Monday, January 30, 2006

Fishing in a barrell

Fishing expedition? Does this sound like the product of a fishing expedition?

The Bush administration's former chief procurement official tipped off lobbyist Jack Abramoff that the government was about to suspend the federal contracts of an Abramoff client, newly filed court papers say.

David Safavian provided "sensitive and confidential information" about four subsidiaries of Tyco International to Abramoff regarding internal deliberations at the General Services Administration, say the court papers filed Friday in a criminal case against Safavian.

[snip]

The White House is refusing to release photographs of President Bush and Abramoff or to reveal what contact Abramoff had with White House aides.

Acting on the information that Abramoff provided the company in November 2003, Tyco lawyer Timothy Flanigan, a former assistant attorney general in the Bush administration, contacted the general counsel to the GSA and asked for an opportunity to address the suspension.

The company revealed Flanigan's role in a statement.

In October, Flanigan withdrew his nomination to be Bush's deputy attorney general. His confirmation was delayed due to questions about his dealings with Abramoff when Abramoff was a Tyco lobbyist.

The government had planned to suspend Tyco because of alleged criminal conduct by former Tyco executives.

After advising Abramoff about the internal deliberations at GSA, Safavian suggested to Abramoff what arguments Tyco should make when it appealed the suspension decision, the court papers in Safavian's federal court case say.

Once tipped off by Abramoff, Tyco hired an outside law firm and successfully petitioned the government to lift the suspension and allow Tyco to continue to perform on government contracts.
Hmm, it's becoming clear why the White House is refusing to disclose its contacts with Abramoff, and it ain't because they're "not relevant."

Life saver

Is the jury still out on body armor?

Surgeons removed shrapnel from ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff's head and neck, a family friend said Monday, and a hospital official said body armor likely saved the journalist's life.

Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt were seriously injured when a roadside bomb exploded Sunday while they standing in the open hatch of an Iraqi military vehicle. They underwent surgery in Iraq, then were flown to a U.S. military base in Germany for further treatment.

"They're both very seriously injured, but stable," said Col. Bryan Gamble, commander of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in western Germany. He said both men were heavily sedated and under the care of the hospital's trauma team.

Their body armor likely saved them, "otherwise these would have been fatal wounds," Gamble said.
Imagine if all the troops had body armor. The Pentagon did. I think you recall what it found:

A secret Pentagon study has found that at least 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to their upper body could have survived if they had extra body armor. That armor has been available since 2003 but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials.
I don't know how the fools running the war in Iraq sleep at night or look in the mirror. Shameful, utterly shameful.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Trade complete

The Sox, Indians and Phillies have completed the trade that fills the hole in the Sox outfield. But the Sox gave up a well-regarded prospect in Andy Marte, and kept Mike Lowell and his sagging offensive numbers at third.

They still need a shortstop, having traded both Edgar Renteria and Hanley Ramirez while Craig Shipley, Bill Lajoie, Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington were minding the store. Lest you think that's all the damage done in Theo's absence, keep in mind that while the Sox were playing GM by committee, Johnny Damon signed with the Stinkins, B.J. Ryan signed with Toronto and Billy Wagner signed with the Mutts. There was probably little that would've been done differently with regard to Damon and the Mutts overpaid like crazy for Wagner, but I sure would've liked to see Ryan at the back of the bullpen this season. Call me crazy, but I don't think Keith Foulke is likely to return to his 2004 form two years and one knee surgery later.

I was hoping not to hear the words "bullpen" and "committee" in the same sentence this season. Especially considering how well that approach worked in the front office. Perhaps signing Roger Clemens would allow hard-throwing Jon Papelbon to assume the closer's role, assuming he's got the mental makeup for the job.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Bizarro Robin Hood

I can't wait to hear how well the economy is doing Tuesday night.

The disparity between rich and poor is growing in America as the federal minimum wage has remained flat for years, union membership has declined and industries have faced global competition, according to a study released Thursday.

The report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute, both liberal-leaning think tanks, found the incomes of the poorest 20 percent of families nationally grew by an average of $2,660, or 19 percent, over the past 20 years. Meanwhile, the incomes of the richest fifth of families grew by $45,100, or nearly 59 percent, the study by the Washington-based groups said.

Families in the middle fifth saw their incomes rise 28 percent, or $10,218.

The figures, based on U.S. Census data, compare the average growth from 1980-82 to 2001-03, after adjusting for inflation.

The poorest one-fifth of families, the report said, had an average income of $16,780 from 2000-03, while the top fifth of families had an average income of $122,150 — more than seven times as much. Middle-income families' average income was $46,875.
The redistribution of America's wealth up the economic ladder is the only measure by which one can declare the Bush administration a success. It appears to be the primary consideration behind many of the administration's decisions because only through this prism do many of the administration's policies make sense. Why else would a government cut taxes for its wealthiest citizens while its troops are engaged in combat in two foreign lands? Why else would a government send its troops into battle without providing them with the basic equipment they need? Why else would a government address the exploding federal deficit its tax cuts helped create by increasing out-of-pocket fees and reduced benefits for Medicaid recipients, cutting child-support collection programs and squeezing student loan programs, all while supporting yet more tax cuts for the wealthy? Why else would a government respond to a natural disaster by suspending the Davis-Bacon Act, thereby allowing its contractors to pay workers less than the locally prevailing wage (a move it since reversed)? Why else would a government oppose increasing a minimum wage that hasn't been raised in nine years?

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

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

Bizarro Robin Hood. We've finally found a job George Bush is good at.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Boom

So much for touting the booming economy in the State of the Union address. What "success" is Bush going to tout now -- Iraq?

The American economy grew at its slowest pace in three years in the fourth quarter, the government reported today, as spending by consumers and the federal government weakened significantly.

The nation's gross domestic product, the broadest measure of domestically produced goods and services, increased at a 1.1 percent annual rate in the quarter, to $11.23 trillion, and the economy posted a 3.5 percent growth rate for the full year, the Commerce Department reported. This is the first of three estimates that the government releases and the revisions it makes can be significant.

Economists had expected growth to slow to 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter because sales of automobiles and other goods were known to have fallen significantly from earlier in the year. The economy grew at a 4.1 percent annual pace in the third quarter, 3.3 percent in the second and 3.8 percent in the first three months of last year.

The last time the economy grew at a slower pace was during the fourth quarter of 2002, when it posted a 0.2 percent gain because businesses and consumers still lacked a confidence in the recovery from the slowdown during 2000 and 2001.
What am I thinking? Since when does Bush let reality interfere with the content of the SOTU? So get ready to hear all about how great the economy is doing. Unless, of course, you'll be working during the speech at that second job you had to get because your first job's pay hasn't kept pace with inflation for years.

What he said

Bob Herbert:

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

The fiasco in Iraq and the president's response to the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe were Mr. Bush's two most spectacular foul-ups. There have been many others. The president's new Medicare prescription drug program has been a monumental embarrassment, leaving some of the most vulnerable members of our society without essential medication. Prominent members of the president's own party are balking at the heavy hand of his No Child Left Behind law, which was supposed to radically upgrade the quality of public education.

The Constitution? Civil liberties? Don't ask.

Just keep in mind, whatever your political beliefs, that incompetence in high places can have devastating consequences.
Yeah.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Media malaise

What did you expect him to say?

President Bush again defended his program of warrantless surveillance Thursday, saying "there's no doubt in my mind it is legal." He suggested that he might resist congressional efforts to change or expressly endorse it.

"The program's legal, it's designed to protect civil liberties, and it's necessary," Bush told a White House news conference.

Democrats have accused the president of breaking the law in allowing eavesdropping on overseas communications to and from U.S. residents, and even some members of his own party have questioned the practice.
OK, once again so even Congress and news editors are clear: The law says that if the NSA is going to spy on Americans, it needs warrants. Bush has authorized the agency to conduct its eavesdropping without bothering to get warrants, as the law requires. That makes what the NSA is doing and what Bush authorized it to do -- say it with me -- ILLEGAL.

The fact that Bush is hammering this point daily should point out how shaky it really is. (Remember how many times he said "We do not torture"?) Plus he's telling us that a program in which the federal government secretly (until recently) spies on Americans is "designed to protect civil liberties," and even came up with a catchy new name for his program: The "terrorist surveillance program."

Considering that the NSA is spying on Americans, I guess Bush considers us all terrorists. But the new name is about as ridiculous and inappropriate as the names the administration has dreamed up for mant of its other damaging programs, such as "Clear Skies" and "Healthy Forests."

Attention news media: Stop pretending there are complicated legal questions here. The law requires warrants from the FISA court. Bush has sidestepped the court. What's complicated about that?

And I don't care that Bush is confident that his illegal program is legal. He may also be confident that the Tooth Fairy plays golf on alternate Saturdays with the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and Elvis, but that doesn't make it so. News outlets that run headlines like "Bush confident warrantless wiretaps legal" without pointing out that the law requires warrants are doing a disservice to the public they purport to serve.

Here's an example of how to respond when confronted with something ridiculous (ironic that it comes from the AP, birthplace of the offending headline and story referenced above):

"Officials here learn information about plotters and planners and people who would do us harm," Bush said, reading from note cards. "Now, I understand there's some in America who say, 'Well, this can't be true there are still people willing to attack.' All I would ask them to do is listen to the words of Osama bin Laden and take him seriously." ("So I don’t know where he is. Nor – you know, I just don’t spend that much time on him really, to be honest with you. I ... I truly am not that concerned about him." -- George Bush, March 13, 2002. I guess Bush takes bin Laden seriously only when it suits him to do so. -- Dr. S)

However, no one in the political debate over the war on terror or the NSA program has suggested that terrorists no longer want to attack the United States. Rather, Bush's critics have argued that the law requires him to get permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to eavesdrop on communications involving Americans.
When confronted with something ridiculous, you don't just throw it out there without context, you point out why it's ridiculous. You're journalists, not stenographers.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Just chillin'

It's getting chilly in here, which is exactly how the Bush administration likes it.

Kathryn Hanson, a former telecommunications engineer who lives in Oakland, Calif., was looking at BBC News online last week when she came across an item about a British politician who had resigned over a reported affair with a "rent boy."

It was the first time Ms. Hanson had seen the term, so, in search of a definition, she typed it into Google. As Ms. Hanson scrolled through the results, she saw that several of the sites were available only to people over 18. She suddenly had a frightening thought. Would Google have to inform the government that she was looking for a rent boy - a young male prostitute?

Ms. Hanson, 45, immediately told her boyfriend what she had done. "I told him I'd Googled 'rent boy,' just in case I got whisked off to some Navy prison in the dead of night," she said.
OK, I concede that her concerns were wholly unrealistic. She'd be dragged off to a CIA prison, not a Navy prison.

I mean, get a grip. Really.

Ample time

"There will be ample time for people to figure out what went right and what went wrong."

-- George Bush, September 6, 2005, or 141 days ago.

How about now? Nope.
The Bush administration, citing the confidentiality of executive branch communications, said Tuesday that it did not plan to turn over certain documents about Hurricane Katrina or make senior White House officials available for sworn testimony before two Congressional committees investigating the storm response.

The White House this week also formally notified Representative Richard H. Baker, Republican of Louisiana, that it would not support his legislation creating a federally financed reconstruction program for the state that would bail out homeowners and mortgage lenders. Many Louisiana officials consider the bill crucial to recovery, but administration officials said the state would have to use community development money appropriated by Congress.
When, oh when, will unpatriotic Americans like members of Congress who are trying to figure out what went wrong in the response to Hurricane Katrina and prevent a similar fiasco from happening in the future stop playing the blame game?

I'm not privy to confidential White House communications, but from the cheap seats it appears that what went wrong is this: A group of Republicans who had no interest in good governing rigged the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections in order to redistribute the nation's wealth up the economic ladder. Then they installed unqualified cronies in key positions, including the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Then the person who was installed as president took the month of August 2005 off and ignored warnings that the hurricane would do pretty much what it did. Then, after the hurricane hit, they were more interested in looking busy than being busy, and focused not on rescue and recovery efforts, but on getting Halliburton, the "former" company of the person installed as vice president, on board the gravy train that was the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast region.

Sound about right? Did I miss anything?

Par for the course

It would be nice to be able to say this is surprising.

Documents released today by Congress show that two days before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the White House received detailed damage forecasts from Homeland Security officials predicting that the city's levees might be overtopped or breached.

Yet in the days after the storm struck on Aug. 29, federal officials, including President Bush, said the levee breaches could not have been foreseen.

Embattled former FEMA Director Michael Brown said, "I think we were all taken aback by the fact that the levees did break in so many places and caused such widespread devastation."

Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff said, "I will tell you that really that perfect storm of combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners and maybe anybody's foresight."

And on Sept. 1, Bush told "Good Morning America": ''I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees" that flooded New Orleans.

The documents provided today by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, however, showed that the federal agencies overseen by Brown and Chertoff had compiled damage forecasts for the White House at least 48 hours before the storm's landfall that predicted levee overtopping and breaches.
Yeah, but George was on vacation in Texas two days before Katrina hit, and had been for nearly a month. FEMA should have known that.

Remember all the fanfare that surrounded Bush's cutting his monthlong vacation short, to only 29 days, to deal with the disaster -- that is, after he went to California two days after Katrina drowned the city of New Orleans? Talk about low expectations.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sanctions? What sanctions?

Now will you stop carrying on about that bombing business?

Seeking tax breaks is job 1

Note that their proposed solution isn't to address the runaway healthcare costs that have contributed to the problem, but tax incentives that will make the federal deficit even bigger.

Michigan lawmakers, responding to proposed plant closings and up to 30,000 job cuts at Detroit-based Ford Motor Co, pressed the Bush administration on Monday for changes in trade and tax policy to help U.S. automakers better compete with overseas rivals.

"The automakers are not asking for a bailout - only for the chance to compete on a level playing field, something this administration has failed to deliver on," said Democratic Rep. John Dingell, the senior member of the Michigan delegation.

Ford and General Motors have said they would close plants and cut tens of thousands of jobs. Competition, particularly from companies based in Asia, soaring health care and pension expenses and production costs have increased financial pressures on the unionized companies.

Ford's extensive restructuring announced on Monday proposes closing 14 plants in the United States and Canada and eliminating up to 30,000 jobs over the next six years.

"I agree with (Ford chief executive) Bill Ford when he says that we cannot cut our way to success. We have to enforce our trade laws, change the way we fund health care and protect pensions in a way that does not hurt our manufacturers," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat.

Bill Ford has argued that Washington needs to provide proper tax and other broad-based business incentives to help his company and other auto makers upgrade plants.
Yeah, that's what's killing US automakers -- taxes. Not healthcare costs and the arrogant "people will like what we tell them to like" culture that pervaded Detroit's auto industry for years. The problem is taxes, not stupid business decisions that fail to take into accout what the public really wants and a short-sighted, unsustainable focus (no pun intended) on bigger, thirstier engines at a time when the global supply of oil is dwindling. Go build some more Explorers and keep pushing this fantasy about taxes crippling your company. See where that gets you.

Here's a business incentive, Bill: Upgrade your infrastructure and build vehicles people actually want to buy, and use the power of the automobile lobby to push for real healthcare reform in this country, or go out of business.

Oh yeah Ford?

By the way, if you can't cut your way to success, why is everyone doing it?

Thank you NRA

Guns don't shoot children, children shoot children.

Need a drink?

Click here to check the water quality where you live.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Red hot stove

Bronson Arroyo signed a three-year contract that will pay him between $11 million and $12 million. The refreshing part is that Arroyo did so against the advice of his agent, who advised him to pursue more money through arbitration.

In additon, the Sox reportedly have reached a deal to acquire outfielder Coco Crisp of the Indians as part of a three-team deal and have their sights set on Alex Gonzalez to play short. Hey, someone has to bat ninth.

For a peek at the new-look Sox, click here.

But the biggest news out of Fenway is the return of Theo Epstein to the team. So much for that "enormous sense of pride and satisfaction" in the co-GM arrangement, eh Larry?

Not so bizarre

You mean the government would lie to cover up its mistakes?

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Sunday ridiculed as "bizarre" a
U.S. report that senior al Qaeda leaders were killed in a CIA attack on a home
along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

"There is no evidence, as of half an hour ago, that there were any other people there," Aziz said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

"The area does see movement of people from across the border. But we have not found one body or one shred of evidence that these people were there."
You want to know why US officials reported that top al Qaeda leaders were killed in the attack? Think back a week to the widespread outrage the attack caused.

Photo in-ops

Hey, it may be true that George Bush doesn't recall meeting Jack Abramoff. I'm sure there's lots of things that Bush doesn't recall, like perhaps his 30s. But just because Bush doesn't remember meeting Abramoff doesn't mean it didn't happen, because, like his 30s, it did.

Peppered for days with questions about Abramoff's visits to the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan said the now disgraced lobbyist had attended two huge holiday receptions and a few "staff-level meetings" that were not worth describing further. "The President does not know him, nor does the President recall ever meeting him," McClellan said.

The President's memory may soon be unhappily refreshed. TIME has seen five photographs of Abramoff and the President that suggest a level of contact between them that Bush's aides have downplayed.
I don't buy this the-president-does-not-recall crap. Either Bush or his handlers knew that such a meeting was likely enough that they avoided issuing an outright denial and went about searching for any photos that may exist of Bush's posing with a person he claims to have no recollection of meeting.

Saying Bush doesn't recall meeting Abramoff is attractive to the administration for another reason: If the administration is lying, it's impossible to prove it. Who's to say what, if anything, is going on in Bush's mind? On the other hand, saying that Bush never met Abramoff paints the administration into a corner, because one photo is all it takes to expose that lie.

And if those five photos didn't exist, you better believe an outright denial would've been Plan A.

If the two men did meet, does it really matter if Bush remembers it or not? Of course not. But saying Bush doesn't remember is the only way to try to inject in the public's mind a little more distance between the two men than actually exists, like when another indicted Bush associate evolved from "Kenny Boy" to "Mr. Lay."

You would think that being a Bush "Pioneer," that raising more than $100,000 for Bush's re-election campaign (the Bush campaign donated to charity a whopping $6,000 that came directly from Abramoff, his wife and an Indian tribe client) would buy a little more respectful treatment.

Supporting the troops

Awarding that no-bid contract to big Dick's company just keeps making the Bush administration look better and better, doesn't it?

Troops and civilians at a U.S. military base in Iraq were exposed to contaminated water last year and employees for the responsible contractor, Halliburton, couldn't get their company to inform camp residents, according to interviews and internal company documents.

Halliburton, the company formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, disputes the allegations about water problems at Camp Junction City, in Ramadi, even though they were made by its own employees and documented in company e-mails.

"We exposed a base camp population (military and civilian) to a water source that was not treated," said a July 15, 2005, memo written by William Granger, the official for Halliburton's KBR subsidiary who was in charge of water quality in Iraq and Kuwait.

"The level of contamination was roughly 2x the normal contamination of untreated water from the Euphrates River," Granger wrote in one of several documents. The Associated Press obtained the documents from Senate Democrats who are holding a public inquiry into the allegations Monday.
This plus the Pentagon's reported plan to cut health benefits for veterans puts troops who get sick in a less-than-enviable position.

With leadership like this, who needs an insurgency?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Eat mor chikin

But the beef at my supermarket is fine, right?

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Friday the U.S. government is investigating a shipment of American beef to Japan that may have contained material considered at risk for mad cow disease, a discovery that prompted Japan to announce another halt to beef imports.

Johanns ordered several actions intended to reassure the Japanese.

"We take this matter very seriously," the secretary said in a statement. "We are in communication with Japanese officials and we will continue that dialogue to assure them that we take this matter very seriously and we are acting swiftly and firmly."
You know, I think I'll read the writing on the wall now rather than later having to listen to more idiotic quotes like "We take this matter very seriously" (way to meet those minimum standards, guys) and calls for investigations after mad cow lands me in the hospital.

In case you're wondering, this isn't a safety issue, it's a money issue. After years of pressure from the Bush administration, the Japanese in December finally opened its lucrative beef market to the questionable American beef supply. And now this.

Too bad the administration didn't take food safety seriously from the beginning. You think the corners that have been cut will make up for the nearly $1.5 billion the industry stands to lose if the Japanese once again impose a long-term ban on American beef?

Ignoring safety regulations. It's good for business.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Six critics, one good soldier

Why do so many former EPA heads hate America?

Six former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency — five Republicans and one Democrat — accused the Bush administration Wednesday of neglecting global warming and other environmental problems.

“I don’t think there’s a commitment in this administration,” said Bill
Ruckelshaus, who was EPA’s first administrator when the agency opened its doors
in 1970 under President Nixon and headed it again under President Reagan in the
1980s.

Russell Train, who succeeded Ruckelshaus in the Nixon and Ford administrations, said slowing the growth of “greenhouse” gases isn’t enough.

“We need leadership, and I don’t think we’re getting it,” he said at an EPA-sponsored symposium centered around the agency’s 35th anniversary. “To sit back and just push it away and say we’ll deal with it sometime down the road is dishonest to the people and self-destructive.”

[A]gency heads during five Republican administrations, including the current one, criticized the Bush White House for what they described as a failure of leadership.

Defending his boss, [EPA current chief Stephen] Johnson said the current administration has spent $20 billion on research and technology to combat climate change after President Bush rejected mandatory controls on carbon dioxide, the chief gas blamed for trapping heat in the atmosphere like a greenhouse.

“I know from the president on down, he is committed,” Johnson said. “And certainly his charge to me was, and certainly our team has heard it: ‘I want you to accelerate the pace of environmental protection. I want you to maintain our economic competitiveness.’ And I think that’s really what it’s all about.”

His predecessors disagreed. Lee Thomas, Ruckelshaus’s successor in the Reagan administration, said that “if the United States doesn’t deal with those kinds of issues in a leadership role, they’re not going to get dealt with. So I’m very concerned about this country and this agency.”

Bill Reilly, the EPA administrator under the first President Bush, echoed that assessment.

Christie Whitman, the first of three EPA administrators in the current Bush administration, said people obviously are having “an enormous impact” on the earth’s warming.

“You’d need to be in a hole somewhere to think that the amount of change that we have imposed on land, and the way we’ve handled deforestation, farming practices, development, and what we’re putting into the air, isn’t exacerbating what is probably a natural trend,” she said. “But this is worse, and it’s getting worse.”
In a hole. Or perhaps a bubble. Can we now say we have a consensus that the Bush administration's environmental policy is a complete failure?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Through the looking glass

The following paragraphs appeared in an AP story headlined "EPA report shows no hazardous waste, chemical spills from Katrina":

At a Pascagoula test site near Chevron's oil refinery, DuPont's First Chemical Corp. and Mississippi Phosphates, the metals arsenic and chromium, byproducts of industry, were discovered above recommended cleanup levels, the EPA said.

At the Polychemie site in Pearlington, the EPA said arsenic and benzopyrene, a compound created when organic materials are not burnt completely, were found above recommended cleanup levels.

Arsenic was also found at elevated levels at the Ershigs Fiberglass plant in Biloxi. The EPA report said that the contaminants, though above recommended levels, fell within an acceptable range of possibly causing cancer in somewhere between one in 10,000 and one in 1 million people.
What's more troubling -- that the EPA can look at these results and conclude "[b]ased on the sampling results, EPA does not believe these sites were impacted by Hurricane Katrina" or that the news media plays right along? The paragraphs above were the ninth through 11th grafs in the story and didn't make the cut on some news organization Web sites, like here and here.

Perhaps a better headline for this story would have been "EPA report on Katrina impact doesn't reflect reality." That way, people who don't or can't read down to the ninth paragraph get the story. After all, is the story what the EPA concluded or how inconsistent that conclusion is with the agency's own findings?

Bullshit like this make one wonder how long it will be before the Bush administration announces that it does not believe that New Orleans was impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

By the way, why do news organizations cut the length of stories that appear online, where there's an unlimited amount of space available?

It computes

Type "worst president ever" (with or without quotes) into Google and note the first hit you get. For greater impact, type it in and click the I'm Feeling Lucky button.

Googling the word "failure" leads you to the same place. And look where Googling "liar" takes you.

Who says computers aren't intelligent?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sadly routine

Ho-hum. Another day, another Republican lawmaker stepping down from a leadership position amid a corruption investigation.

Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican implicated in a lobbying corruption investigation, said Sunday he will step aside temporarily as chairman of the House Administration Committee.

"Unfortunately it has become clear to me in recent days that the false allegations made against me have become a distraction to the important work of the House Republican Conference and the important work that remains ahead for the House Administration Committee," Ney said in a written statement.

That was a reference to a scramble by Republicans in the House and Senate to come up with a new set of rules governing lobbying and travel as a way to inoculate themselves politically from the scandal unfolding around the guilty plea of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Remember, his stepping down as Administration Committee chairman is temporary. Only until he's indicted.

This is a man who once taught English in Iran. This is someone who used to help people. Now he's just another corrupt turd clogging the halls of power in the capital of our great nation, preventing the entire system from working properly.

See what happens when you hang around Republicans?

Baltimore bound

Kevin Millar signed a one-year, $2.1 million, incentive-laden deal with the Baltimore Orioles, staying in the AL East.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Not feelin' fine

So much for any incentive to keep conditions safe.

The nation's coal mines have been required to pay only a fraction of the federal fines imposed after deadly accidents since 1999, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration has levied $9.1 million in fines in the past seven years against companies cited for safety violations following mine fatalities. About 28% of that amount has been collected, according to data on MSHA's website.

At least $5.2 million in fines has been reduced to $2.5 million on appeal. An additional $2.2 million in fines is being appealed; about $1 million is listed as delinquent. Proposed fines and fines wiped out by bankruptcies account for the remainder.

MSHA oversees the nation's 1,400 coal mines and 75,000 coal miners. An MSHA team is investigating last week's explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia that killed 12 miners and sparked scrutiny of the government's monitoring of mine safety.
Oooooh, what are they going to do, fine them?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Impeachment vote

I guess the energy crisis manufactured by Bush's buddy Kenny Boy (allegedly, ha ha) and drumming Gray Davis out of office didn't create the electoral-vote rich red state they were after (well, this and the fact that California went to Kerry in 2004):

A split City Council passed a resolution demanding the impeachment or resignation of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, citing violations of international and constitutional law.

The White House responded that the president "remains focused on the business the American people elected him to conduct."

The resolution lists a series of allegedly impeachable offenses, including "the crime of misleading the American people and Congress into waging an unnecessary and brutal war in Iraq," "the criminal failure of the president to respond adequately to the Hurricane Katrina disaster," "torturing human beings in violation of the Geneva Convention" [sic] and "ordering the secret surveillance of American citizens."
It may be true that, like all resolutions passed by legislative bodies, it will have no official effect on anything whatsoever, but when American elected officials begin calling for the impeachment of the president, can similar calls from the electorate be far behind?

That's 2,000 billions

This is expensive, and is going to stay expensive.

U.S. Military Officers often complain privately that the American people don't fully appreciate the costs—human or economic—of the Iraq war. A new paper by Harvard budget expert Linda Bilmes and Nobel-prizewinning Columbia economist Joseph Stiglitz may help address that. It claims that the final cost to the U.S. could be $2 trillion—10 times as high as the worst-case scenario of $200 billion suggested by a White House official before the war.

The discrepancy is in part because of Bilmes and Stiglitz's holistic accounting methods.

Their tally goes far beyond the traditional budget lines of the Pentagon, which says $173 billion was spent through September 2005. For instance, the paper includes estimates for the lifetime cost of disability payments and health care for some 16,000 injured soldiers, increased recruitment budgets, and—since the government has not reined in spending or raised taxed—debt financing for war expenditures. The paper also counts macroeconomic effects like the rising price of oil.
Gee, I hope that oil revenue we heard would finance the war starts rolling in soon.

"The oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 billion and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years," Wolfowitz said in March 2003.
You remember Paul Wolfowitz? He's the guy Bush subsequently appointed to head the World Bank. As you can see from that comment, Wolfowitz had the attributes Bush looks for in his nominees -- a total lack of qualifications and the willingness to say or do anything in support of Bush's ruinous policies.

Cheney hospitalized

Surgery to repair aneurysms behind both knees, four heart attacks, quadruple bypass surgery, two artery-clearing angioplasties, an operation to implant a special pacemaker in his chest, anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering drugs, and a foot problem that requires the use of a cane.

Thank God that Dick Cheney has health insurance. What would he do if he were one of the 45.8 million people in the United States who have no health insurance?

You would think that someone with such a laundry list of medical problems himself would be more sensitive to the need for people to have access to medical care. Then again, you'd think that someone with a lesbian daughter would advocate equal rights for gay people.

I don't agree with his politics, but that's insignificant when talking about someone's health. I wish Dick Cheney a full recovery and good health. May he have a long and healthy retirement, starting as soon as possible.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The real reason for the meeting


Like I said, bullshit. Just a photo-op.

And, as is frequently the case, it ended up making Bush look even worse. You don't gain knowledge and experience by standing near it, George. Perhaps if you listened to what these people had to say for more than five to 10 minutes ...

And why is the Oval Office desk completely bare?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Fallen hero

News that Hugh Thompson Jr., who saved Vietnamese civilians from his fellow American soldiers during the My Lai massacre, died Friday brings to mind the stark contrast between that true American hero and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Early in the morning of March 16, 1968, Thompson, door-gunner Lawrence Colburn and crew chief Glenn Andreotta came upon U.S. ground troops killing Vietnamese civilians in and around the village of My Lai.

They landed the helicopter in the line of fire between American troops and fleeing Vietnamese civilians and pointed their own guns at the U.S. soldiers to prevent more killings.

Colburn and Andreotta had provided cover for Thompson as he went forward to confront the leader of the U.S. forces. Thompson later coaxed civilians out of a bunker so they could be evacuated, and then landed his helicopter again to pick up a wounded child they transported to a hospital. Their efforts led to the cease-fire order at My Lai.

In 1998, the Army honored the three men with the prestigious Soldier's Medal, the highest award for bravery not involving conflict with an enemy. It was a posthumous award for Andreotta, who had been killed in battle three weeks after My Lai.
I wonder if those medals would be awarded today, given Rummy's opinion about what to do in such a situation.

A reporter asked (Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) what U.S. commanders in Iraq are supposed to do if they find Iraqi forces abusing prisoners. Pace replied that if inhumane treatment is observed it is a service member's duty to stop it.

"I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it — it's to report it," Rumsfeld said, turning to Pace.

Replied the general: "If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it."

Is there a medal for doing nothing in the face of abuse and later reporting it so it can be covered up by politicians at the top of the chain of command? What good would Thompson have been to those civilians if he thought like Donald Rumsfeld?

God bless Hugh Thompson Jr.

But it doesn't smell like success

Time to tout the successes, downplay the failures and whip up support for more success-generating tax cuts.

President George W. Bush and his top lieutenants fanned out around the United States on Friday to sell the administration's plan for tax cuts and free trade as necessary for promoting growth.

Bush has highlighted his economic record in the face of growing public discontent over the Iraq war, frustration over record-high gasoline prices and anger over the administration's slow response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
During the administration's propaganda tour, they'll say that 108,000 jobs were created in December. They won't say that total is barely more than half of the 205,000 jobs economists expected to be created.

They'll say that the new Medicare prescription drug benefit has gone into effect and is saving seniors money. They won't say what a cluster fuck their "benefit" created, or that legislation passed on December 21 by the slim margin of Dick Cheney's tiebreaking vote "increases the fees charged to Medicaid recipients, lets states cut Medicaid benefits, reduces enforcement funds for child support, and more."

They won't say that 45.8 million people in this country have no health insurance.

They won't say that:

Salaries are still below where they were at the start of the recovery in November 2001. That, while productivity -- the growth of the economic pie -- is up by almost 15 percent. Meaning we're working harder, producing more, for the same money as five years ago.

Median household income has now fallen for five years in a row. It was 4 percent, or $2,000, lower in 2004 than it was in 1999.
They won't say that 5 million more Americans are living in poverty today than four years ago, that 37 million people in this country are living in poverty, or that the number of people in this country who live in poverty hasn't fallen since Bush took office.

And while they're telling us with straight faces how great things are and that their current policies are working, they certainly won't say that Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said that "our budget position will substantially worsen in the coming years unless major deficit-reducing actions are taken."

"So long as health-care costs continue to grow faster than the economy as a whole, they will exert budget pressures that seem increasingly likely to make current fiscal policy unsustainable," he added.

Even their successes are failures.

You're talking about Syria, right?

Sound familiar?

A former vice president of Syria called from exile for the overthrow of the regime he served for decades, saying Friday that "a shameless mafia" is running the country and that its president surrounds himself with sycophantic advisers and is unfit to rule.

Khaddam described the Syrian regime as corruption-riddled, with (President Bashar) Assad's cousins involved.

"A shameless mafia is in control of the country in the true sense of the word," he said.

As for Assad, Khaddam described him as erratic and ignorant "of the world situation."

"The problem is that those surrounding him incorrectly read the international and regional events and situations and they give their conclusions and he acts on the basis of these wrong conclusions. But he does not trust those who use their minds. He trusts those who are hypocrites, who depict him as a genius and a unique leader," Khaddam said.
Imagine your country run by such a regime. Boy, that would suck.

Healthcare reform, Bush-style

Read the whole article. I have nothing to add.

Many of Medicare's poorest and most sickly patients are going without their medications because of administrative glitches, misinformation and confusion surrounding the new Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Experts had warned that many of the 6.4 million low-income people who get benefits from Medicare and Medicaid could miss out on their life-sustaining medicines when their drug coverage shifted on Jan. 1 from Medicaid to private plans sponsored by Medicare. In interviews, advocates for the elderly as well as lawmakers and seniors themselves indicated that that's happening.

Some, such as Deborah King of New York, were placed automatically in new drug plans that don't cover their medications. Others were getting stuck with extra out-of-pocket fees because their new enrollment status couldn't be verified.

Medicare's contingency plan for patients who aren't enrolled in drug plans also is proving problematic. The agency wants pharmacists to give these customers short-term refills at no cost and bill Medicare later. But some pharmacists don't know about the agreement, and others are balking because they fear they won't be reimbursed.

"There's almost nothing that isn't going wrong," said Jeanne Finberg, an attorney for the National Senior Citizens Law Center in Oakland, Calif. "People are crying. They're calling their legislator's office in tears."

These problems and jammed phone lines that prevent pharmacists from confirming customers' plan enrollments mean that many patients can't get their medicine.

While the extent of the problem is unclear, health experts say the situation is dangerous because those patients who get Medicare and Medicaid benefits have higher rates of chronic illness, disability, cognitive impairments and other health needs. Their lives and livelihoods depend on their medicine.

Concerns about their welfare have prompted New Hampshire, Maine and the city of Baltimore to agree to pay the prescription costs for these people, who are called "dual eligibles," if problems arise. On Friday, New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch invoked his emergency powers and issued an executive order directing the state to pay claims when the Medicare system breaks down.

Lynch said the new drug benefit "has been a nightmare for many of our citizens."

"The problems are so overwhelming for our pharmacists and our citizens that New Hampshire's original back-up plans are not sufficient," Lynch said in a statement. "It is clear to me, to the Republican and Democratic leaders in the legislature, that we need to take additional steps to protect our citizens."

King, a 38-year-old disabled mother of two, said she's gone four days without her six prescription drugs for sickle cell anemia, ulcers, blood clots and other problems. King, who used to get prescription drug coverage by Medicaid, was automatically enrolled in a Medicare drug plan when she didn't choose one on her own.

But officials never told her of the change, she said. King only found out last weekend when her pharmacist told her that her new plan doesn't cover any of her medications. Her body weakens more each day that passes without her medicine.

"What am I to do now? That's what I've been asking for four days," King said. "I can't even get up off my bed I feel so bad. I can't even cook dinner for my kids I feel so bad. My kids are worried because they see me sick like this and they're like, `Do you have to go to the hospital?' They can't take this. I've been in the hospital all my life. And they do this to me so I have to go back into the hospital? This is not fair."

Earlier this week, Medicare's senior policy adviser Larry Kocot urged Medicare/Medicaid enrollees like King to contact their regional Medicare office when similar problems arise. Kocot said "bumps in the road" are inevitable, but he appealed for patience and added that he was "very, very pleased" with implementation of the new benefit so far.

"This is going to take some time," Kocot said. "And all we're asking is that people give us just a few days to get this thing up and running in the way that we want to see it run."

Some of the problems stem from a surge in the Medicare drug program enrollment in late December, Kocot said. Because drug plan enrollment letters usually take five days to process and benefit cards can take three to five weeks, many people who signed up in late December haven't received their proper enrollment materials yet.

Medicare has urged plan managers to expand their consumer and technical support help lines and to reduce wait times for pharmacies trying to confirm patient plan enrollment, Kocot said.

Fadi Atiya, a pharmacist and owner of Galloway Pharmacy in San Diego, said more than half his customers receive both Medicare and Medicaid benefits. Unable to verify enrollment for most customers because of backups in drug plan and Medicare phone lines, Atiya has passed out between $20,000 and $40,000 worth of medicine since Jan. 1 without compensation. He said he had no choice.

"I've owned this place for 11 years. I've watched these patients recover from heart attacks, kidney transplants. They're like family to me," Atiya said.

He's hoping he'll be reimbursed, but he isn't sure. He also wonders why the new program wasn't phased in in a few states at a time so that glitches could be worked out.

"The whole implementation has been horrific at best," Atiya said.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Let's play meeting

George Bush exposed himself to various points of view by soliciting advice from former officials and experts in foreign policy and international relations. Too bad it's two years and 10 months too late. Who else but Bush would do war planning more than two and a half years after declaring "mission accomplished"?

President George W. Bush reached beyond his tight circle of trusted aides on Thursday to solicit views on Iraq of former secretaries of state and defense, including some who have publicly criticized his policy.

The meeting, part of the president's effort to defend his policies on Iraq and the war on terrorism as he tries to recover from low opinion poll ratings, took place as insurgent violence surged anew this week in Iraq.

"Not everybody around this table agreed with my decision to go into Iraq and I fully understand that," Bush said, adding that he had listened to their concerns and suggestions. "We take to heart the advice."

[snip]

Bush has to address the troop-withdrawal question because many Americans want to know when U.S. forces will pull out, but it can give information to the enemy, (former Secretary of State Lawrence) Eagleburger said. "Every time we talk about withdrawal you can see the ears of Osama (bin Laden) and his friends perking up," he said.
Well, we might be able to see that if Bush hadn't stopped pursuing bin Laden in Afghanistan to go off and invade Iraq. But it's not like capturing the head of al-Qaida and the architect of the 9/11 attacks would have helped in this war on terror thing we've got going on.

I'm sorry. That kind of talk gives comfort to the enemy. Until I wrote that, Osama bin Laden had no idea how important his capture would be to the United States' anti-terror efforts.

OK, enough fooling around. The point here is that Bush's soliciting several different opinions from qualified people is something that should have happened in early 2003 -- at the latest. Instead, Bush surrounded himself with people who told him what he wanted to hear and punished dissenters. He surrounded himself with war hawks who never saw combat and didn't bother to plan for post-invasion Iraq or prepare an exit strategy. If Bush had surrounded himself with qualified advisers and sought an entire spectrum of opinions in the first place, this type of meeting that the White House is so proud of would have been commonplace, and might have prevented the tragedy that is the Iraq war.

And make no mistake (remember when Bush started every other sentence with that phrase?), the White House is proud of this meeting. That's why an administration that does everything in secret allowed this meeting to be so high-profile. Make a big deal of bringing in experts from across the political spectrum, pretend to be interested in their advice, praise those in attendance, and then send them off to the 24-hour news networks to talk about what was said at the meeting and how engaged the president was in what they had to say.

Contrast this with how the White House is fighting to keep secret who met with Dick Cheney and formed the administration's disastrous energy policy. According to the administration, revealing that would hamper the ability of the executive brach to receive frank advice.

So this very public, very high-profile meeting was, in a word, bullshit. It was mere window dressing for the public, an attempt to capitalize on the tiny bounce in Bush's approval ratings that came after the White House dropped the arrogant swagger and started admitting mistakes that already were obvious to pretty much everybody. Don't expect to see any shift in the administration's policies that can be attributed to anything that was said at that meeting. And if Bush's numbers don't go up, don't expect to see another one.

This wasn't war planning, it was public relations. The only damage being controlled was the damage to Bush's image. Don't be fooled.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

At least the profit margins are healthy

When McDonald's says food might not be fit to eat, you know it's bad.

Researchers and the nation's No. 1 burger seller say the government is not fully protecting animals or people from mad cow disease.

Stronger steps are needed to keep infection from entering the food chain for cattle, the critics wrote in comments to the Food and Drug Administration.

The group includes McDonald's Corp., seven scientists and experts and a pharmaceutical supplier, Serologicals Corp.

The government proposed new safeguards two months ago, but researchers said that effort "falls woefully short" and would continue to let cattle eat potentially infected feed, the primary way mad cow disease is spread.

"We do not feel that we can overstate the dangers from the insidious threat from these diseases and the need to control and arrest them to prevent any possibility
of spread," the researchers wrote.
So much for eating beef. But what about pork?

In a rigorous taxpayer-funded study, (Dr. James Zahn, a nationally respected microbiologist with the Agriculture Department's research service), had identified bacteria that can make people sick -- and that are resistant to antibiotics -- in the air surrounding industrial-style hog farms. His studies proved that billions of these "superbugs" were traveling across property lines daily, endangering the health of neighbors and their herds.

[snip]

Zahn told me that his supervisor at the USDA, under pressure from the hog industry, had ordered him not to publish his study and that he had been forced to cancel more than a dozen public appearances at local planning boards and county health commissions seeking information about health impacts of industry mega-farms. Soon after my conference, Zahn resigned from the government in disgust.

I really hope we elect officials soon who will, you know, enforce the laws that protect our food supply, because I'd sure like to, you know, eat without getting sick.

Executives should be hunted for sport

Executives hide behind PR flacks and prepared statements because they are thoughtless, disgusting, immoral swine, and not very bright.

Hatfield announced shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday that rescuers had found the body of one miner near the abandoned mine car. The other miners were found about 11:30 p.m., after members of a search team followed the sound of McCloy's moans.

The rescue workers, speaking through oxygen masks, radioed their discovery to the "fresh-air base," a staging point within the mine, saying they found one
miner alive, Hatfield said.

Somewhere between there and the surface, the message changed to say all 12 miners were still alive, he said.

"We don't know where the miscommunication occurred, and we don't think it's particularly important," said Gene Kitts, a senior vice president for International Coal.
Does that mean there won't be a review of rescue-operation communications?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Two tragedies, two responses

I guess it all depends on what the investigation is likely to reveal.

The White House on Wednesday promised a full investigation of the West Virginia coal mine disaster that killed 12 people, and President Bush said the entire nation mourns the loss.

Acting Assistant Secretary David Dye, who heads the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said the investigation will "evaluate all aspects of the accident and response, including compliance with all federal health and safety standards, and how emergency information was relayed about the trapped miners' conditions."
Contrast this sensible, timely response by White House with the same White House's reponse to the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina:

Bush said he will personally lead an investigation into what went wrong with the early federal response to Katrina.

After their meeting with the president, congressional leaders said they would conduct a bipartisan investigation.

Reid also called for a probe by an independent commission "comparable to the 9/11 Commission," which looked into why the federal government wasn't able to stop the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington.

Bush said that while critics want "to play a blame game," he and his administration have "got to solve problems. ... There will be ample time for people to figure out what went right and what went wrong. What I'm interested in is helping save lives."
How do you suppose Bush's investigation is going? After all, it has been months since the hurricane struck and months since Bush has said the word Katrina in public.

Sounding an awful lot like post-Katrina Bush and not post-Sago-mine-tragedy Bush, but wisely avoiding the phrase "blame game," is Ben Hatfield, CEO of International Coal, which owns the Sago mine:

When asked about the facility's safety record at a news conference yesterday, Ben Hatfield, International Coal's chief executive officer, said the Ashland, Kentucky-based company has improved safety conditions since acquiring the mine last year.

"We have no interest of getting into the finger-pointing of who is responsible for what, and what went wrong a year ago," Hatfield said. "This is a mine that operated for some significant time before my company even had involvement with it; so much of the bad history that you're talking about was beyond our reach and ability to control."
What Ben is referring to is the fact that federal authorities issued 21 citations last year for a build-up of combustible materials at the mine, and 208 federal safety violations overall last year, up from 68 in 2004.

I hold out little hope that this investigation will save lives in the future, given the administration's relationship with energy producers and it's record of investigating environmental accidents.

(C)onsider the case of Tony Oppegard and Jack Spadaro, members of a team of federal geodesic engineers selected to investigate the collapse of barriers that held back a coal slurry pond in Kentucky containing toxic wastes from mountaintop strip-mining. The 300-million-gallon spill was the largest in American history and, according to the EPA, the greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of the Eastern United States. Black lava-like toxic sludge containing sixty poisonous chemicals choked and sterilized up to 100 miles of rivers and creeks and poisoned the drinking water in seventeen communities. Unlike in other slurry disasters, no one died, but hundreds of residents were sickened by contact with contaminated water.

The investigation had broad implications for the viability of mountaintop mining, which involves literally lopping off mountaintops to get access to the underlying coal. It is a process beloved by coal barons because it practically dispenses with the need for human labor and thus increases industry profits. Spadaro, the nation's leading expert on slurry spills, recalls, "We were geotechnical engineers determined to find the truth. We simply wanted to get to the heart of the matter -- find out what happened and why, and to prevent it from happening again. But all that was thwarted at the top of the agency by Bush appointees who obstructed professionals trying to do their jobs."

[snip]

Oppegard, the leader of the federal team, was fired on the day Bush was inaugurated in 2001. All eight members of the team except Spadaro signed off on a whitewashed investigation report. Spadaro, like the others, was harassed but flat-out refused to sign. In April of 2001 Spadaro resigned from the team and filed a complaint with the Inspector General of the Labor Department. Last June 4 he was placed on administrative leave -- a prelude to getting fired.

Bush Administration officials accuse Spadaro of "abusing his authority" for allowing a handicapped instructor to have free room and board at a training academy he oversees, an arrangement approved by his superiors. An internal report vindicated Spadaro's criticisms of the investigation, but the Administration is still going after his job. "I've been regulating mining since 1966," Spadaro told me. "This is the most lawless administration I've encountered. They have no regard for protecting miners or the people in mining communities. They are without scruples."
We pray for the victims of this tragedy, and for their loved ones.

UPDATE: A closer look at all those pesky citations.

MSHA cited Sago 208 times for safety violations in 2005, but (Joe Pavlovich, former director of MSHA District 7 in Kentucky) said that's less relevant than the fact that 15 of the citations required the company to
close parts of the mine or shut down equipment.

Mine inspectors usually allow companies to keep mining while they correct safety violations and only issue closure orders when they see "a high degree of negligence," he said. Companies typically aren't forced to close a section of a mine unless the companies have ignored previous citations for the same violation, he said.

"To me, that's pretty serious," Pavlovich said of Sago's record. "That's a pretty large number."

Gene Kitts, vice president of mining services for International Coal Group, has said his company shouldn't be held accountable for Sago's poor safety record because it just took control of the mine in November. Two of the closure orders were issued since November.

Boo!

Once again, the Bush administration finds it helpful to scare the American people. And who better for the job than Dick Cheney?

Vice President Dick Cheney strongly defended a secret domestic eavesdropping operation in use since the September 11, 2001, attacks, saying it was not violating American civil liberties and has helped fend off potential terrorist attacks.

"The enemy that struck on 9/11 is weakened and fractured yet it is still lethal and planning to hit us again. Either we are serious about fighting this war or we are not," Cheney said in remarks prepared for a speech at the Heritage Foundation think tank.
9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11. They're still exploiting that tragedy to excuse all their lawbreaking. Note the lack of thoughtful Constitutional arguments the administration offers in support of its sidestepping the FISA court, which almost never says no. If the White House were certain it was on solid legal ground, I think I'd be hearing more such arguments, not ham-handed scare tactics and endless references to 9/11.

Once again, I refer you to former White House counsel John Dean:

Bush has given one legal explanation for his actions which borders on the laughable: He claims that implicit in Congress' authorization of his use of force against the Taliban in Afghanistan, following the 9/11 attack, was an exemption from FISA.

No sane member of Congress believes that the Authorization of Military Force provided such an authorization. No first year law student would mistakenly make such a claim. It is not merely a stretch; it is ludicrous.
The fact that Cheney delivered his latest crock of shit to the Heritage Foundation leads me to believe that perhaps the administration thinks this message might not be received warmly by a mainstream audience.

Well, either the message or the messenger.

The plot thickens

Remember, the White House is clinging to the claim that Bush "doesn't know Abramoff personally." Which, like most things the White House says when defending the president's wrongdoing, means nothing. It doesn't mean the Bush and Abramoff haven't met, and it apparently doesn't mean Bush didn't benefit from Abramoff's activities.

President Bush's re-election campaign is giving up $6,000 in campaign contributions connected to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who faced more guilty pleas as part of a broad-ranging political corruption investigation.

Bush joined several lawmakers, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who have announced plans to donate Abramoff's campaign contributions to charity.

Abramoff raised at least $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney '04 re-election campaign, earning the honorary title "pioneer" from the campaign. But the campaign is returning only $6,000 directly from Abramoff, his wife and one of the Indian tribes that he worked to win influence for in Washington.

Abramoff, his wife and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan each donated $2,000 to the Bush campaign, said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt.

"As it stands, this is what we are returning," Schmitt said.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday that Bush does not know Abramoff personally, although it's possible that the two met at holiday receptions. Abramoff attended three Hanukkah receptions at the Bush White House, the spokesman said.
Frankly, I don't care if Bush ever met Abramoff. The fact that Bush benefitted from Abramoff's activities to the tune of at least $100,000 is more important to me than whether the dirty lobbyist ever had any face time inside the bubble.

If you're wondering why the Bush campaign is returning only $6,000, you're not alone. But I would suggest that the campaign soon may be returning contributions from another "pioneer" in trouble with the law: Ohio's Tom Noe.

Remember what I said about how you could identify the guilty parties in this case? That they would be the ones dissembling to distance themselves from Abramoff. Well, I think "White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday that Bush does not know Abramoff personally, although it's possible that the two met at holiday receptions. Abramoff attended three Hanukkah receptions at the Bush White House" qualifies as distancing.

Also scrambling away from Abramoff these days are Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the House Tom DeLay and Rep. Bob Ney. Do you know what they have in common? Of course you do, but I need a segue: They're Republicans.

The fact is that this is almost entirely a Republican scandal. Those who benefitted from Abramoff's activities are almost exclusively Republicans. But any lobbyist worth his salt is going to make connections in both parties because, unlike the current GOP majority, he realizes that sooner or later the balance of power is going to shift. From the Washington Post:

Most lobbying firms here are bipartisan, to give their clients access to key lawmakers of both major parties. Abramoff's group was no exception. Although he was recognized as a Republican lobbyist who was close to DeLay and other party leaders, Abramoff was careful to add at least two Democratic lobbyists to his group during his five years at Greenberg Traurig. By the end, seven of his lobbyists were Democrats.

"Lobbying shops typically direct contributions to both parties because they want contacts on both sides of the aisle," said David M. Hart, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. "Lawmakers in the minority can also have a lot of clout."

Because of the makeup of his team and the composition of Congress, the Abramoff lobbyists channeled most of their clients' giving to GOP legislators, according to a review of public records.
In other words, the Democrats had little clout to sell, so Jack wasn't buying.

Still, the MSM strives for "balance," the journalistic principle that there are two sides to every story, therefore every story should reflect both sides. That's fine, but you shouldn't create a false impression to satisfy the need to create balance. There's no value in balancing truth with lies.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Rumor mill

With rumors flying about trades involving Manny Ramirez and Miguel Tejada, I thought I'd link to this for you number crunchers.

You'd have a hard time selling me that Tejada is as valuable a player as Ramirez, but a trade that brings Tejada to Beantown makes sense for the Sox after the mistake that was the Edgar Renteria signing.

I have to think that the Sox are pushing for an exchange that lands Manny in the NL instead of in the AL East. At least I hope they are.

Shit meets fan

The kitchen light has just been turned on.

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff will plead guilty to federal charges in Washington and Miami, clearing the way for him to cooperate in a massive government investigation of influence peddling involving members of Congress, lawyers said Tuesday.

As part of the deal, prosecutors filed conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges against the embattled lobbyist. The filing outlined lavish gifts and contributions that it said Abramoff gave an unnamed House member, identified elsewhere as Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Administration Committee, in return for Ney's agreement to use his office to aid Abramoff clients.

Any such plea agreement likely would secure the Republican lobbyist's testimony against several members of Congress who received favors from him or his clients. The Justice Department is believed to be focusing on as many as 20 lawmakers and aides.
Now watch the roaches scatter.

It'll be easy to spot the guilty parties, even from the cheap seats. The faster and farther they distance themselves from Abramoff, and the questions they refuse to answer, should tell you everything you need to know. It'll sound a little like this:

White House spokesman Scott McClellan could not say Tuesday whether Abramoff ever met President Bush. But when asked at the White House about this, the spokesman said that "what he is reportedly acknowledged doing is unacceptable and outrageous."

"If laws were broken, he must be held to account for what he did," McClellan said.
I assume McClellan is talking about the Abramoff scandal, and not Bush's illegal domestic spying program. Quotes that are versatile enough to apply to both scandals must be very handy for a spokesperson.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Limits ... and sanity

Because George Bush has been hammering the words "legal" and "limited" like protruding nails in his daily defense of the illegal NSA wiretapping program he approved, I thought it would be useful to link to this, from John Dean, who knows a little something about the Nixon administration:

There can be no serious question that warrantless wiretapping, in violation of the law, is impeachable. After all, Nixon was charged in Article II of his bill of impeachment with illegal wiretapping for what he, too, claimed were national security reasons.

Indeed, here, Bush may have outdone Nixon: Nixon's illegal surveillance was limited; Bush's, it is developing, may be extraordinarily broad in scope. First reports indicated that NSA was only monitoring foreign calls, originating either in the USA or abroad, and that no more than 500 calls were being covered at any given time. But later reports have suggested that NSA is "data mining" literally millions of calls - and has been given access by the telecommunications companies to "switching" stations through which foreign communications traffic flows.

In sum, this is big-time, Big Brother electronic surveillance.
So when Bush says that the program was "limited," he's, um, what's the word? Oh yes, lying.

OK, maybe that's a little harsh. But even the most charitable Bush defender would have to concede that the veracity of Bush's explanation, as usual, "depends on what the meaning of ______ is." Last time the adminstration played semantic games to sidestep its utterly unjustifiable behavior, the word in the blank was "torture." This time, the blank is filled with the word "limited."
lim·it n. 1. The point, edge, or line beyond which something cannot or may not proceed.
That's the definition the administration is counting on you to have in mind. But another definition is:
The greatest or least amount, number, or extent allowed or possible.
That definition gives the administration a lot more leeway. Using that definition, the administration could truthfully say that the wiretapping program is limited -- to the number of calls we can eavesdrop on, given the number of agents working on the program, or perhaps limited to the number of international calls made and received in the United States every day.

So perhaps Bush isn't lying, technically, when he says the program is "limited." But what does your bullshit meter read when he says it?

And for those who would argue, like Bush, that the program is an important part of preventing another attack, I refer you back to Dean:

Bush's unauthorized surveillance, in particular, seems very likely to be ineffective. According to experts with whom I have spoken, Bush's approach is like hunting for the proverbial needle in the haystack. As sophisticated as NSA's data mining equipment may be, it cannot, for example, crack codes it does not recognize. So the terrorist communicating in code may escape detection, even if data mining does reach him.

In short, Bush is hoping to get lucky.
This isn't about fighting terror. This is about power. This is about "I'm the president, and I'm going to do whatever the fuck I please, and no stupid law or court or Congress is going to stop me."

This is about the abuse of power, and is why Bush should be impeached.

Albert Eistein said, "Insanity is doing the same thing again and expecting a different result." Given Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld's proximity to Richard Nixon, maybe this is really about insanity.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Anonymity should be granted ... to the reporter

Is it just lazy reporting, or is "journalism" an anachronism, something that today looks as odd and out of its time as an 8-track?

Which brings us to our latest contender for the Anonymice Award, found this week in the New York Times' Sunday Styles Section in a story about how some wealthy Manhattan families -- burdened with two weeks of holiday vacation time from their children's private schools -- are opting to visit two destinations, often one snowy and one sunny, to avoid the unbearable monotony of fourteen days at a single luxury resort.

While the Times' Lisa Birnbach was able to find one parent to speak on the record for her all-important anecdotal lead, it seems the rest of the fabulously rich Manhattan moms and dads Birnbach interviewed did not wish to be identified. And, as we all know from the Times' "Principles for Granting Anonymity," "The use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers reliable and newsworthy. When we use such sources, we accept an obligation ... to convey what we can learn of their motivation."

And so, Birnbach reports after quoting one New York mom: "This mother would speak only if her name did not appear in the newspaper, a condition also demanded by most of the others interviewed for this article. It is not that the vacation plans of privileged Manhattanites are sensitive matters of national security. But the families did not want to expose themselves to envy, or even ridicule, because of the sumptuousness of their lives." (Emphasis ours.)
It appears that, in addition to "situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers reliable and newsworthy," the Times allows the use of anonymous sources in situations in which writers would have to scrap a quote they like and find someone else to talk to.

Here's what the anonymous source revealed that the Times considered so essential:

Another Manhattan mother, whose children are 8, 6 and 16 months, said: "We've been doing it forever. We always go to Florida first, to warm up, and then go to Vermont where we have a house, for a winter vacation." The family divides its time equally, seven days in each place. First they head to Palm Beach to visit grandparents, then return to New York on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day "when everyone is happy," the mother said. "The planes are generally not as crowded, and there's a lot of positive energy."

From New York they will drive to Stratton Mountain, Vt., which they can reach in about four hours. "We don't pack anything," the woman said. "Everything's there. It makes a huge difference." A call to the caretaker ensures that groceries will be on hand, and the fantasy winter wonderland part of the vacation begins.

"My kids love it," the mother of three said, referring to their Florida-Vermont tradition. "They love their time with their grandparents, and we always invite friends to visit in Vermont. And our friends have kids, and we ski, and have bonfires at night under the stars and roast marshmallows."
Wow, that's controversial. Clearly the decision to grant anonymity to the source of such delicate and important information was warranted.

I have a feeling that this isn't about jealousy, as these anonymous women claim. After all, people who drive Mercedes SUVs, vacation in Palm Beach and send their kids to private school don't care who knows they're well-to-do.

If your lifestyle is so right and defensible and appropriate, why act like you're ashamed of it? If you're wealthy and living the high life while so many have so little and the gap between the rich and poor in this country is being widened almost daily by the Bush administration, why not be proud of that? Why not stand up and declare with pride your excesses?

It's more likely that this is about fear. Fear that poor people might read the story, find out how wealthy they are and decide to pay them a visit when they're not home.

But this isn't a rant against the wealthy. I'll save that for another day. This is about hacks masquerading as journalists. There are six sources used in the story, and FOUR are unidentified. The other three who are hiding their identities like the whistleblower discussed above all say the same insipid shit about their globehopping and how tiring tremendous wealth can be, yet all were granted anonymity. Because what they had to say was so important and newsworthy and couldn't be gotten any other way. At least not by reporters too lazy to find someone with enough balls to go on the record and editors who let them get away with such half-assed work.

But the paper's policy, at least the way it's being practiced, allows it, as long as readers are offered an explanation about why the source requested anonymity.

But it's not just about finding out why people are requesting anonymity, its about being judicious in your granting of it. It's not about providing window dressing for readers, it's about practicing journalism the right way. If you want to do your readers a service, don't provide cover for everyone who asks for it, as long as they offer an explanation, no matter how stupid or dubious, about why they want it.

The obligation journalists have, and apparently have not accepted, is to agree to protect the identity of sources in limited cases, such as when the source is providing information that's important for the public to know and can't be gotten any other way, AND the source has a reasonable expectation of retaliation if he/she were to be identified as the whistleblower.

Otherwise, you end up with ridiculous shit like this Times article and this, from the Washington Post:

Ironically, "Laguna Beach" airs on MTV and one of the MTV networks is VH1,
which, according to one of our sources who asked to remain anonymous
because they didn't want to be identified
, was the other network bidding with E! on "The Simple Life" of late.
And dont' get me started on the use of "they" with "one."

This doesn't look like a paper, or an industry, that learned from its experiences with Judy Miller and Jayson Blair.

Thanks for the heads-up Susie.

Happy New Year

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2006. I appreciate your stopping by in 2005 and hope you'll continue to read me in the new year.