Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Crony Corruption Continues In Vice-Land

After all the documented cronyism and corruption surrounding previous Haliburton contracts....nothing changes:

Haliburton Awarded $385 Million Contract to Build Immigrant Detention

Don't you wish we could see the competitive bids? There oughta be a law that they be published in every newspaper in the country.

Senators? Representatives? Hello?

Outrageous: There's No Outrage

Where's the Budget Outrage?
By E.J. Dionne Jr.
The Washington Post
...It's hard these days to get the media to pay attention to budgets and their impact on the lives of citizens. Budgets are complicated and easy to spin. It's much easier to generate immense moral outrage over a memoir writer who tells lies.

But long after we've forgotten the name of that writer, a mother on Medicaid will be deciding whether she can afford to take her sick child to see the doctor. Can we please spend at least a tiny bit of our moral outrage on her behalf?

It's So Haaarrrrd to Keep your Lies Straight

That's the trouble with lies. After a while, they catch up with you...

Gonzales Is Challenged on Wiretaps
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) charged yesterday that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing a year ago when he appeared to try to avoid answering a question about whether the president could authorize warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.

In a letter to the attorney general yesterday, Feingold demanded to know why Gonzales dismissed the senator's question about warrantless eavesdropping as a "hypothetical situation" during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January 2005. At the hearing, Feingold asked Gonzales where the president's authority ends and whether Gonzales believed the president could, for example, act in contravention of existing criminal laws and spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant.

Gonzales said that it was impossible to answer such a hypothetical question but that it was "not the policy or the agenda of this president" to authorize actions that conflict with existing law. He added that he would hope to alert Congress if the president ever chose to authorize warrantless surveillance, according to a transcript of the hearing. Read more.

Photo credit: Sen. Russell Feingold asked about warrantless eavesdropping, and the nominee called it "hypothetical." (AP)

The Pain of Justifying Injustice

Just Doing His Job
By John Tierney
The New York Times
After I wrote last year about Richard Paey, the wheelchair-bound patient who's been in physical agony for two decades, a lot of readers asked me what kind of monster could have prosecuted him for obtaining painkillers. If you watched "60 Minutes" Sunday, you could see for yourself.

Scott Andringa, the prosecutor in Florida who sent Paey to prison for 25 years, did not come off well on "60 Minutes," but he didn't look dementedly evil, either. He seemed exactly the way I've found him in interviews: earnest, conscientious, convinced he had done the right thing. That's why he scares me.

He's one of the many well-meaning public officials whose judgment has been so warped by the war on drugs that they can't see what they've become. Andringa, echoing the line of the Drug Enforcement Administration, has assured me he would never stop patients from getting medicine for their pain.

"I have the utmost respect for doctors who try to treat pain humanely and responsibly," he told me. "I am not a doctor. I have never claimed to be a doctor."

Yet there he was playing doctor on "60 Minutes" to explain why it was "reasonable" to infer that Paey was a drug dealer. There was no evidence that Paey had sold any of his painkillers (and agents had conducted surveillance of him and his wife for two months). But Andringa inferred that Paey must have been selling them because the prescriptions he received worked out to about 25 pills per day.

"One pill every hour, every day, for two years," Andringa told Morley Safer, as if this feat of math proved his case. It's the same mystic numerology you hear over and over from drug warriors like Karen Tandy, the head of the D.E.A., who prefers to focus on the number of pills prescribed without bothering with details like the patient's needs or the dosage.

Paey had no trouble explaining to me why he was taking 25 pills per day: his doctor cautiously gave him a variety of low-strength pills in order to avoid prescribing the kind of painkillers that tempt drug abusers and invite investigation from the D.E.A. Instead of taking a few high-strength oxycodone pills, Paey took a cocktail of pills containing low doses of oxycodone and other less effective pain killers like Tylenol.

As a result, the total daily dose of oxycodone in all those pills Paey took was less than what he could have gotten in a single high-strength OxyContin pill. And there are some chronic-pain patients who need 10 of those high-strength OxyContins every day because they, like Paey, have developed a tolerance to the drug over the years.

So there was no good medical reason to assume that Paey wasn't taking all those pills. In fact, he says he wasn't getting enough pain relief because of his doctor's fear of the D.E.A. Yet Andringa simply made his own medical diagnosis — too many pills — and proceeded to exploit the extraordinary leverage that prosecutors have been given over doctors and patients.

The typical approach is to put pressure on patients to turn on their doctors, but it can work the other way, too. Paey told me he was offered a deal by investigators: "They said if you're willing to testify against your doctor it would go a long way to having these charges go away." Paey refused, and then found himself facing hostile testimony from the doctor, who said he had not authorized the contested prescriptions.

After the doctor's credibility was challenged in court — he was contradicted both by his own words and by pharmacists who said he'd approved the prescriptions — the prosecutor came up with a mind-boggling new argument against Paey. Andringa told the jurors that even if they believed the doctor had prescribed the drugs, Paey should still be convicted because the doctor should never have written the prescriptions.

Andringa argued that the doctor wasn't practicing proper medicine — according to the prosecutor's standards — so the prescriptions were illegal and Paey shouldn't have filled them. By this logic, instead of listening to his doctor, Paey should have tried to anticipate what a prosecutor would prescribe for him.

I spoke to Andringa yesterday, after he'd watched "60 Minutes" and seen Paey's wife and the three teenage children whose father may die in prison. "I'm not thrilled about this case," he said. "I'm only proud that I did my job as a prosecutor." And self-appointed doctor.

Photo credit: John Tierney. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)
Related Materials:

Watch the "60 Minutes" segment about Richard Paey | Prisoner Of Pain

"Fisking the DEA," The Agitator blog, May 15, 2005.

"Punishing Pain," by John Tierney. New York Times, July 19, 2005.

"Drug Cops and Doctors" (pdf), a Cato Institute conference featuring Linda Paey's account of her husband's case.

Take a Hike or Go Jump in the Lake?

Dismissing single payer universal health care (which he supports) as politically unfeasable now, Kristoff takes a common sense, no-brainer approach to improving the health of Americans -- starting immediately. I don't disagree with his suggestion to promote healthier life styles and eating habits.

But I do object to his easy dismissal of major health care reform -- which is so desperately needed NOW. In his future columns, I hope Kristoff will look for creative ways to inspire Congress to pass meaningful, universal health care for all Americans.

The people who have no health coverage and need it now can't wait until the politics are right. They and their families are suffering and dying now.

Suggesting that they eat carrots instead of french fries and take a nice jog around the block--when they are facing major illnesses and chronic diseases, operations they can't afford, and treatments they can't access without health coverage -- is laughable at best and an insult to be sure -- likely to inspire an angry "go jump in the lake," or "take a flying leap," -- or worse -- response.

Would you blame them?

Take a Hike
By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times
First, a quiz: What "vegetable" do American infants and toddlers eat most?

Weep, for it's the French fry. A major study conducted by Gerber found that up to one-third of young children don't eat any vegetable daily, but that the French fry is the single most common one they do consume. And among children age 19 months to 24 months, 20 percent eat French fries at least once a day.

President Bush is slated to discuss health care in his State of the Union address tonight. It's about time: it's scandalous that babies born in the United States are less likely to survive their first year than babies born in Slovenia. But the solutions to the health crisis lie less in reorganizing medical treatment than in improving public health — such as steering kids away from French fries.

Think of two of the biggest breakthroughs in improving Americans' health over the last generation or two. They had nothing to do with doctors, but arose from higher cigarette taxes and other efforts to discourage smoking, and from compulsory seatbelts and improvements in auto safety.

So what can we do? In my last column, I praised Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas for leading a series of initiatives to confront obesity and lack of exercise. Health experts suggest a variety of others (a book by Tom Farley and Deborah Cohen published last year, "Prescription for a Healthy Nation," offers excellent ideas). Building on them, here are my suggestions:

Ban soda, potato chips and other unhealthy snacks from American schools, and discourage them in the workplace. It's unforgivable that our schools help to send children on the road to diabetes. Obesity kills far more Americans than heroin does.

Sell cigarettes only in pharmacies and raise cigarette taxes. Smoking still kills 440,000 Americans a year, including 50,000 nonsmokers. One study found that raising the federal excise tax on cigarettes by 75 cents a pack would generate $13.1 billion in additional revenue per year and cut youth smoking by 13 percent and adult smoking by 3 percent, saving 1.2 million lives. Let's do it.

Tax junk foods. Some 19 states already impose taxes on particular junk foods, like soda, and a nickel-a-can tax on soft drinks would generate $7 billion in revenues. In particular, we should tax high-fructose corn syrup, which is used as a sweetener in a vast array of products and is a major culprit in the fattening of America.

Promote jogging and biking. Since we pay for all the consequences of inactivity (like those heart bypasses), we should encourage exercise. We should build more bicycle paths and turn more streets over to bikers, skaters and pedestrians — starting with Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.

Encourage exercise breaks. Governor Huckabee gives state employees a 30-minute daily "exercise break" that is modeled on the smoking breaks that smokers take. It's a good idea.

Distribute fruits and veggies to certain low-income people, as Maine does in FarmShare, a potent antipoverty program.

Expand P.E. It's ridiculous that schools have been cutting back on P.E. when students need more of it. Likewise, kids should be encouraged to walk to school. When my eldest son attended a Japanese elementary school in Tokyo, the school required him to walk or bike to school beginning in the first grade.

Design better stairways. The default system for getting from one floor to the next in America (but not the rest of the world) is the elevator. Let's encourage stair use instead, by having new buildings constructed with open and appealing stairs that are actually meant to be used — while perhaps making elevators dark, dingy and out of the way.

I'm sure there are other creative approaches. I've thought of subsidies for running shoes, which make more sense than subsidies for corn. And since the average American child spends 24 hours a week sitting in front of a television, how about developing televisions for kids that are powered by Exercycles?

Look, personally I'm convinced that we need universal health care based on a single-payer system. But that is not politically feasible now, while a systematic assault on the causes of American ill health could make a big difference.

Granted, a War on Sloth isn't as dramatic for the Bush administration as a War on Terrorism. And for Democrats, attacking junk food isn't as attention-grabbing as denouncing corruption in Congress. But there is perhaps no area of public policy where it would be easier to save the lives of countless Americans than in promoting public health.

Photo credit: Nicholas D. Kristof. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Monday, January 30, 2006

Remember This Come Mid-Term Elections ...

It's over. Until the mid term elections, that is...

Thank you to the principled Senators who stood their ground against Alito and for an independent Supreme Court and fought to filibuster in the name of the people they represent.

As for the rest of the Senators--Republicans and Democrats alike--shame on you. You do not deserve to respresent those who elected you and we will do everything in our power to make sure you are defeated in your next election.

Senate Clears the Way for Final Vote on Alito Confirmation
By David Stout
The New York Times
The nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. for the Supreme Court cleared an all-important procedural hurdle in the Senate this afternoon as liberal Democrats failed to muster enough support to block a vote on his confirmation.

Senator John Kerry, who led the failed attempt to filibuster the Alito nomination, leaving the Senate chamber today.
The Senate voted, 72 to 25, to shut off debate and hold a vote on confirmation Tuesday morning. Sixty votes are needed to shut off debate, and 41 to keep one going, so opponents of the nominee fell far short this afternoon.

Some Democrats and at least one Republican who voted to end debate are certain to oppose the nominee in the actual confirmation vote on Tuesday. But since only a simple majority is required for confirmation, Samuel Alito could be a member of the Supreme Court by Tuesday afternoon.

The futile attempt to prevent a confirmation vote was led by Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry, both of Massachusetts. Mr. Kennedy said Judge Alito's decisions "demonstrate a systematic tilt toward powerful institutions and against individuals attempting to vindicate their rights."

"How can a clear record like that possibly justify a lifetime position on the Supreme Court?" Mr. Kennedy asked. Read more.

Photo credit: (Doug Mills/The New York Times) Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. arrived for a meeting with Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, on Monday.

Calling a Spade a Spade, or It Takes One to Know One

When America resorts to violence and war to achieve it's ends without first diplomatically trying to resolve problems, when America engages in pre-emptive war without the backing of the UN or even it's oldest allies, when America knowingly attacks a country (Iraq) that poses no immediate threat to the United States (and lies to Americans in order to do so)--America becomes a rogue nation and a terrorist state that holds no more moral authority than the terrorists, whose methods and morals it purports to condemn.

I approve of the actions of neither. Both are terrorists. Both are immoral. Both need to be held accountable for the deaths and destruction they have caused.

Al-Zawahri calls Bush a 'butcher' in video
by Nadia Abou el-Majd
01/30/06 "Associated Press" - CAIRO, Egypt - Al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri said in a videotape aired Monday that President Bush was a "butcher" and a "failure" because of a deadly U.S. airstrike in Pakistan targeting the bin Laden deputy, and he threatened a new attack on the United States.

Al-Zawahri, shown in the video wearing white robes and a white turban, said a Jan. 13 airstrike in the eastern village of Damadola killed "innocents," and he said the United States had ignored an offer from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden for a truce.

"Butcher of Washington, you are not only defeated and a liar, but also a failure. You are a curse on your own nation and you have brought and will bring them only catastrophes and tragedies," he said, referring to Bush. "Bush, do you know where I am? I am among the Muslim masses."

The airstrike hit a building in Damadola, where U.S. intelligence believed al-Zawahri had been attending an Islamic holiday dinner. The strike killed four al-Qaida leaders - including a man believed to be al-Zawahri's son-in-law - but intelligence officials said later they believe al-Zawahri sent his aides to the dinner in his place. Read more.

Why al Qaeda Loves Fox News

Rank Ignorance Reigns - Paul Craig Roberts:
"Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda must be marveling at the rank stupidity of the American people. Maybe Fox 'News' only pretends to be the Ministry of War Propaganda for the Bush administration and is in the employ of al Qaeda instead." Read more.

Photo: Bill O'Reilly (Foxnews.com)

The New Lost Generation

The Lost Children
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times
The times — as a fellow named Dylan sang more than 40 years ago — they are a-changin'.

This time it's not the emergence of the tie-dyed 60's and the flowering of the boomer generation. But the changes are at least as fundamental.

A generation from now non-Hispanic whites will make up less than 60 percent of the U.S. population, and by 2050 they will be just half. Nine out of 10 American students currently attend public schools. It is likely that within a decade fewer than half of the public school students will be white.

The dramatic changes in public school enrollment will not be a result of white flight, according to a new study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University: "It is because of a changing population structure created by differential birth rates and age structures and a largely nonwhite international flow of millions of immigrants. Since whites are older, marry at later ages, have smaller families and account for a small fraction of immigrants, these changes are almost certain to continue."

So, with these changes in mind, what's happening with the black and Latino students who already account for more than a third of the public school population, and who should be expected to play an increasingly important role in shaping American society?

Not much that is good.

When Bob Dylan first came on the scene, it was very possible for a young man or woman with energy and a dream and a high school diploma (or less) to actually build a decent life. That's pretty much over.

We are now in a time when a college education is a virtual prerequisite for achieving or maintaining a middle-class lifestyle. "Only the kids who get a postsecondary education are even keeping even in terms of income in their lives, and so forth," said Gary Orfield, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and director of the Civil Rights Project. "The rest are falling behind, year by year. Only about a twelfth of the Latino kids and maybe a sixth of the black kids are getting college degrees. The rest of them aren't getting ready for anything that's going to have much of a future in the American economy."

One of the weirder things occurring in American education is the disappearance of kids — especially black and Hispanic kids — from high school. The San Antonio Express-News, reporting last March on a study by a local research association, said that "more than a third of Texas high school freshman students are disappearing from the system or otherwise failing to obtain a high school diploma in four years."

The Los Angeles Times, for a feature article that same month, interviewed a 17-year-old named Nancy Meza who had quickly made friends with dozens of classmates when she arrived at the Boyle Heights campus of Roosevelt High School. Four years later, as her senior class gathered for its graduation photo, only four of her friends were there. Nearly all of the others had dropped out.

"It really struck me today," said Nancy. "All of my friends are gone."

This is an underrecognized, underreported crisis in American life. Far from preparing kids for college, big-city high schools in neighborhoods with large numbers of poor, black and Latino youngsters are just hemorrhaging students. The kids are vanishing into a wilderness of ignorance. If the dropout rate were somehow reversed in a city like Los Angeles, there wouldn't be enough schools to accommodate the kids.

"The high dropout rate has been built into the regular order of school facilities in our big cities," said Professor Orfield. "They expect that the classes will just shrivel as the kids go through the grades."

Nationally, just two-thirds of all students — and only half of all blacks and Latinos — who enter ninth grade actually graduate with regular diplomas four years later.

This state of affairs in so many of the nation's high schools is potentially calamitous, not just for the students but for society as a whole. "It's really very sad what's going on," said Professor Orfield. "And there's been very little effort to reform it."

Youngsters who drop out of high school are much less likely to be regularly employed, or to escape poverty, even if they work full time. They are less likely to be married and less likely to have a decent home and a decent school for their kids. Their chances of ending up in prison — especially for the African-American and Latino boys — are much higher.

These kids will not be part of the cadre of new leadership for America in the 21st century. They will have a hard enough time just surviving.

Photo credit: Bob Herbert (New York Times Photo)

A False Balance

Krugman writes that, despite the media's tendency to report otherwise, there is nothing bipartisan about the tale of Jack Abramoff, which is all about the use and abuse of Republican connections.

A False Balance
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
"How does one report the facts," asked Rob Corddry on "The Daily Show," "when the facts themselves are biased?" He explained to Jon Stewart, who played straight man, that "facts in Iraq have an anti-Bush agenda," and therefore can't be reported.

Mr. Corddry's parody of journalists who believe they must be "balanced" even when the truth isn't balanced continues, alas, to ring true. The most recent example is the peculiar determination of some news organizations to cast the scandal surrounding Jack Abramoff as "bipartisan."

Let's review who Mr. Abramoff is and what he did.

Here's how a 2004 Washington Post article described Mr. Abramoff's background: "Abramoff's conservative-movement credentials date back more than two decades to his days as a national leader of the College Republicans." In the 1990's, reports the article, he found his "niche" as a lobbyist "with entree to the conservatives who were taking control of Congress. He enjoys a close bond with [Tom] DeLay."

Mr. Abramoff hit the jackpot after Republicans took control of the White House as well as Congress. He persuaded several Indian tribes with gambling interests that they needed to pay vast sums for his services and those of Michael Scanlon, a former DeLay aide. From the same Washington Post article: "Under Abramoff's guidance, the four tribes ... have also become major political donors. They have loosened their traditional ties to the Democratic Party, giving Republicans two-thirds of the $2.9 million they have donated to federal candidates since 2001, records show."

So Mr. Abramoff is a movement conservative whose lobbying career was based on his connections with other movement conservatives. His big coup was persuading gullible Indian tribes to hire him as an adviser; his advice was to give less money to Democrats and more to Republicans. There's nothing bipartisan about this tale, which is all about the use and abuse of Republican connections.

Yet over the past few weeks a number of journalists, ranging from The Washington Post's ombudsman to the "Today" show's Katie Couric, have declared that Mr. Abramoff gave money to both parties. In each case the journalists or their news organization, when challenged, grudgingly conceded that Mr. Abramoff himself hasn't given a penny to Democrats. But in each case they claimed that this is only a technical point, because Mr. Abramoff's clients — those Indian tribes — gave money to Democrats as well as Republicans, money the news organizations say he "directed" to Democrats.

But the tribes were already giving money to Democrats before Mr. Abramoff entered the picture; he persuaded them to reduce those Democratic donations, while giving much more money to Republicans. A study commissioned by The American Prospect shows that the tribes' donations to Democrats fell by 9 percent after they hired Mr. Abramoff, while their contributions to Republicans more than doubled. So in any normal sense of the word "directed," Mr. Abramoff directed funds away from Democrats, not toward them.

True, some Democrats who received tribal donations before Mr. Abramoff's entrance continued to receive donations after his arrival. How, exactly, does this implicate them in Mr. Abramoff's machinations? Bear in mind that no Democrat has been indicted or is rumored to be facing indictment in the Abramoff scandal, nor has any Democrat been credibly accused of doing Mr. Abramoff questionable favors.

There have been both bipartisan and purely Democratic scandals in the past. Based on everything we know so far, however, the Abramoff affair is a purely Republican scandal.

Why does the insistence of some journalists on calling this one-party scandal bipartisan matter? For one thing, the public is led to believe that the Abramoff affair is just Washington business as usual, which it isn't. The scale of the scandals now coming to light, of which the Abramoff affair is just a part, dwarfs anything in living memory.

More important, this kind of misreporting makes the public feel helpless. Voters who are told, falsely, that both parties were drawn into Mr. Abramoff's web are likely to become passive and shrug their shoulders instead of demanding reform.

So the reluctance of some journalists to report facts that, in this case, happen to have an anti-Republican agenda is a serious matter. It's not a stretch to say that these journalists are acting as enablers for the rampant corruption that has emerged in Washington over the last decade.

Photo credit: Paul Krugman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Why Bush Really Wants Alito

What is missing in the argument over warrantless surveillance of Americans is this: if the government can spy lawfully--and they can--why do they insist on doing it illegally?

Legally, they would need approval from the FISA court, which is known to grant the vast majority of requests for government warrants. They can even spy first, and file for the warrants days later. So what's the problem?

Congress has offered to revisit the FISA law with the President's needs for modification in mind and has told him they will happily change the law to make it easier for him to fight terrorists, as long as it doesn't unduly infringe on the people's rights. But the President has rejected this as well.

The only logical explanation, since Bushco has offered us none to date, is that BushCo has reason to believe the FISA court will NOT give them approval. It means that they don't want anyone in government, including a SECRET COURT set up for just these types of situations, to know what they are doing. They want to operate in complete secrecy.

Why? It's not because of Bush's rediculous explanation that the terrorists will find out what we're doing. They can easily change the law without publicly compromising the program--and they know that.

The only remaining explanation for warrantless wiretapping is this: BushCo does not want any government oversight on their actions because they know the courts would not approve of their actions or grant their warrants.

No FISA court would approve, for example, of BushCo spying on peaceful protesters, mourners, or activists. No court would approve of illegally eavesdropping on political opponents and surrepticiously gathering private information on political foes for political purposes. Both are violations of our law. We already know the government is doing the former; I would expect evidence of the latter to surface at some point as well.

Nixon--when caught doing those very same things--was impeached. He resigned--because he knew his actions were illegal. So does this President, despite what he tells us.

Currently our First Amendment (Freedom of Speech) rights and Fourth Amendment (Protection against Unreasonable Search & Seazure) rights are consistently being undermined by this administration.

If we are fighting to spread "freedom & democracy" around the world, why are we being asked to give up our own freedoms in the process? Believe me, people, it has NOTHING to do with keeping us safe. Rather, the more of our rights that we give up, the more power they take, and the more powerless we become to any abuse of their power.

If they wanted to keep us safe--if our security from terrorists was really their objective--they would have long ago secured our borders, nuclear power plants, electrical plants, ports, water, and food supply. They would have long ago built the best equipped National Guard possible--instead of decimating the Guard and leaving them with no equipment to do their jobs should, God forbid, Osama bin Laden keep his promise and pull off another attack on our land.

Today--right now--our government can accuse YOU of being a terrorist, throw you in a jail somewhere, and leave you there indefinitely with no access to a lawyer, your family, or the press. You just disappear. They can torture you secretly in a foreign prison. Or just lock you up in a place of their choosing, in or out of country. Once accused--they need show no proof--you have no rights--citizen or not, innocent or not. They can hold you without even charging you with a crime--as an "enemy combatant"--indefinitely. How could you prove your innocence? You couldn't.

Granted, the above scenario might make a great Saturday Night Movie--but it makes for a lousy democracy and a lousy country in which to live.

We're supposed to TRUST the most secretive, dishonest, manipulative, and abusive administration in our lifetimes to spy on us without a warrant and without our knowledge--and do with that information what they like--with absolutely NO OVERSIGHT?

I don't know about you, but I don't want my private phone conversations, emails, faxes, and mail monitored by ANYONE. FREEDOM FROM THAT KIND OF INVASION OF PRIVACY IS WHAT MAKES US AMERICA. The Big Brother techniques of BushCo are turning America into a TOTALITARIAN STATE.

The FISA law was established to protect Americans against such abuses by regulating Government eavesdropping. Without some sort of check on the Government, we have no power to protect ourselves from government abuse. Our democracy works because it derives it's power from the people, not the president, and because a system of checks and balances over each branch of government keeps the power of each in check.

What makes this whole scenario even more Machiavellian is that the Supreme Court--with the addition of idiologue Alito--is in great danger of becoming the enabler of BushCo's illegal actions -- rather than an impartial court of justice serving to check the powers of the Legislative and the Executive branches -- and protect the people's rights.

If you don't think that Alito was picked by this administration with their own unfettered political ambitions in mind, you are far too gullible for your own good. Everything in Alito's judicial record points to his belief in a super powerful executive branch -- at the expense of the legislative -- or the people's -- branch.

We have enough problems already with corrupt lobbyists interfering with the people's business and needs. We don't need the Supreme court condoning any of these things in the interest of the party in power--whichever party that might be.

Please continue to call on your Senators to filibuster Alito and vote against cloture. Tell them you will not accept anything less. Tell them you are counting on them to protect your rights and to keep the Supreme Court independent from political influence. Tell them to stop their own political maneuvering and do what is right for ALL of the people.

See Also:

Unchecked presidential power
Uncle Sam is Listening
In Alito, G.O.P. Reaps Harvest Planted in '82 - New York Times
Alito - It's the Constitution That's At Stake

Sunday, January 29, 2006

No Cuts to Student aid, Mr. President?

Guess Bushie forgot to read up on the budget bill (ooops, forgot, he doesn't read newspapers) before that rather embarrassing question from a student regarding cuts to student aid during his press conference last week.

It's really beyond how-ignorant-can-you-get-sad when a college student knows more about the bills being passed by Congress than the President of the United States. Un. Friggin. Believable.

CTION IN CONGRESS: EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANCE; Students to Bear Big Burden Under the Final Budget Bill - New York Times

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 - Nearly one-third of all the savings in the final budget bill comes from student aid, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.

Under the bill, college students would pay higher interest rates on loans. [...] The budget bill is estimated to save $39.7 billion over the next five years. Student aid accounts for $12.7 billion of the savings, or 32 percent.

Not since 1997 has Congress made such an ambitious effort to slow the growth of benefit programs. [...]

The Bush administration worked closely with Republicans in Congress on provisions that affect student aid. But Education Secretary Margaret Spellings declined to comment until the bill cleared a final hurdle on Capitol Hill.

Republican negotiators said virtually all the cuts in student aid would be borne by banks and other lenders, an assertion sharply disputed by Democrats and college administrators, who said that two-thirds of the savings would be at the expense of students and their families.

Even as it makes those cuts, Congress is creating a new program for students from low-income families who are eligible for Pell grants. The amount of aid will not be based on financial need. To qualify, students would have to be United States citizens, have completed ''a rigorous secondary school program of study'' and be taking courses full time at a ''degree-granting institution of higher education.''

The student would have to maintain ''a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0.'' Juniors and seniors will be eligible only if they have declared a major in the physical or life sciences, computer science, mathematics, technology, engineering or a foreign language deemed critical to national security.

College and university groups, as well as most Democrats, opposed the overall bill.

''This is the biggest cut in the history of the federal student loan program,'' said David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, an umbrella group for public and private colleges and universities.

A lobbyist at the council, Becky H. Timmons, said, ''Students will be paying higher interest rates than they are currently paying.''

The rate would be fixed at 6.8 percent for students and 8.5 percent for parents. The current rates, which vary with market conditions, are several percentage points below those levels.

The new aid for freshmen and sophomores is known as academic competitiveness grants. Freshmen would be eligible for $750 grants, and sophomores for $1,300 grants. Juniors and seniors would be eligible for $4,000 a year in what Congress calls Smart grants. The name is an acronym for ''science and mathematics access to retain talent.''

[...] The bill would not change the maximum Pell grant, which has been $4,050 for several years. President Bush had proposed a $100 increase. The bill would increase the maximum amount of subsidized loans, to $3,500 and $4,500 for first- and second-year students, from $2,625 and $3,500.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, said the math and science program would abandon the Pell grant principle that the neediest students should receive the most help.

''Under this proposal,'' Mr. Kennedy said, ''a single mother who can attend college only part time because she has to work 40 hours a week to put food on the table will not be eligible for a penny in new grant aid.''

Republicans said the budget bill squeezed far more savings from banks than from students. Representative John A. Boehner, the Ohio Republican who is chairman of the Committee on Education and the Work Force, said the bill would increase benefits for some students while saving money for taxpayers.

''Vast increases in federal student aid'' have coincided with a decade of tuition increases, Mr. Boehner said.

He suggested that federal investments in higher education had contributed to ''the college cost explosion that is squeezing the budgets of low- and middle-income families.''

Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, said the Republican proposals would make it even harder for many families to pay for college. About 70 percent of the savings in student aid ''come off the backs of students and their families,'' Mr. Miller said.

What's Wrong With This Picture?

"Pictures of George and Jack? Not yet, but Time magazine has seen them. In this photo, President Bush shares a cozy handshake with Karl Rove’s personal assistant, Susan Ralston. What’s wrong with this picture? Ralston joined the White House shortly after leaving her job as Jack Abramoff’s secretary. | See the Source Watch file on Ralston."

See also:

Truthdig - Ear to the Ground - What's Wrong With This Picture?
Source Watch: Susan Ralston.
Truthdig - Uncovered - Pay to Play With Jack
Truthdig: Abramoff’s “Cesspool of Corruption," by Robert Scheer
Truthdig: Betraying the Reagan Revolution, by Robert Scheer

Tsk Tsk to Frist

Uncovered: The Frist File

No question. You can add this self-righteous PolitiCon to the list of crooks swaggering their corrupt power in America's face.
(And he looked like such a nice guy, too.... Tsk tsk.)
"The accusations are Medicare fraud, conflict of interest and insider trading. Bill Frist’s connection to his family’s Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) has landed him in hot water and earned him a subpoena from the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

HCA Inc., an international chain of hospitals founded in 1968 by Frist’s father, Thomas Frist Sr., and brother, Thomas Frist Jr., is one of the top-10 health care services companies, ranked by sales, according to Yahoo Finance."
Photo credit: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) speaks during the taping of 'Meet the Press' at the NBC studios in Washington January 29, 2006. Senator Frist spoke about various topics including U.S. President George W. Bush's upcoming State of the Union address and the war in Iraq. REUTERS/Alex Wong/Meet the Press/Handout

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Robert Cray Music Video: When You're Used Up Where Do You Go, Soldier?

Click to watch a great music video from Robert Cray's album "Twenty," made available by the American Friends Service Committee.

Then, ask Congress to end the war by signing this letter.

Thanks for all you do, folks!

America: Armageddon by Ignorance

The excellent article (linked below) was written by Ronald Reagon's former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Paul Craig Roberts. I mention this only so that readers understand that the writer's point of view is not partisan. It is, rather, based on a keen understanding of the events that have transpired in the last 5 years under the leadership of George W. Bush.

I hope that, whatever your political leanings may be, you read this article with an open mind--and think about what Roberts is saying. He has nothing to gain politically by writing it. But there is much to gain by reading it.

An excerpt follows, but I urge you to read the entire article. (It's very short.) Let it serve as a wake-up call to anyone still duped by the lies propagated by Bush & Company and their media cohorts.

Please share this article widely.

Photo: Paul Craig Roberts.

Polls Show Many Americans are Simply Dumber Than Bush
By Paul Craig Roberts


"...Americans need desperately to understand that 95 percent of all Muslim terrorists in the world were created in the past three years by Bush's invasion of Iraq.

Americans need desperately to comprehend that if Bush attacks Iran and Syria, as he intends, terrorism will explode, and American civil liberties will disappear into a thirty year war that will bankrupt the United States.

The total lack of rationality and competence in the White House and the inability of half of the US population to acquire and understand information are far larger threats to Americans than terrorism.

America has become a rogue nation, flying blind, guided only by ignorance and hubris. A terrible catastrophe awaits."

About the Author:

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.

Other Articles by this Author:

Paul Craig Roberts Articles

Bunk, Bush, & Junkies

OK, now that MoDo and countless others have had their thousand little words of fun chastising Oprah and her Wayward Book Club and exposing another Sad Sack of Society whose pursuit of fame and money trumped his pursuit of the truth, I have one question before beating this deader-than-dead horse into oblivion: How come we find it so easy to crucify the little guy for telling a lie, but when it comes to the guy with the swollen head in the White House, spewing lies at every opportunity, we zip our lips?

The consequences of Frey's lies are miniscule compared to those of the President. Nobody we know of has died from reading Frey's fictional memoir, thanks to Mo, Larry King and various muckrakers who set the record straight before anyone could make him their newest media-darling role model.

Not true of our Chief of Deceit, who has relied on lies, like a crazed addict in search of his next fix and a new "high", to manipulate the masses to his own, self-serving ends. The consequences of his untruths are calamitous: 2238 American deaths, 16,549 wounded Americans, and up to 31,800 dead Iraqi citizens--for starters. Oh yeah, and billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars going to kill people instead of providing much needed programs to help citizens in this country or much needed aid to help citizens in other countries.

The President actually said in his last press conference, referring to Hamas winning the Palestinian election, "You can't be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform. And I know you can't be a partner in peace if your party has got an armed wing."

If that unbelievably ironic statement is a true statement, what does it say about BushCo and it's policies of pre-emptive, unilateral war? And why isn't Wolf Ditzer and his cohorts in crime raising these questions and discussing them with the American people? And if they don't, what does it say about the credibility of the press?

Maybe we should find a new way to categorize News Stories as "Non-Factual" or "Fact-Finessed Fiction" or "Believe it or Not" or "Pure Propaganda." And maybe we should recategorize the News stations and networks and journalists as "Purveyors of Bunk" or "Junkyard Jackasses."

Maybe that would be enough to jolt them out of their alternate reality existence and back into the real world, a world where truth never mattered more.

Oprah's Bunk Club

By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times
We should have known the guy was not really a bad-boy, tattooed "It's time to throw down" brawler when he had to bring his mom on the Larry King show to protect him.

On Thursday, the unmasked memoirist's proud mother was replaced by a punitive national matriarch. Watching Oprah flay Frey was riveting. At The Times and at Doubleday, staffers were glued to their TV sets.

It was a huge relief, after our long national slide into untruth and no consequences, into Swift boating and swift bucks, into W.'s delusion and denial, to see the Empress of Empathy icily hold someone accountable for lying and conning — and embarrassing her. (Though she and her producers should have known questions were raised early on about the book.)

In a society obsessed with sin and redemption, this was the superfecta: Oprah admitting her flawed judgment and rescuing her reputation, while carving up James Frey for sinning in his book about sin and redemption.

Oprah interviewed and showed taped clips of her media critics (including me) and credited her turnaround to the essay by The Times's chief book critic, Michiko Kakutani, who wrote, "It is a case about how much value contemporary culture places on the very idea of truth."

When President Bush cut into Oprah's show with a press conference, perhaps he was trying to get the focus off truth. It was truly weird to see the twin live TV moments: A disgraced author, and a commander in chief who keeps writing chapter after chapter of fictionalized propaganda.

After Nan Talese was shamed by Oprah, Doubleday said it would add two notes — one from the publisher and one from the author — before printing any more books. But it's not enough to stick on little disclaimers. The book should be recategorized, just as "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" should have been reclassified as fiction once John Berendt acknowledged all the liberties he took.

"A Million Little Pieces" and "My Friend Leonard" — the Frey "nonfiction" best seller that begins with the now-debunked jail term — should be sold as novels or fictional memoirs, the term Frederick Exley used for the great book "A Fan's Notes."

Will "A Million Little Pieces" move to the fiction category on The Times's best-seller list? The editors told me that the list was simply in the business of counting the books sold, not checking whether memoirs — from stoned rockers or spinning politicians — were mostly true. But The Times's list will indicate that Mr. Frey has admitted fabricating parts of the book.

The Frey effect chilled publishers and agents, some of whom have encouraged authors to turn novels into hot-selling memoirs.

"The decision to take on a memoir was always based on how good is the writing and how good is the story," said Christy Fletcher, a New York literary agent. "That's not enough any more."

Mr. Frey said in an interview broadcast yesterday on Oxygen that he and his agent had given the book to some publishers as a novel and some as a memoir. In the insular world of publishing, that didn't tip anyone off — because no one really wanted to be tipped off.

There was a bit of a panic among publishers this week. St. Martin's Press hurriedly put a warning sticker on Augusten Burroughs's latest memoir, "Possible Side Effects," due out this spring: "Author's note: Some of the events described happened as related, others were expanded and changed. Some of the individuals portrayed are composites of more than one person and many names and identifying characteristics have been changed as well."

Ballantine announced it would no longer ship two memoirs by Nasdijj, supposedly an inspiring Native American writer from the Southwest who said that as a child, he was "hungry, raped, beaten, whipped, and forced at every opportunity to work in the fields." The L.A. Weekly learned that Nasdijj was really Timothy Barrus, a white middle-class man from Michigan who had written gay porn.

Booksellers were also puzzling over how to proceed.

"I think it should definitely not be on the nonfiction best-seller list," said Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books in Coral Gables, Fla.

Roxanne Coady, owner of RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn., said she'd "probably reclassify it as fiction," and she thinks Doubleday should do the same: "Either it's a memoir and someone's doing their best honest job to recall things and this is how they remember it, or it's not true and it's not a memoir."

What about a third category? Non-nonfiction? Self-help and self-dramatization? Pure bunk?

Photo credit: Maureen Dowd. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Related Articles:

Friday, January 27, 2006

Bush: The State of Presidential Credibility

It's a State of Denial... Click to Watch.

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Bush Reasserts Presidential Prerogatives

"President Bush set limits yesterday on White House cooperation in three political disputes, saying he is determined to assert presidential prerogatives on such matters as domestic eavesdropping and congressional inquiries into Hurricane Katrina."

His hilariously infuriating news conference yesterday was an exercise in stuttering, double-speak, and pure jibberish--all in an attempt to 'circumvent' (sorry, Bushy, the truth hurts) nearly every question he didn't like (which was the majority of them, as usual) and turn his non-answer into a diatribe of lies or, at best, nonsense about whatever it was he wanted to talk about (more lies).

Oh how I yearn for the press conferences of JFK.... It's hard to believe they took place in the same country.

Photo credit: President Bush holds a news conference in the press briefing room at the White House, January 26, 2006. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Related articles:

How Do You Like Your Democracy Now, Mr. Bush?

Juan Cole writes that "the stunning victory of the militant Muslim fundamentalist Hamas Party in the Palestinian elections underlines the central contradictions in the Bush administration's policies toward the Middle East. Bush pushes for elections, confusing them with democracy, but seems blind to the dangers of right-wing populism."

Photo credit: (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen) Palestinian supporters of Hamas celebrate their victory in parliamentary elections on Thursday in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Something smells fishy in Abramoff Land

As reported earlier in this blog but largely ignored elsewhere, the investigation of Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican lobbyist, took a new turn on Thursday when the Justice Department said the chief prosecutor in the inquiry would step down next week because he had been nominated to a federal judgeship by President Bush.

Guess that's the trouble with the crooks investigating fellow crooks, huh?

In yesterday's press conference, the president hedged and hawed when asked whether he had ever met Jack Abramoff or taken any photos with him. When asked whether he met with lobbyists, he joked, "I try not to." Bush's laughable evasions aside, the issue underlying the push for the release of any photos of Bush and Abramoff is whether the White House was in cahoots with an unscrupulous lobbyist. We don't need photos to answer that. A new report helps connect the dots: Bush And K Street by Alexandra Walker

Related articles:

Lobbying the Supreme Court?

Just when you thought it was the end of the world as we once knew it, with a brand new ultra-right wing Supreme Court Justice-to-be Alito being pushed down our collective throats...

Just when you thought that the corruption in Washington couldn't possibly get any worse...

New unethical practices come to light --

this time involving judicial lobbying of the Supreme Court by outside Ideological interest groups.

So much for American Justice...

Read all about it in this New York Times Editorial, "Justice and Junkets".

Photo: Justice Antonin Scalia

Healthcare: Ideology vs. Reality

In Bush World, ideology trumps all. Paul Krugman (see below) explains how meaningful Healthcare reform has been victimized by that same ideology.

When common sense and facts point to an obvious universal healthcare solution, BushCo rejects reality and "fixes the facts" around their pre-conceived, non-reality-based, "pro-privatization, anti-government" biases, exactly as they "fixed the intelligence" to support a preconceived desire to wage war on Iraq.

Health Care Confidential
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
American health care is desperately in need of reform. But what form should change take? Are there any useful examples we can turn to for guidance?

Well, I know about a health care system that has been highly successful in containing costs, yet provides excellent care. And the story of this system's success provides a helpful corrective to anti-government ideology. For the government doesn't just pay the bills in this system — it runs the hospitals and clinics.

No, I'm not talking about some faraway country. The system in question is our very own Veterans Health Administration, whose success story is one of the best-kept secrets in the American policy debate.

In the 1980's and early 1990's, says an article in The American Journal of Managed Care, the V.H.A. "had a tarnished reputation of bureaucracy, inefficiency and mediocre care." But reforms beginning in the mid-1990's transformed the system, and "the V.A.'s success in improving quality, safety and value," the article says, "have allowed it to emerge as an increasingly recognized leader in health care."

Last year customer satisfaction with the veterans' health system, as measured by an annual survey conducted by the National Quality Research Center, exceeded that for private health care for the sixth year in a row. This high level of quality (which is also verified by objective measures of performance) was achieved without big budget increases. In fact, the veterans' system has managed to avoid much of the huge cost surge that has plagued the rest of U.S. medicine.

How does the V.H.A. do it?

The secret of its success is the fact that it's a universal, integrated system. Because it covers all veterans, the system doesn't need to employ legions of administrative staff to check patients' coverage and demand payment from their insurance companies. Because it's integrated, providing all forms of medical care, it has been able to take the lead in electronic record-keeping and other innovations that reduce costs, ensure effective treatment and help prevent medical errors.

Moreover, the V.H.A., as Phillip Longman put it in The Washington Monthly, "has nearly a lifetime relationship with its patients." As a result, it "actually has an incentive to invest in prevention and more effective disease management. When it does so, it isn't just saving money for somebody else. It's maximizing its own resources. ... In short, it can do what the rest of the health care sector can't seem to, which is to pursue quality systematically without threatening its own financial viability."

Oh, and one more thing: the veterans health system bargains hard with medical suppliers, and pays far less for drugs than most private insurers.

I don't want to idealize the veterans' system. In fact, there's reason to be concerned about its future: will it be given the resources it needs to cope with the flood of wounded and traumatized veterans from Iraq? But the transformation of the V.H.A. is clearly the most encouraging health policy story of the past decade. So why haven't you heard about it?

The answer, I believe, is that pundits and policy makers don't talk about the veterans' system because they can't handle the cognitive dissonance. (One prominent commentator started yelling at me when I tried to describe the system's successes in a private conversation.) For the lesson of the V.H.A.'s success story — that a government agency can deliver better care at lower cost than the private sector — runs completely counter to the pro-privatization, anti-government conventional wisdom that dominates today's Washington.

The dissonance between the dominant ideology and the realities of health care is one reason the Medicare drug legislation looks as if someone went down a checklist of things the veterans' system does right, and in each case did the opposite. For example, the V.H.A. avoids dealing with insurance companies; the drug bill shoehorns insurance companies into the program, even though they serve no real function. The V.H.A. bargains effectively on drug prices; the drug bill forbids Medicare from doing the same.

Still, ideology can't hold out against reality forever. Cries of "socialized medicine" didn't, in the end, succeed in blocking the creation of Medicare. And farsighted thinkers are already suggesting that the Veterans Health Administration, not President Bush's unrealistic vision of a system in which people go "comparative shopping" for medical care the way they do when buying tile, represents the true future of American health care.

Photo credit: Paul Krugman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Related materials:


Your donation can help place this ad in more newspapers. Please click here.

Click on Ad for larger View.
The New York Times full page ad calling for the Impeachment of George W. Bush is in today's paper (January 27, 2006). This ad not only raises the profile of the impeachment campaign but will help bring many tens of thousands of new people into the impeachment movement.

The timing for the ad is excellent. In the coming days there will be Congressional hearings which will examine the impeachable offenses of Bush & Co. The call for impeachment is now coming from all quarters. There is no doubt that Bush and his advisors are well aware that the impeachment demand is quickly becoming a widespread sentiment. They are afraid, and for good reason. We want to seize the momentum and place the ad in various other newspapers and run radio spots as well. We can do it with everyone's continued support and commitment to this campaign. If you can help, click here.

According to two recent polls the majority of Americans favor impeachment if Bush lied about the reasons for going to war in Iraq or if he engaged in illegal wiretapping. He did both. This is a people's movement. As the ad states, "The Constitution cannot defend itself. The people must act."

If every member and supporter of the impeachment movement made a donation, this ad could be placed in newspapers across the country. If you have contributed before, consider making another donation now. If you have never donated this is the time to take action. Please donate today by clicking here.

Let's increase the heat!

- VoteToImpeach/ImpeachBush.org

What Regular People Think About Bush

Nice conversation going on over at Amphetameme.org around the question: "Why do you think President Bush is so awesome?"

Please feel free to join in!

BushCo Rubs Alito in Dem Faces

The gall of it all never ceases to amaze. In the face of threats of filibusters from Senators Kerry and Kennedy, the White House is already celebrating Alito's nomination as if he were approved unanimously.

Sending Alito to pose for victory photographs with Bill Frist (R-Tenn) and other senior GOP senators, the White House didn't stop there. They brazenly renominated another highly controversial and partisan candidate, Brett M. Kavanaugh, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Previously nominiated in 2003, the Democrats fought his appointment citing his limited courtroom experience and his aiding Ken Star's efforts to dig up dirt on Clinton.

The divisive tactics continue while the President publicly has the gall to tell Americans in his press conference yesterday that he has tried his best to end the partisanship and unite the country. The blatant Karl Rove double-speak goes on....

Can this country stand three more years of BushCo's diplorable tactics and damaging policies?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hey, Whatever it takes ....

Saddam to Sue Bush and Blair!
Defense lawyers for Saddam Hussein Wednesday distributed copies of a lawsuit against President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair for destroying Iraq.

The suit accuses Bush and Blair of committing war crimes by using weapons of mass destruction and internationally-banned weapons including enriched uranium and phosphoric and cluster bombs against unarmed Iraqi civilians, notably in Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi, al-Kaem and Anbar.

The Amman-based legal team had said Sunday that the ousted president intended to start legal action against the two leaders of the Iraq war in the International Criminal Court in the Hague, but the text of the suit was made available Wednesday.

The suit also accuses the U.S. president and British prime minister of torturing Iraqi prisoners, destroying Iraq's cultural heritage with the aim of eliminating an ancient civilization, and inciting internal strife.

Bush and Blair were also accused of polluting Iraq's air, waters and environment.

The lawsuit demanded that Bush and Blair appear before court to answer the charges filed against them and requested the harshest punishment in line with Dutch legislation and the rules of international and humanitarian laws.

It also requested compensation for all material and moral damage inflicted on the Iraqi people.


A filibuster is a radical tool. It's easy to see why Democrats are frightened of it. But from our perspective, there are some things far more frightening. One of them is Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.

"W" Stands for "WRONG"

Bob Herbert says what so many have been saying--over and over again--about Dubbya. Namely, that he's Wrong, with a capital "W", for this country... or any country... or planet.... or solar system.....

Yet, it obviously needs to be said again, 'cause his sneering face is still snickering at us from inside the Oval Office....

God help us. (No, I wasn't referring to you, George).

Y' know, if this were a movie, instead of reality, nobody would believe it. And that's the truth.

A President Who Can Do No Right
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times
We should be used to it by now. There are a couple of Congressional committees trying to investigate the tragic Hurricane Katrina debacle, but the Bush administration is refusing to turn over certain documents or allow certain senior White House officials to testify before the committees under oath.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat who is by no means unfriendly to the Bush crowd, said this week, "There has been a near-total lack of cooperation that has made it impossible, in my opinion, for us to do the thorough investigation that we have a responsibility to do."

Once again the president has, in effect, flipped the bird at Congress. He's amazing. Forget such fine points as the Constitution and the separation of powers. George W. Bush does what he wants to do. He won fewer votes than Al Gore in 2000 and then governed as if he'd been elected by acclamation. He dispensed with John Kerry in 2004 by portraying himself — a man who ran and hid from the draft during Vietnam — as more of a warrior than Mr. Kerry, a decorated combat veteran of that war.

Reality has been dealt a stunning blow by Mr. Bush. The administration's high-handedness with the Katrina investigators comes at the same time as disclosures showing that the White House was warned in the hours just before the hurricane hit New Orleans that it might well cause catastrophic flooding and the breaching of the city's levees.

That was early on the morning of last Aug. 29. On Sept. 1, with the city all but completely underwater, the president went on television and blithely declared, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

This guy is something. Remember his "Top Gun" moment aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln? And his famous taunt — "Bring 'em on" — to the insurgents in Iraq? His breathtaking arrogance is exceeded only by his incompetence. And that's the real problem. That's where you'll find the mind-boggling destructiveness of this regime, in its incompetence.

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.

Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser for George H. W. Bush, counseled against the occupation of Iraq at the end of the first gulf war. As recounted in a New Yorker article last fall, he said, "At the minimum, we'd be an occupier in a hostile land. Our forces would be sniped at by guerrillas, and, once we were there, how would we get out?"

George W. Bush had no such concerns. In fact, he joked about his failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Like a frat boy making cracks about a bad bet on a football game, Mr. Bush displayed what he felt was a hilarious set of photos during a spoof that he performed at the annual dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association in March 2004.

The photos showed the president peering behind curtains and looking under furniture in the Oval Office for the missing weapons. Mr. Bush offered mock captions for the photos, saying, "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere." And, "Nope, no weapons over there, maybe under here."

This week, as the killing of American G.I.'s and innocent Iraqis continued, we learned from a draft report from the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction that, like the war itself, the Bush plan for rebuilding Iraq has been crippled by incompetence and extreme shortages of personnel. I doubt that this will bother the president any more than any of his other failures. He seems to truly believe that he can do no wrong.

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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Bush: More of the Er-Uh-Um-Duh-Same-o

George W. Bush is back on defense on the war -- accusing critics of giving "aid to the enemy," and giving staged speeches replete with lie upon lie and pregnant with awkward, stumbling pauses or outright stupidity whenever confronted with an unanticipated question. So what else is new?

Just this: ever more facts indicating we have criminals sitting in the White House. The Bush administration appears to have violated the National Security Act by limiting its briefings about a warrantless domestic eavesdropping program to congressional leaders, according to a memo from Congress's research arm that was released recently.

"Further, The Bush Administration rejected a Congressional initiative in 2002 that would have lowered the legal threshold for conducting surveillance of non-US persons under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act from 'probable cause' that the target is a terrorist or agent of a foreign power to 'reasonable suspicion.'

Administration officials said at the time that the legislative proposal was unnecessary and possibly unconstitutional."

Steven Aftergood points out that
"in a speech this week on the NSA domestic surveillance program, Deputy Director of National Intelligence Gen. Michael V. Hayden indicated that the executive branch had unilaterally adopted a similar 'reasonable suspicion' standard.

Instead of FISA's more stringent 'probable cause" requirement, the presidentially-directed NSA surveillance operation applied to international calls that "we have a reasonable basis to believe involve al Qaeda or one of its affiliates,' Gen. Hayden said on January 23.

The unexplained contradiction between the Administration's public rejection of the 'reasonable suspicion' standard for FISA, and its secret adoption of that same standard was noted yesterday by attorney and blogger Glenn Greenwald, who makes the case that the Administration's new FISA defense is factually false.

The 2002 legislative proposed, S. 2659 introduced by Rep. Michael DeWine (R-OH), "raises both significant legal and practical issues [and] the Administration at this time is not prepared to support it," said James A. Baker of the Justice Department.

Among other concerns, Mr. Baker said, "If we err in our analysis and courts were ultimately to find a 'reasonable suspicion' standard unconstitutional, we could potentially put at risk ongoing investigations and prosecutions."

The transcript and other prepared statements from that Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "Proposals to Amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act" are available here.
According to William Rivers Pitt, knowing full well that they have broken the law, "Bush and the boys have taken to the road this week to defend the indefensible. To wit: spying on American citizens without a warrant is fine and dandy, because the President can do whatever he wants, because laws are meaningless in the main, because Osama may be under your bed sharpening his cutlass. The road trip started in Kansas and will wend its way hither and yon, spreading bad information and flat-out lies at every whistle-stop."

Robert Scheer of Truthdig.com adds: "Bottom line is these guys in the Bush administration are obsessed voyeurs, poking their noses into everyone's business, whether the excuse is squelching pornography or preventing terrorism. They simply do not believe civil liberties and privacy are important. It is an executive branch power trip, and completely anti-democratic."

Meanwhile, as Bush continues to claim only he and his cabal can protect us, "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."

There's more: the United States was accused of "gangster tactics" yesterday, and European governments were accused of turning a blind eye to the "outsourcing of torture," as a human rights watchdog concluded that the CIA conducted illegal anti-terror activities in Europe.

Amazingly, despite all of this, despite the Abramoff scandal growing ever more tentacles, the ongoing CIA leak investigation, reports of illegal spying on peace groups, Google's courageous refusal to turn over private search records of its customers, and new administration scandals emerging daily--despite all of this, the Democrats can't seem to come up with a compelling message that resonates with Americans.

How about this for starters: The Bush White House has no credibility and a record of failure.

They have amassed an elephant-sized record of both--the Iraq War (lying us into it, failing to get us out of it), Katrina (too little, too late action on early warnings), the failure of our education system, the widening of the gap between the haves and have-nots, the healthcare crisis, job losses, corporate corruption, raiding the Social Security "lockbox", unprotected borders, a broken army, shredding the constitution and individual rights -- the list goes on and on.

Rove has stated his plans to continue to claim that only Republicans are tough enough to fight the war on terror, characterizing the Democrats as too "soft."

The Democrats need only to reframe the issue: It's not a matter of strength. It's a matter of smarts. It's not a matter of who's tougher on security. It's a matter of who's smarter on security.

The Republicans have proved by their litany of failures that they do not have the smarts to do the job. They know how to act tough, to bully other countries, to bully congress and their own citizens -- but what have they accomplished? They have not even found Osama bin Laden!

Rather, they have aided the recruitment of terrorists all over the world by arrogantly barging their way into other nations' business in their insatiable quest for oil, money and power. So far, they have weakened our country, made it more dependent than ever on ever more expensive oil, made America more vulnerable to the growing and mostly ignored real threats of Iran and Korea, and changed our image in the world from an admirable country to an abhorant one.

Real smart, huh?