in Europe have called that a loophole for treatment almost indistinguishable from torture. Prisoners suspected of links to terrorism have been chained to the floors of their cells, denied sleep and led to believe they could be killed.

House and Senate negotiators are expected to include a ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of foreign terrorism suspects in a final defense bill. The White House has threatened to veto any bill containing such a ban, but President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, has been negotiating with its chief sponsor, Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz., to find a compromise.
If Rice says U.S. policy is that the UN ban on torture extends to all U.S. personnel and George Bush and his mouthpieces all say "We do not torture," what exactly are Stephen Hadley and Dick Cheney doing trying to find a way to permit CIA personnel to torture prisoners?

Short answer: CIA personnel already are torturing prisoners, and Condi and the president and all the president's men (and women) are lying.

Long answer: They are treading lightly around the word "torture." They maintain that their treatment of prisoners doesn't fit the strict legal definition of the word "torture." But the UN ban, which the U.S. secretary of state says applies to all U.S. personnel defines torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."

But Articles 2 and 3 of the ban read as follows:

Article 2
Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

Article 3
No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
Any of that ring a bell? Perhaps Condi meant that the UN ban applies to all U.S. personnel that the government will acknowledge.

Not that long ago we watched a president split hairs over the definition of the word "is."

Oh, to debate such innocuous language again.

In a few short years, we've gone from watching an administration debate the meaning of "is" and "sexual relations" in response to an illict blowjob to an administration debating the meaning of "torture" in response to cruel, degrading, inhuman treatment of prisoners being held at secret locations without being charged.

How far backward we've gone is awful and shameful and embarrassing.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Shoot the messenger

That's funny, when Jack Murtha said basically the same thing, it was "legitimate." Well, after it was "reprehensible."

The White House criticized Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean on Tuesday for saying it is wrong to think the United States will win in Iraq, saying he was sending the wrong message to U.S. troops.

Dean told San Antonio, Texas, radio station WOAI that "the idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong."

He predicted the Democratic Party would come together on a proposal to withdraw National Guard and Reserve troops immediately, and all U.S. forces within two years.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President George W. Bush is "focused on our plan for victory," and will give the second in a series of speeches on Wednesday about the way forward in Iraq looking ahead to December 15 elections.

"I think that on the eve of historic elections, it sends the wrong message to our troops. America wants our troops to win and we have a plan to help them succeed and we know that they will," McClellan said.

He suggested Dean had some explaining to do.

"I think those are remarks for him to clarify," McClellan said, calling it "absolutely the wrong message to send to our troops when we are on the verge of historic accomplishments."

Dean called Iraq "the same situation we had in Vietnam."

"Everybody then kept saying, 'Just another year, just stay the course, we'll have a victory.' Well, we didn't have a victory, and this policy cost the lives of an additional 25,000 troops because we were too stubborn to recognize what was happening," he said.
Maybe Dean's criticism of war and the administration's policies will be legitimate tomorrow. You know, one day you're sending troops the wrong message (as if all they are doing over there is reading the news wires), the next day you're "taking a clear stand in an entirely legitimate discussion." Like Murtha.

Meanwhile, in reality,
Two suicide bombers struck Baghdad's police academy Tuesday, killing at least 43 people and wounding 73 more, U.S. officials said, while Al-Jazeera broadcast an insurgent video claiming to have kidnapped a U.S. security consultant.

The suicide attackers were wearing explosives-laden vests and a U.S. contractor was among those wounded, a U.S. military statement said. U.S. forces rushed to the scene to provide assistance, the statement said. The military initially said the bombers were women but later retracted the statement.

"We were sitting in the yard when we heard an explosion," said police Maj. Wisam al-Heyali. "Seconds later, we were hit by another explosion as we were running. I saw some of my colleagues falling down and I felt my hand hit, but I kept on running."

Police Capt. Jalil Abdul-qadir said the death toll was 43, inlcuding seven policewomen. At least 73 people were wounded, incuding six policewomen. He said all of them were officers or students at the academy.
Shame on you, Howard Dean.

The economy goes


Just a few years ago, Jeannette Hundley had a comfortable middle-class life in California's Silicon Valley. Then her husband developed kidney failure. When he died, he left a mountain of bills and no life insurance. Hundley became homeless at the age of 55.

Hundley says she was lucky to find St. Mary's Center in Oakland. The center provided her with a safe home, hot meals and psychological counseling. It helped her apply for disability payments and encouraged her to apply for financial aid at a local college, where she is studying to become a mental health and substance abuse counselor.

"I never dreamed this would have happened to me," says Hundley, 57, who has moved into transitional housing with one of St. Mary's partner organizations. "St. Mary's has been like a guardian angel. They care about you and treat you like a human being."

But many advocates for the poor say they worry about people such as Hundley, predicting the nation's poor could face a bleak winter. Community charities across the country report that donations are down. Donors who gave generously to hurricane disaster relief now have less to give to local charities, experts say, especially because of rising prices for fuel, heat and other necessities.
Mr. Bush, your thoughts? (See below).

Yet to come

I wish George would have told us in 2000 that the best days were coming in 2006. Then again, maybe he's referring to 2009.

President Bush flew to rainy North Carolina on Monday to make a campaign-style sales pitch: The economy is better than you think it is.

"This economy is strong, and the best days are yet to come," Bush told employees at a construction machinery plant near Greensboro.

Blasting "pessimists" who had attacked his tax cuts, Bush credited those cuts with triggering high growth rates and rising employment.

He again urged Congress to make the tax cuts permanent, saying the economy grows "when people are allowed to keep more of their own money."
Gee, where have I heard that line before? Oh yeah, from George Bush, right before Congress passed tax cuts that benefited nobody but the very wealthy and turned a federal surplus into the biggest federal deficit in history -- a deficit that left underfunded social programs that the very wealthy don't use, including public education. You don't hear administration crowing about No Child Left Behind much these days, do you? Being sued over it by the National Education Association, school districts in three states (including Texas) and teachers' unions in 10 states (again including Texas) will do that.

It's troubling that the administration can look at rising gasoline prices, skyrocketing energy prices and workers' wages that fail to keep pace with rising inflation and see success. It goes to show how badly the administration has fucked up everything else that this mess looks like a success story.

And even with Bush's going to the White House rose garden and now as far as North Carolina to congratualte himself for what he has been told to think is a success, nobody's buying it.
Despite positive economic numbers, polls show that many Americans believe the economy remains weak and some blame Bush.

In a Gallup Poll taken Nov. 17-20, 63 percent said the economy was fair or poor, while 37 percent called it good or excellent.
That 37 percent must be same the 37 percent who still say out loud that they think Bush is doing a good job.The administration is finding that it's hard to convince hungry people that they're full.

Profiles in Cronyism

Do you think this has anything to do with George Bush's appointing unqualified cronies to head the agency?

WASHINGTON - Facing a growing body count and shortages of food, water and ice, federal emergency officials braced for riots in Mississippi in the days following Hurricane Katrina, new documents reveal.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials knew their response system had been shattered by the Aug. 29 storm and were unable to provide fast help — even when the needs were obvious.

"This is unlike what we have seen before," William Carwile, FEMA's former top responder in Mississippi, said in a Sept. 1 e-mail to officials at the agency's headquarters. He was describing difficulties in getting body bags and refrigerated trucks to Hancock County, Miss., which was badly damaged by the storm.

Carwile wrote that he personally authorized Hancock County to buy refrigeration trucks because "the coroner was going to have to start putting bodies out in the parking lot."

The next day, in another e-mail to headquarters about substandard levels of food, water and ice being distributed in Mississippi, Carwile reported, "System appears broken."

In a Sept. 1 exchange, FEMA regional response official Robert Fenton warned headquarters that the expected levels of water and ice being sent were far below what was needed.

"If we get the quantities in your report tomorrow we will have serious riots," Fenton wrote.

Responding, Carwile wrote: "Turns out this report is true. ... There seems to be no way we will get commodities in amounts beyond those indicated below. And it turns out these shortfalls were known much earlier in the day and we were not informed.

"Will need big time law enforcement reinforcements tomorrow," Carwile's e-mail continued. "All our good will here in MS will be very seriously impacted by noon tomorrow. Have been holding it together as it is."

The eight pages of correspondence among FEMA officials, provided Monday by a special House committee investigating the government response to the storm, followed the release last week by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco of more than 100,000 documents. Taken together, the details from both states provide evidence of a system in disarray.
You'll see how much the administration has learned about appointing unqualified cronies to key positions when he appoints his chief of staff, Andrew Card, to replace John Snow as treasury secretary.

Save your money.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Grapefruit league

Tickets for Red Sox spring training games in Ft. Myers, Fla., are on sale now.


If only the housing bubble were as strong as the bubble around Bush.

Outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan on Friday warned that America's exploding budget deficit and a protectionist backlash against soaring trade deficits could disrupt the global economy.

He said U.S. deficits are set to soar with the pending retirement of 78 million baby boomers and he suggested that Congress consider trimming Social Security and Medicare benefits because the government probably has promised more than it can afford, especially in health benefits.

If something isn't done to trim benefit costs, the resulting budget deficits would "cast an ever-larger shadow" over the future living standards of Americans,
Greenspan said in a taped speech delivered to a conference sponsored by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank.

In contrast to Greenspan's worries about future threats to the economy, President Bush on Friday went to the White House Rose Garden to highlight a new report showing that the labor market was rebounding strongly from the impact of recent hurricanes, creating 215,000 jobs last month.

"We have every reason to be optimistic about our future," Bush said.
Whom do you believe?

Friday, December 02, 2005


I guess his showing up depends on whether he can take Karl into the jury room with him.

According to press reports, President George W. Bush has been summoned for jury service, likely in Crawford, Texas. His press secretary, Scott McClellan was asked to confirm the reports at his briefing with reporters today.

Q Has the President been summoned for jury duty in Crawford? And if so, will he serve?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. Good question, and I can update you on that. At this point, we've never received a jury summons from the court. We checked, but when we learned about it, I think through media reports, we did reach out to the court to find out about this jury summons. And apparently, this summons was for Monday, December 5th.


Q Would he like to serve in the Cindy Sheehan case down there? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, April. That was Ken Herman, Cox News Service, for the record. (Laughter.)


Q Is this the first time the President would have received a summons since becoming President?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't -- oh, since becoming President.

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: It's the first I can recall off the top of my head. I'd have to double check that, though.

Q Is he going to get Gonzales to get him off again?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
For those of you who don't know, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, when he was counsel to then-Gov. Bush, got Bush out of jury duty after they figured out that serving could require Bush to reveal his 1976 arrest for drunk driving.

One of Gonzales' most controversial actions in that post was helping to get George W. Bush excused from jury duty in 1996, a situation that could have required the governor to disclose his then-secret 1976 conviction for drunken driving in Maine. Gonzales suggested to the judge and defense lawyer that if Bush served, he would not, as governor, be able to pardon the defendant in the future.
This is probably something the White House wishes they could do. With Bush's approval ratings in the toilet, they could use the good PR of showing the president participating in some small, unpleasant capactiy in The System (it's the same as the shot of the candidate emerging from the voting booth on election day, and you know how fond campaigns are of that). There also would be the opportunity to show how tough on crime numbnuts is by convicting some poor bastard of something -- maybe they could even vote to execute! -- and then the other jurors could tell CNN how impressed they were with Bush's "sharp mind" and "immediate grasp" of the details of the case, and gush other compliments usually reserved for children. Especially with John Kerry serving as jury foreman in a civil case in Boston last week, this is probably something they really would like to do.

But given the limited amount of control they'd likely have over the proceedings -- how do you rig an election for jury foreman? -- there's no way they'd let Bush improvise. They've seen him do it too many times, and the results always end up drawing big laughs on The Daily Show and Leno.

But no biggie. Bush has never really been one to answer the call of duty anyway.


Let's get something straight: Holding out the possibility of troop reductions and calling for patience in Iraq is not a strategy, even if you bind it in book form and pretend it's declassified. So don't be fooled by all those headlines that read "Bush outlines Iraq victory strategy." Just because his speech to the Midshipmen was billed as including the strategy doesn't mean it did. In fact, the speech was just more Bush bullshit (Bushit?).

So, naturally, the White House had to lash out, that being the way the administration addresses criticism, when war opponents pointed out the obvious.

The White House called irresponsible on Thursday those Democrats who said that President George W. Bush lacked a strategy on Iraq, as Sen. John Kerry said a policy shift was needed to reflect realities on the ground.

"Those Democratic congressional leaders who try to suggest that we don't have a plan are deeply irresponsible," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who reiterated it was possible to bring some troops home next year.

A snap poll by CNN/Gallup/USA Today this week said 55 percent of respondents believed Bush did not have a plan to "achieve victory for the United States in Iraq."

Polls in recent months have shown waning public support for the 2 1/2-year war. Concern over the war has also been a factor pushing Bush's popularity ratings to the lowest of his presidency.

Kerry, who lost the presidential race to Bush a year ago, said Democrats, "are all in agreement that there has to be a profound shift of admitting the reality on the ground and beginning to establish a schedule that we can understand on behalf of the American people about transfer of authority."
But Bush stuck to his black and white menu of options, and based his strategy-less strategy on the belief that there are only two outcomes: total victory or what the administration likes to refer to as "cut and run." (Boy, if I had a nickel for every time some jerkoff GOP war hawk with no military background said that phrase ...)

When Jack Murtha called for the withdrawl of troops from Iraq, debate on Iraq went from being "reprehensible" to "legitimate," and now back to "irresponsible."

I guess the administration also considers "irresponsible" the 55 percent of the American public that thinks the war effort is rudderless. I guess anyone who criticizes the administration over the war is irresponsible. From the irresponsible New York Times:
Americans have been clamoring for believable goals in Iraq, but Mr. Bush stuck to his notion of staying until "total victory." His strategy document defines that as an Iraq that "has defeated the terrorists and neutralized the insurgency"; is "peaceful, united, stable, democratic and secure"; and is a partner in the war on terror, an integral part of the international community, and "an engine for regional economic growth and proving the fruits of democratic governance to the region."

That may be the most grandiose set of ambitions for the region since the vision of Nebuchadnezzar's son Belshazzar, who saw the hand writing on the wall.
Meanwhile, a roadside bomb Thursday killed 10 Marines while they were on "foot patrol near Falluja," the Marine Corps said Friday.

And the war's opponents are irresposible. Yeah.