Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Broken record

When George Bush says something this many times, you know he's lying.

President George W. Bush said on Tuesday he stood by his view that a deal
to allow a Dubai-based company to run U.S. ports did not pose a security
Yeah, and "there's no doubt in my mind (warrantless surveillance) is legal." And "we do not torture." And "the Kyoto treaty would have wrecked our economy." And "this economy is strong." And on and on and on.

The old joke goes "How can you tell when George Bush is lying? His lips are moving." But it appears the real answer is "he says the same thing over and over." So, given his history, his repeated assurances that the ports deal doesn't threaten security are anything but reassuring.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Unhealthy system

Another exmaple that shows our current healthcare system doesn't work. Just throw it on the pile with the others.

Studies of autopsies have shown that doctors seriously misdiagnose fatal illnesses about 20 percent of the time. So millions of patients are being treated for the wrong disease.

As shocking as that is, the more astonishing fact may be that the rate has not really changed since the 1930's.

This is the richest country in the world — one where one-seventh of the economy is devoted to health care — and yet misdiagnosis is killing thousands of Americans every year.

Under the current medical system, doctors, nurses, lab technicians and hospital executives are not actually paid to come up with the right diagnosis. They are paid to perform tests and to do surgery and to dispense drugs.

There is no bonus for curing someone and no penalty for failing, except when the mistakes rise to the level of malpractice. So even though doctors can have the best intentions, they have little economic incentive to spend time double-checking their instincts, and hospitals have little incentive to give them the tools to do so.

"You get what you pay for," Mark B. McClellan, who runs Medicare and Medicaid, told me. "And we ought to be paying for better quality."

There are some bits of good news here. Dr. McClellan has set up small pay-for-performance programs in Medicare, and a few insurers are also experimenting. But it isn't nearly a big enough push. We just are not using the power of incentives to save lives. For a politician looking to make the often-bloodless debate over health care come alive, this is a huge opportunity.
Now all we need is a leader, someone who cares about the American people and the future of this nation more than his or her own electability. Someone with the guts to take on the monied interests with a stake in protecting a system that just doesn't work.

You know what the solution for this isn't? Pre-tax personal healthcare savings accounts. Because when you're very sick, you're not going to spend time comparison shopping, checking things like cure rates and histories of misdiagnoses. You're going to get yourself in front of a doctor ASAP.

Turning the healthcare industry into a marketplace like that for, say, automobiles, doesn't improve the quality of care. The only point of comparison that would be evident to most people would be price, and, continuing our auto market example, it's certainly possible to go with the more expensive option and still get a dud (right Land Rover?).

Such an environment does nothing to eliminate subpar practitioners. It actually encourages them, because, barring a fuck-up that would cost them their licenses, no matter how poorly they practice, all they'd have to do is lower their prices and business is booming again. Because healthcare spending isn't discretionary. You either need healthcare or you don't. When it comes to healthcare, money is no object -- unless it prevents you from getting the care you need.

For that matter, why even go to a doctor? If you need care and the guy at the questionable-looking clinic in the alley is all you can afford (he insists the only reason he was kicked out of that Caribbean med school was the language barrier), that's probably where you're a-headed.

Making people pay for healthcare costs out of pocket, pretax or not, creates an environment in which the best care is available only to people who can afford it. And isn't that really what this latest idiotic Bush administration proposal is about -- trying to get the poor to buy into a system that benefits the rich and has the opposite effect on them? (I'm always amazed to see a rusty old pickup truck with a "W" sticker on it.) After all, what's the point of being rich if it doesn't separate you from the great unwashed and entitle you to privileges to which "they" have no access? Makes one wonder how news that eight meat packers from Lincoln, Neb., won the Powerball jackpot went over at the Hillcrest Country Club.

Talk about class warfare.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Mission accomplished?

It's OK, we all can relax now. Apparently the United States no longer faces any threats to its security.

President Bush on Thursday defended his administration's decision to allow a company from an Arab country to operate six major U.S. ports, saying, "People don't need to worry about security."
That's certainly a strange thing to say when your entire presidency has been built on keeping people afraid. Bush has fanned the flames of fear to justify the USA PATRIOT Act (remember to capitalize -- after all, it's a clever acronym), invading Iraq, detaining thousands of people at secret CIA prisons around the world without charges or access to legal representation, torturing suspects at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Grahib, outsourcing torture through its extraordinary rendition program, eavesdropping on American citizens without warrants, and increasing defense spending (you know, on things other than armor for troops and their vehicles) while deficits spiral out of control. The administration also has used fear to muzzle critics and beat back political opponents.

But when it comes to spreading the wealth and giving a little taste to old family friends from the UAE, people should set aside the fear Bush has stoked since pretty much the turn of the century and just keep their mouths shut.

Don't worry, I'm sure that soon enough the administration will find it convenient to try to scare us shitless again. After all, there's an election in November, and why else would they be keeping Dick Cheney around?

By the way, it's nice to know that even though the administration struck a secret deal with the UAE company that appears poised to take control of operations at ports in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia, Bush had no idea that the deal was even taking place.

What exactly does Bush do?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Show business

Remember, it only has to look like results.

The Energy Department said it has come up with $5 million to immediately restore jobs cut at a renewable energy laboratory President George W. Bush will visit on Tuesday, avoiding a potentially embarrassing moment as the president promotes his energy plan.
The ensure the Colorado laboratory will have the people to carry out that research, the Energy Department transferred $5 million over the weekend to the Midwest Research Institute, the contractor that operates the renewable energy lab, to restore all the jobs cut earlier this month due to budget shortfalls.
The Energy Department took the money from other accounts. The DOE said it will try to restore those funds by using money from several projects mandated by Congress in 2001 and 2002 "that have failed to make progress."
You mean like No Child Left Behind?

And if those funds can't be restored by piling more burden on the backs of the poor (you don't think they're going to fund this by raising the capital-gains tax, do you?), I guess those workers will just be laid off again -- quietly, after Bush has left town and taken the spotlight with him.

If the administration were serious about renewable energy and reducing dependence on Middle East oil, these positions would have been funded in the first place and their continued existence wouldn't be attributable to the happenstance of a Bush photo-op.

Friday, February 17, 2006


WASHINGTON -- The United States Senate officially became powerless Thursday when Republicans declined to investigate a patently illegal domestic spying program secretly authorized by President Bush.

That's one way the lede could have been written. But most news outlets went with something more subdued -- essentially saying the same thing, just a little less big-picture.

Senate Republicans blocked a proposed investigation of President Bush's domestic spying operation yesterday, as the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said he had reached an agreement with the White House to pursue legislation that would establish clearer rules surrounding the controversial National Security Agency surveillance program.
The White House reacted with its characteristic humility, demonstrating the respect and deference it typically shows the United States Congress.

"We maintain that the president does not need additional congressional authority," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
In other words, the refusal to investigate was meaningless. That's gratitude for you.

Why do you suppose the Senate would abdicate its oversight role? What could lead United States senators to make the decision to strip themselves of their own power, essentially rendering themselves irrelevant?

Congress appeared ready to launch an investigation into the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program last week, but an all-out White House lobbying campaign has dramatically slowed the effort and may kill it, key Republican and Democratic sources said yesterday.
So much for "there's no doubt in my mind it is legal," huh?

And what bone did the White House throw the Senate? What did the Senate receive in exchange for casting aside the authority granted it by the Constitution?

(Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas) said the vote was put off because the White House had "committed to legislation and has agreed to brief more Intelligence Committee members on the nature of the surveillance program."

(White House spokeswoman Dana Perino) said the Bush administration is now willing to discuss a GOP proposal that contains "some good legislative concepts that would not undermine the president's ability to protect Americans."
You agreed not to hold the president accountable for breaking the law in exchange for being let in on it and being allowed to pass new legislation? If George Bush is breaking the law now, what makes you think he's going to give a shit about whatever watered-down, candy-ass law you pass later?

You got ripped off.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ignoring the UN

The United Nations is useful only as a weapon to weild against our enemies when our military is stretched too thin to be used. Other than that, it is to be ignored.

The United States should shut down the prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay and either release the detainees or put them on trial, the United Nations said in a report released Thursday.

The world body also called on the United States to refrain from practices that "amount to torture."

The White House rejected the recommendation to shut the prison.

"These are dangerous terrorists that we're talking about that are there," spokesman Scott McClellan said.
He seems fairly certain, considering the attorney general doesn't have enough evidence of that to charge the vast majority of the prisoners held there.

As a matter of fact, the only times we see Alberto Gonzales these days is when he's defending another of George Bush's illegal programs. It seems his real job is to keep Bush out of prison.

I thought the AG was the nation's top prosecutor. Instead, he's ignoring evidence of criminal wrongdoing by his boss and ignoring the lack of evidence of criminal wrongdoing by everybody else.

Before Bush, you never heard the phrase "prison for suspects." But when the United States attorney general is your own private defense attorney (well, him and Harriet Miers), you take liberties with things like due process and the Constitution of the United States. And with Congress tucking its sack at every turn, you get away with it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Cheney shooting update

The worse he gets, the harder they spin.

The 78-year-old lawyer wounded by Vice President Dick Cheney in a hunting accident suffered a mild heart attack Tuesday after a shotgun pellet in his chest traveled to his heart, hospital officials said.
Gee, first Harry Whittington is "knocked silly" by a spray of "small pellets" that "broke the skin," suffering wounds that are "superficial at best." Now he has a "mild" heart attack.

I hope he doesn't "partially" die.

Have the words "criminal negligence" entered anyone else's mind?

Rich get richer

How do you suppose this is going to affect George Bush's stated goal of halving the federal deficit by 2009?

The federal government is on the verge of one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in American history, worth an estimated $7 billion over five years.

Royalty-Free Oil and Gas New projections, buried in the Interior Department's just-published budget plan, anticipate that the government will let companies pump about $65 billion worth of oil and natural gas from federal territory over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government.

Based on the administration figures, the government will give up more than $7 billion in payments between now and 2011. The companies are expected to get the largess, known as royalty relief, even though the administration assumes that oil prices will remain above $50 a barrel throughout that period.
Like I said, the administration has no intention of addressing the deficit, other than using it as an excuse to cut entitlement programs for the needy, and appears still to be operating under the impression that "deficits don't matter."

Of course, what big Dick meant when he said that is that deficits don't matter to electability. He wasn't addressing the impact they have on 99 percent of the population.

Olympic gold

An American hero shines at the Olympics.

US speedskater Joey Cheek credited his decision to donate any prize money from a Winter Olympic gold medal to a Sudanese relief project with helping him capture the 500m title Monday.

Cheek will donate the 25,000 dollars he will receive from the US Olympic Committee for his victory to "Right to Play", an athlete-driven charity organization, with the money earmarked for the battle-ravaged Darfur region.

"I knew if I ever did something like this, I wanted to be able to give something back," Cheek said. "The best way I can say thanks is to donate my money to help somebody else."
Darfur is in Sudan, in case anyone in Washington, D.C., is reading.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Condition useless

The media is never going to tell you that the information it provides is meaningless. But the thing about patient conditions -- good, stable, serious, critical -- is that they don't mean anything. That's why healthcare personnel can share them with reporters in the age of HIPAA.

So in case you've ever wondered what exactly it means that a patient is fair -- it probably isn't a reference to his skin tone -- the media, thanks to the White House's spinning of Dick Cheney's allegedly accidental shooting of a fellow hunter Saturday, which wasn't reported until Sunday (a fact supported by the flimsy excuse that they "were deferring to [ranch owner Katharine] Armstrong to handle the announcement of what happened on her property"), has provided you with "very stable" to ponder.

What exactly does "very stable" mean? How does it differ from "stable"? By comaprison, does "stable" now mean "a little stable"? But I thought "a little stable" meant "unstable."

Because it appears to be a description best applied to furniture or molecules, let's see what we can gather about the medical condition "very stable" from the facts of the shooting.

Cheney shot the victim, Harry Whittington, spraying him "with birdshot across his face, shoulder and chest," Armstrong said.

Whittington was treated at the scene by emergency medical personnel who apparently routinely travel with Cheney (try to get your HMO to spring for that) before being taken to a hospital in Kingsville. He was then flown by medical helicopter to Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital (was the first hospital full?), where he was admitted to the trauma-intensive care unit.

So it appears that "very stable" means you were treated by EMTs at the scene, taken to a hospital but needed to be transferred by helicopter to another hopsital, where you were admitted to the trauma-intensive care unit.

I hope none of you ever find yourselves in "very stable" condition.

Incidentally, media coverage of the shooting provides several prime examples of how the media can carry the administration's water without actually reporting anything false -- not that there haven't been plenty of instances of false reports from the media (Judy Miller, I'm looking at you).

What Cheney's handlers want to do is to minimize the importance of the shooting. To do that, the first thing that needs to happen is to emphasize that the shooting was accidental. Where better to do that than in the headline?

Cheney accidentally shoots fellow hunter
Cheney accidentally shoots hunting companion
Man Accidentally Shot by Cheney Recovering
Cheney accident surprises expert hunter
Will there be political fallout from the accident?
Bush knew of Cheney's hunting accident a day before world did

Just to be sure that the point is hammered home, each of these stories uses the word "accident" again in the lede -- in the first sentence, as a matter of fact.

Next, the extent of Whittington's injuries has to be minimized. Let's see how that was accomplished.

"It's not critical. It's not serious," (hospital administrator Peter) Banko said at a morning briefing. He said admitting Whittington to the trauma-intensive care unit was "a fairly common procedure" for a patient hit by a spray of the small pellets.

It may be true that the pellets were small, but the writer, just as honestly, could have written, "admitting Whittington to the trauma-intensive care unit was 'a fairly common procedure' for a patient hit by a shotgun blast." Notice a difference?

Armstrong said the shotgun pellets broke the skin.

Whittington wasn't shot with a Red Ryer BB gun. The shotgun Cheney fired isn't a toy. The victim was taken to a hopsital, flown to another and admitted to trauma ICU. To point out that a shotgun blast broke the skin is like saying the 9/11 hijackers damaged the facade of the World Trade Center -- true, but a gross understatement.

“It knocked him silly. But he was fine. He was talking. His eyes were open. It didn’t get in his eyes or anything like that,” she said.

Whittington was shot in the cheek, neck and chest. It knocked him into the ICU, silly.

Another way to downplay Whittington's status as a shooting victim is simply not to refer to him as one. Look for the word "victim" in any of the stories referenced here. That isn't to say that other stories don't use the word "victim," but look how many don't.

Which brings us back to "very stable." It's true that Banko, the hospital administrator, used the phrase to describe Whittington's condition, but it appears that nobody bothered to ask him how that differs from "stable." The major difference appears to be that "very stable" sounds better.

I'm not saying that the shooting wasn't an accident. It probably was. What I'm saying is that the media are quick to conclude this was an accident before an investigation by law enforcement officials was completed -- before one was even started, as a matter of fact.

No charges had been filed and reports on the incident were still pending Monday, said Sandra Guzman, secretary for Kenedy County Sheriff Ramon Salinas III.

The local prosecutor's office had not been contacted, said Carlos Valdez, district attorney for a three-county district that includes Nueces, Kleberg and Kenedy counties. He said his office would become involved only if an investigative agency found a hint of criminal wrongdoing or a dispute about the facts.
How do you suppose his office is going to discover a dispute about the facts if it doesn't investigate?

Imagine this same incident happening in the backwoods of your community, just without Dick Cheney: Jethro Bodine shoots Cooter Davenport with a shotgun while out hunting. Davenport is flown to a healthcare facility equipped to treat his injuries and he's admitted to the trauma intensive care unit. Bodine insists the shooting was an accident, but it isn't reported to anyone for 24 hours.

When the local media finally get wind of the story, do you think the word "accident" is going to appear in the headline and the lede, and the word "victim" won't appear in the story at all -- before an investigation takes place?

Even with the greenest rookie reporter and the laziest editor at the smallest weekly paper, that would never happen.

UPDATE: Dr. David Blanchard, the emergency room chief at Christus Spohn, said Whittington was hit by "many, many" pellets. But he said most of the wounds were "superficial at best," and many of the pellets would be left inside Whittington's body.

Um, all wounds are superficial at best.

And just in case you were getting weary of hearing about how Whittington didn't announce himself, a not-so-subtle attempt to shift the blame for the shooting from the shooter:

Hunting safety experts interviewed Monday agreed it would have been a good idea for Whittington to announce himself — something he apparently didn't do,
according to a witness. But they stressed that the shooter is responsible for
avoiding other people.

"It's incumbent upon the shooter to assess the situation and make sure it's a safe shot," said Mark Birkhauser, president-elect of the International Hunter Education Association and hunter education coordinator in New Mexico. "Once you squeeze that trigger, you can't bring that shot back."

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Theatre of the absurd

Eavesdropping on the Eavesdropper
A one-act play by George Bush and Karl Rove

Setting: A luxury resort along the Choptank River in Cambridge, Maryland.
Scene: George Bush, the president of the United States, is addressing the House Republican Conference. After forgettable opening remarks, reporters covering the event are ushered out of the room so that the president can address the gathered GOP lawmakers privately, unaware that microphones were still on, allowing the reporters to listen in on the first part of his conversation.

President Bush defended his warrantless eavesdropping program Friday, saying during what he thought were private remarks that he concluded that spying on Americans was necessary to fill a gap in the United States' security.

"I want to share some thoughts with you before I answer your questions," said Bush, unaware that microphones were still on and were allowing those back in the White House press room to eavesdrop on his eavesdropping defense. "First of all, I expect this conversation we're about to have to stay in the room. I know that's impossible in Washington."

That was not to be — and it was telling that the president chose the controversial NSA program as the first topic to raise out of reporters' earshot. Even so, there was no substantive difference between those statements and the series of public speeches he has given recently on the program.

Only the first few minutes of that — before any lawmakers' questions — were heard by reporters.
Let me see if I have this straight: Reporters overheard Bush admonish Republicans that he wanted their conversation to stay in the room, and then essentially repeat a talking point he's been hammering publicly for weeks. And that's the only part reporters overheard.

Gimme a break.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Wheels falling off

Things are starting to happen. And for the Bush administration, they're all bad.

Congress slammed Bush's proposal to cut funding for the Energy Department's weatherization assistance grants, meaning that 33,000 fewer poor families than last year would be able to insulate their homes at a time of record energy prices.

No big deal. Congress always complains about my budget proposals. They also slammed the increased fees charged to Medicare recipients, the Social Security payment cuts and the cuts in funding for education and child support enforcement, and those complaints didn't gain any traction.

Congress also expressed a desire to oversee his domestic spying program.

Nothing new there. Congress is always asking permission to exert its authority. So far, nothing Scotty can't deflect.

But then Jack Abramoff wrote in an e-mail to the editor of The Washingtonian magazine that he met George Bush almost a dozen times, that he has been invited to the ranch, and that Bush spoke to him in detail about Abramoff's children.

Jack, I thought we were friends. No problem. Scotty'll spin that one, too. He has no problem lying with a straight face.

As if that weren't enough for an embattled White House spokesman, then came the revelation that court papers, citing Scooter Libby's grand jury testimony, say the Plame leak was authorized by Libby's superiors, including one Richard Cheney.

Uh oh. That sounds serious. What to do? When in doubt, stay on message. "We're not going to comment on an ongoing investigation." Good. Maybe send Dick to give a speech over at the Heritage Foundation. Those guys understand. Better check with Karl.

Then came reports that news of the New Orleans flooding by Hurricane Katrina reached the White House before the White House claims to have learned of the disaster. Even Michael Brown is expected to give testimony confirming that.

"There is no question in my mind, that at the highest levels of the White House they understood how grave the situation was," Brown told the New York Times.

I keep telling them: I wasn't at the White House that day. I was at the ranch. I can prove it -- I cut out a newspaper article. Well, Jenna did. In case you didn't know, Texas is far from Washington.

Brownie! I let you stay on the federal payroll after you resigned, and this is how you repay me? I'll get even with you. Well, Karl will. My hands will stay clean.

As if that weren't enough vulnerable spots to protect, the U.S. trade deficit hit an all-time high for the fourth year in a row, reaching $725.8 billion, a situation that's not going to be helped by South Korea's refusal to open up its rice market to American imports.

The trade deficit shattered all-time records three other times on my watch. Nobody cares.

More importantly to the White House, it looks like Abramoff, Libby and Brownie have decided they're not going down alone. It makes one wonder what Ken Lay might say if things break bad for him at his trial.

Now, if only we had an opposition party in this country with some bone in their backs. If Democrats are ever going to climb out of their "reactive posture," now would be a good time. If a boxer let an injured opponent off the ropes as much as the Democrats do, he'd spend his days eating through a straw inserted somewhere among the metal holding his jaw together, and wondering when someone's going to answer that friggin' phone.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Swept up

No chance this will be abused by an administration so secretive and paranoid that it makes Richard Nixon look like the poster boy for the Sunshine Act, right?

The US government is developing a massive computer system that can collect huge amounts of data and, by linking far-flung information from blogs and e-mail to government records and intelligence reports, search for patterns of terrorist activity.
That and maybe a little domestic political dissent, just to be on the safe side.

"We don't realize that, as we live our lives and make little choices, like buying groceries, buying on Amazon, Googling, we're leaving traces everywhere," says Lee Tien, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "We have an attitude that no one will connect all those dots. But these programs are about connecting those dots - analyzing and aggregating them - in a way that we haven't thought about. It's one of the underlying fundamental issues we have yet to come to grips with."

The core of this effort is a little-known system called Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE). Only a few public documents mention it. ADVISE is a research and development program within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), part of its three-year-old "Threat and Vulnerability, Testing and Assessment" portfolio. The TVTA received nearly $50 million in federal funding this year.

What sets ADVISE apart is its scope. It would collect a vast array of corporate and public online information - from financial records to CNN news stories - and cross-reference it against US intelligence and law-enforcement records. The system would then store it as "entities" - linked data about people, places, things, organizations, and events, according to a report summarizing a 2004 DHS conference in Alexandria, Va. The storage requirements alone are huge - enough to retain information about 1 quadrillion entities, the report estimated. If each entity were a penny, they would collectively form a cube a half-mile high - roughly double the height of the Empire State Building.
Well, it's official. Big Brother is donning his reading glasses and assuming his position over your shoulder.

Aaah, privacy was overrated anyway, right Mr. President?


"Ethical" is a relative term.

House Majority Leader John Boehner rents a basement apartment from a lobbyist whose clients had an interest in legislation overseen or sponsored by Boehner, according to lobbying records.

Boehner, R-Ohio, pays $1,600 a month rent for the apartment owned by lobbyist John Milne and his wife, Debra Anderson, Boehner spokesman Don Seymour Jr. said.

"It is conceivable that John Milne may have lobbied Boehner on a few occasions over the years, but we are not aware of any specific instances of it, and we are certain no lobbying has taken place during the time in which John Boehner has been renting the property," Seymour said.

Hey, when your party is populated by so many ethically challenged politicians and looking to replace a House majority leader whose been brought up on charges, you just try to find the least ethically challenged. And the guy they found isn't just in a lobbyist's pocket, he's in a lobbyist's apartment.

That says a little something about the Congressmen who didn't get selected to replace Tom DeLay, huh?

There's no way that the GOP's congressional leadership didn't know about this, so I have to think that they assumed nobody would find out. Either that or they figured a press corpse that ignores reports that George Bush told Tony Blair in January 2003 that he intended to invade Iraq no matter what wouldn't make a fuss about this.

And who can blame them?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Bankrupting us to prosperity

It's surprising that Treasury would say this publicly, considering that John Snow knows how George Bush feels about truth tellers.

Key White House tax proposals would cost the U.S. government tens of billions of dollars in lost revenue, the Treasury Department said on Monday, although the administration says they will help boost revenues in the long run.

Making permanent expiring tax breaks for dividends and capital gains, which expire at the end of 2008, would cost the government $7.74 billion in 2008 and $37.02 billion in 2009, Treasury said in its "Blue Book" description of revenue proposals in President Bush's fiscal 2007 budget.

Making dividend and capital gains tax breaks permanent is a central Bush administration goal in 2006, but critics say the administration will be hard-pressed to both keep the tax breaks and achieve its other priority, cutting the federal budget deficit starting in fiscal 2007.

The White House projects the deficit will widen in the current fiscal year.

Extending lower marginal tax rates for individuals, which are set to expire at the end of 2010, would push foregone tax revenues to $119.39 billion in 2011, Treasury said.

The (Alternative Mimimum Tax) fix would forego $13.66 billion in revenues in the current fiscal year and $20.5 billion in income to the government in fiscal 2007, Treasury said.

The president's proposals to expand health savings accounts, which allow people set aside pretax earnings to pay for medical expenses, would total $5.48 billion in lost revenue in 2007 and $10.24 billion in lost revenue in 2008, Treasury said.

But the Bush administration would have you believe that magically, from 2007 to 2009, government revenues will climb, cutting the deficit -- which was created entirely by this administration -- in half.

Let's face a couple of facts here. The economy is going to be in worse shape in January 2009 than it is now, because the administration doesn't intend to address it. The Bush administration's real goal is to redistribute the nation's wealth up the economic ladder. The results of the last seven years look like a nonstop money grab by the wealthiest Americans because they have been a nonstop money grab by the wealthiest Americans.

The Bush administration's economic policies have led to the deficit we have now. Let's not forget that the policies of the Clinton administration led to budget surpluses of $69.2 billion for fiscal year 1998, $122.7 billion for FY 1999 and at least $230 billion in FY 2000.

Such results are inconceivable under the current regime, which proposes cutting taxes for the wealthy and attacking the budget deficit by cutting vital programs that assist the poor. Despite Bush's tortured explanations that this approach will lead to prosperity, all it really does is widen the gulf between the rich and poor in this country. We've lived with this approach for seven years now, and look where we are. But Bush would have us believe that we're right on schedule, that the economy will take an unprecedented 180-degree turn in 2007, and we will hit his claimed goal of halving the deficit he created.

Oh, I'm sorry. That 9/11 created. Like the Iraq war, the failure in the face of hurricane Katrina, the failure to capture Osama bin Laden, the nuclear capability of North Korea and soon Iran, and the train wreck that the administration calls a prescription drug benefit, the deficit and the economy are not George Bush's fault.

More accurately, they're not his problem. In January 2009, Bush will return to his 1583-acre (nearly 2.5 square mile) "ranch" a very wealthy village idiot and spend the rest of his days telling fictions in an attempt to polish his legacy to anyone who will listen.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Politics before policy

And certainly before the Constitution.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts said Friday the Bush administration's domestic spying is within the president's inherent power under the Constitution, and he rejected criticism that Congress was kept in the dark about it.

The program is "legal, necessary and reasonable," the Kansas Republican wrote in a 19-page letter, taking a particularly expansive view of the president's authority for the warrantless surveillance.
Roberts, of course, is lying to provide legal cover for the administration and its illegal spying program. But it's incredible that politicians make decisions and write 19-page letters that diminish their own power and influence. They've handed Bush the keys to the car and then complain that he doesn't consult them about where he takes it.

But Senators committing mass irrelevance is beside the point. We're talking about whether the NSA's domestic spying that Bush authorized is legal. Let's review:

The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act "requires executive branch agencies to get approval for domestic surveillance requests from a special court, whose proceedings are secret to protect national security."

Bush has authorized the National Security Agency to conduct surveillance on Americans without seeking warrants from the court.

President Bush signed a secret order in 2002 authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in the United States, despite previous legal prohibitions against such domestic spying.
In other words (as Bush likes to say when he's talking down to his supporters),

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.
The law requires warrants to conduct domestic surveillance. Bush's program conducts domestic surveillance without bothering to get warrants. That makes it illegal.
Understand? So do Bush and Cheney, as evidenced below. Which means they know the program is illegal. Which means that every time they say it's legal, they're lying.

In 2004 and 2005, Bush repeatedly argued that the controversial Patriot Act package of anti-terrorism laws safeguards civil liberties because US authorities still need a warrant to tap telephones in the United States.

"Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order," he said on April 20, 2004 in Buffalo, New York.

"Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so," he added.

On April 19, 2004, Bush said the Patriot Act enabled law-enforcement officials to use "roving wiretaps," which are not fixed to a particular telephone, against terrorism, as they had been against organized crime.

"You see, what that meant is if you got a wiretap by court order -- and by the way, everything you hear about requires court order, requires there to be permission from a FISA court, for example," he said in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

But under Bush's super-secret order, first revealed Friday by the New York Times and details of which have been confirmed by Bush and other top US officials, the National Security Agency does not need that court's approval.

"A couple of things that are very important for you to understand about the Patriot Act. First of all, any action that takes place by law enforcement requires a court order," he said July 14, 2004 in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin.

"In other words, the government can't move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order," he said. "What the Patriot Act said is let's give our law enforcement the tools necessary, without abridging the Constitution of the United States, the tools necessary to defend America."

The president has also repeatedly said that the need to seek such warrants means "the judicial branch has a strong oversight role."

"Law enforcement officers need a federal judge's permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist's phone, a federal judge's permission to track his calls, or a federal judge's permission to search his property," he said in June.

"Officers must meet strict standards to use any of these tools. And these standards are fully consistent with the Constitution of the United States," he added in remarks at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy.

He made similar comments in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 20 2005.

Vice President Dick Cheney offered similar reassurances at a Patriot Act event in June 2004, saying that "all of the investigative tools" under the law "require the approval of a judge before they can be carried out."

"And similar statutes have been on the book for years, and tested in the courts, and found to be constitutional," he said in Kansas City, Missouri.
My, how their tune has changed. Ask them for an explanation and, if you get anything at all, it'll be about how there's an enemy out there who means to do us harm and must be taken seriously.

I take al-Qaeda seriously enough to know that it decides to attack again, the Bush administration can do nothing to stop it. And I take no pleasure in that knowledge. I wish there were competent people in key positions in the administration who could stop the evil of this terror organization's violent attacks. I wish that key members of the Bush administration did more than pay lip service to the work of governing.

What I don't take seriously is the idea that al-Qaeda can be stopped by allowing federal agents to listen to my phone calls, or yours, without oversight. And I'm not going to let the Bush administration scare me into looking the other way when it breaks the law.

Incidentally, I don't like to repeat myself, writing posts that pretty much say the same thing about the NSA's domestic spying program. (Not the "terrorist surveillance program." The NSA is spying on us, not terrorists.) But the Bush administration, and the entire GOP machine for that matter, conduct their business by repeating lies over and over. So perhaps the only way to topple their wall of lies is is to take a page from their playbook and build a wall of truth.

Fraud found

I feel safer. How 'bout you?

A man accused of mailing hundreds of anthrax hoax letters — including one to President Bush — was arrested Friday.

Derek Brodie, 42, was ordered held without bail pending a psychiatric evaluation.

The FBI said Brodie sent government agencies, media personalities, actors and businesses more than 200 letters, each containing a white sheet of paper with the word "anthrax" written vertically in multicolored block letters."

He had a habit of using the same rainbow-colored pencil," said FBI agent Steve Siegel.
Meanwhile, the mailings of real anthrax letters remain unsolved. What a way for Alberto Gonzales to celebrate one year as Attorney General.Alberto Gonzales: Protecting America from fake threats since this time last year.

Friday, February 03, 2006

More evidence

Sound familiar?

Tony Blair told President George Bush that he was "solidly" behind US plans to invade Iraq before he sought advice about the invasion's legality and despite the absence of a second UN resolution, according to a new account of the build-up to the war published today.

A memo of a two-hour meeting between the two leaders at the White House on January 31 2003 - nearly two months before the invasion - reveals that Mr Bush made it clear the US intended to invade whether or not there was a second UN resolution and even if UN inspectors found no evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons programme.

"The diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning", the president told Mr Blair. The prime minister is said to have raised no objection. He is quoted as saying he was "solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam".
Anyone care to make an issue out of yet another revelation that the decision to invade Iraq was made months before the administration claims? Anyone? You know, before November, when doing so still matters?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

State of the Union

If not for the quick work of the Capitol police, freedom of speech might have been exercized in the presence of power and Bubble Boy might have been exposed to the reality of his policies.

Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a fallen soldier in Iraq who reinvigorated the anti-war movement, was arrested and removed from the House gallery Tuesday night just before President Bush's State of the Union address, a police spokeswoman said.

Sheehan, who was invited to attend the speech by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., was charged with demonstrating in the Capitol building, said Capitol Police Sgt. Kimberly Schneider. The charge was later changed to unlawful conduct, Schneider said. Both charges are misdemeanors.
At first it wasn't clear at first what happened,

CNN said Sheehan was arrested after unveiling a banner and was being held on Capitol Hill for about an hour, which would keep her away from the address, which was set to start at 9 p.m. EST.
but it looks like the story officials are going with is straight now (keep watching CNN for that correction, by the way), though it still varies from Sheehan's own account:
(Capitol Police Sgt. Kimberly) Schneider said Sheehan had worn a T-shirt
with an antiwar slogan to the speech and covered it up until she took her seat.
Police warned her that such displays were not allowed, but she did not respond,
the spokeswoman said.

The T-shirt bore the words “2,245 Dead — How Many More??” in reference
to the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq, protesters told NBC News.

But, according to the accused,

I was never told that I couldn't wear that shirt into the Congress. I was never
asked to take it off or zip my jacket back up. If I had been asked to do any of
those things...I would have, and written about the suppression of my freedom of
speech later. I was immediately, and roughly (I have the bruises and muscle
spasms to prove it) hauled off and arrested for "unlawful conduct."

Remember when sacrificing a child in the service of this nation bought a parent some respect? Sometimes it even bought a presidential invitation to the State of the Union. It certainly used to prevent presidential advisers from calling you a "clown" in front of reporters.

I guess criticizing George Bush trumps the ultimate sacrifice.