Friday, September 30, 2005

Who was on the Grand Jury that indicted DeLay?

Billmon presents an excerpt from an Austin, TX TV station website.

The point is, Ronnie Earle did not indict Tom DeLay. A grand jury did.

A vist to the Lake of Fire

Hunter responds to the right-wing threats in defense of Tom DeLay.

It is the right wing which brought the vitriol and the politics of personal destruction into the mainstream of American National politics. Now, when they find the criminal Tom DeLay indicted for the system he set up (conspiracy - The act of two or more people planning a crime together. The crime need not necessarily be committed in order for there to have been a conspiracy.) they whine that Democrats are dangerously playing with matches close to a lake of gasoline.

Go read Hunter's response.

Karen Hughes visits the Middle East

Pat Lang presents a Sidney Blumenthal evaluation of how Karen Hughes is traveling the Middle East, attempting to improve America's image, and in her ignorance feeding right into the propaganda that makes al Qaeda and bin Laden dangerous.

Instead of an understanding of terrorism and of the Middle East, she is proving her total loyality to Bush by spreading her religiosity and the view that America is the greatest nation in the world.
Hughes' simple, sincere and unadorned language is pellucid in revealing the administration's inner mind. Her ideas on terrorism and its solution are straightforward. "Terrorists," she said in Egypt at the start of her trip, "their policies force young people, other people's daughters and sons, to strap on bombs and blow themselves up." Somehow, magically, these evildoers coerce the young to commit suicide. If only they would understand us, the tensions would dissolve. "Many people around the world do not understand the important role that faith plays in Americans' lives," she said. When an Egyptian opposition leader inquired why President Bush mentions God in his speeches, she asked him "whether he was aware that previous American presidents have also cited God, and that our Constitution cites 'one nation under God.' He said, 'Well, never mind.'"

With these well-meaning arguments, Hughes has provided the exact proof for what Osama bin Laden has claimed about American motives. "It is stunning ... the extent [to which] Hughes is helping bin Laden," Robert Pape told me. Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist who has conducted the most extensive research into the backgrounds and motives of suicide terrorists, is the author of "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," and recently briefed the Pentagon and the National Counterterrorism Center. "If you set out to help bin Laden," he said, "you could not have done it better than Hughes."

Pape's research debunks the view that suicide terrorism is the natural byproduct of Islamic fundamentalism or some "Islamo-fascist" ideological strain independent of certain highly specific circumstances. "Of the key conditions that lead to suicide terrorism in particular, there must be, first, the presence of foreign combat forces on the territory that the terrorists prize. The second condition is a religious difference between the combat forces and the local community. The religious difference matters in that it enables terrorist leaders to paint foreign forces as being driven by religious goals. If you read Osama's speeches, they begin with descriptions of the U.S. occupation of the Arabian Peninsula, driven by our religious goals, and that it is our religious purpose that must confronted. That argument is incredibly powerful not only to religious Muslims but secular Muslims. Everything Hughes says makes their case."
Keep always in mind that the Christian Republican right-wing took control of the Texas Republican Party over two decades ago. No Republican gets statewide elective office without the approval of the right-wing Christian fundamentalists.

Karen Hughes is an example of that mindset. They consider "Faith" to be superior to knowledge and understanding, and expect the rest of us to bow down to their "superiority."

More on Economics

This is a minority view so far, but I am a contrarian usually. From Knight Ridder.
WASHINGTON - Economic forecasters and Wall Street analysts are quietly hedging their bets after months of rosy reports about a vibrant U.S. economic outlook. They're now mentioning the growing possibility of recession ahead.

Why? Soaring gasoline prices, nightmarish home-heating costs this winter, plunging consumer confidence, rising interest rates and falling new-home sales.
"People are starting to hedge bets. Obviously it's an uncertain time," said Jay Bryson, global economist for Wachovia, the big bank based in Charlotte, N.C.

Ed Yardeni, a veteran Wall Street seer who's now with Oak Associates Ltd., rose to prominence in years past largely on bullish forecasts, but since Rita hit, he sounds decidedly bearish.

"The U.S. economy has been remarkably resilient in recent years, but consumers may start to postpone discretionary spending to build some cushion to pay their higher heating bills on top of paying more to fill up their gasoline tanks," he wrote to investors this week. "In other words, I am not sure that the economy is resilient enough to withstand the one-two punches from the Katrina/Rita tag team."

Yardeni said it was "increasingly likely" that the U.S. economy soon could face a six-month bout of stagflation - in which prices rise but wages and hiring stagnate - the economic curse of the 1970s.

Much gloomier is Philip Verleger, a veteran energy analyst at the Institute for International Economics, a nonpartisan research center. He predicted today's energy crunch more than three years ago, and now sees an economy saddled with dangerous parallels to President Lyndon B. Johnson's in the mid-1960s.

LBJ launched his ambitious Great Society domestic-spending program while fighting a costly war in Vietnam. The economy couldn't underwrite it all, leading to tax hikes, price spikes and a 15-year battle to control inflation. Today's parallel is costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast and soaring federal deficits.

"This is the setup for 1966, 1967, 1968," Verleger said, pointing to pledges by the president and lawmakers to spend whatever it costs to rebuild the Gulf Coast. "If Congress goes ahead and spends another $200 billion and doesn't pay for it, it's just what LBJ did."

Economist Nigel Gault, with Global Insight Inc., in Boston, expects a slowdown, but only a short one - probably.

"The reason it (recession) gets mentioned ... (energy price) movements of this sort of magnitude usually would be associated with recession. So you do have to start asking the question," Gault said. "The question needs to be asked, even if we think things are different on this occasion."
The article goes on to present a few optimistic views before the pessimistic concludion. There may be some mitigating factors, but they strike me as unlikely to change the overall direction of economic events. I'm betting on a recession, with possible stagflation in the near future.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Kleiman on the Republican corruption machine

Mark Kleimann adds to Josh Marshall's discussion on the Republican money manchine.
Josh Marshall has the nub of it: the Bush/Rove/Norquist/Abramoff/DeLay operation is fundamentally a political money machine, and all the financial scandals have their common root in that simple fact. The right comparison in that regard isn't to Nixon, but to the Mark Hanna machine of the Gilded Age.

That's only half the story, though. The other half is the intention of the current wrecking crew to intimidate, discredit, or destroy every institution that might possibly stand in the way of the permanent consolidation of power by the new oligarchy: the Democratic party, labor unions, trial lawyers, the courts, the universities, the mainstream media, and any individual civil servant or officer (e.g., Gen. Eric Shinseki, Larry Greenfeld of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Bunny Greenhouse of the Corps of Engineers) or Executive-branch agency (e.g., the State Department, the CIA) that displays allegiance to the nation rather than the oligarchs.

That intention to brook no opposition is the deeper significace of the "K Street Project," the well-publicized attempt to make Democratic lobbyists unemployable by threatening their clients with legislative reprisal.

In this context, the belief that the oligarchs' imagination might extend to he systematic miscounting of unauditable electronic votes doesn't seem quite as far-fetched as it otherwise might.

[...]consider the fact that Jack Abramoff's partner seems to have hired a Gotti-connected hit man to bump off a business rival, and that a senior federal prosecutor who got too close to Abramoff suddenly found himself demoted and forbidden to work on corruption cases.

Take all of that in context with the previous posts I have made.

There is a pattern of lawlessness, authortarianism and corruption here, and it is all wrapped in the Republican Party.

More investigations into Republicans coming due

The Washington Post reports that Austin, Texas DA Ronnie Earle's grand jury is coming to the end of its term and is beginning to look at possible conspiracy charges.

Until now, Tom DeLay could not be indicted by the grand jury investigating TRMPAC and illegal campaign contributions because they were being brought under state law. Apparently conspiracy can rope DeLay in.

The Washington Post reports that three men have been arrested in connetion with the assasination of the man who sold the cruise line in Florida to a consortium led by Jack Abramoff.
Fort Lauderdale police said yesterday that they charged three men in the 2001 gangland-style slaying of a Florida businessman who was gunned down in his car months after selling a casino cruise line to a group that included Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis was killed on a Fort Lauderdale street on Feb. 6, 2001. Two of the three men charged had been hired as consultants by Adam Kidan, one of Abramoff's partners in the SunCruz Casinos venture.
Other than the sale of the cruise line, the connection to Abramoff and the Republican Party is not yet clear.

Economics - hope this is temporary

Consumer Confidence dropped 20% in a month, and New Housing sales dropped also. Consumer sales and sales of new homes have been the only thing keeping the economy in positive territory. Kevin Drum.

Consumer confidence may be hurricane related, and probably also reflects the sharp increase in gasoline prices. The reduction in new home sales may reflect the same factors mixed with all the discussion of the Housing Bubble.

This isn't a trend.


Monday, September 26, 2005

The K-Street Project funds the Republican national machine

This article describes the K-Street Project.

This relates to the Jack Abramoff scandal and the TRMPAC scandal in Texas. More to the point, it shows how Jack Abramoff has been running a slush fund for the Republican National Party.

This is on top of the scandals involving Rep. Congressmen Bob Ney and Randy "Duke" Cunningham, or the scandals of the Illinois governor Ryan,, Kentucky governor Fletcher, or others.

There is also the previous:

Sunday, September 25, 2005

How does the Republican political machine handle money?

One major player was Jack Abramoff who managed a slush fund for Tom DeLay and the Republican Party. Josh Marshall explains.

We are beginning to get the outlines of the Abramoff slush funds. Ronnie Earle, the Travis County TX District Attorney, has exposed another. (TRMPAC and the Texas Business Association created by Tom deLay and working to elect Tom Craddick and the Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives.)

How many others are there?

American troops abuse Iraqi prisoners

The problem at abu Ghraib was not some rogue reservists who stepped out of line. The problem was either a failure of command and control - or it was a specific policy by the Bush/Rumsfeld administration being carried out. I said that when the abu Ghraib pictures came out, and this report strongly demonstrates the truth of that statement. How can Americans be acting this way?

From the LA Times:
When Army Capt. Ian Fishback told his company and battalion commanders that soldiers were abusing Iraqi prisoners in violation of the Geneva Convention, he says, they told him those rules were easily skirted.

When he wrote a memo saying Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was wrong in telling Congress that the Army follows the Geneva dictates, his lieutenant colonel responded only: "I am aware of Fishback's concerns."

And when Fishback found himself in the same room as Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey at Ft. Benning, Ga., he again complained about prisoner abuse. He said Harvey told him that "corrective action was already taken."

At every turn, it seemed, the decorated young West Point graduate, the son of a Vietnam War veteran from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, whose wife is serving with the Army in Iraq, felt that the military had shut him out.
The reports show that the same thing is happening in a lot more places than in just one military prison. That clearly shows it is either policy or it is being condoned by the commanders.

Billmon wrote about it yesterday.
There was a time when I would have argued that the American people couldn't stomach that kind of butchery -- not for long anyway -- even if their political leaders were willing to inflict it. But now I'm not so sure. As a nation, we may be so desensitized to violence, and so inured to mechanized carnage on a grand scale, that we're psychologically capable of tolerating genocidal warfare against any one who can successfully be labeled as a "terrorist." Or at least, a sizable enough fraction of the America public may be willing to tolerate it, or applaud it, to make the costs politically bearable.
Many Americans ask how the German people could accept the Nazi Final Solution without speaking out. Perhaps, looking at what some Americans are willing to do to prisoners, that question will be a little easier to answer. You fear speaking out, harden your heart and just look away - if you don't join them.

The decisions involved don't seem much more difficult for a lot of people than for a tobacco executive to deny that cigarettes cause cancer in front of a Senate Committee.

Pogo: We have seen the enemy, and he is us.

Bush was retrained to appear concerned

Bush has flown to Texas to do "I am concerned and I am in charge" photo-ops for Rita. NY Times. Think maybe someone showed him the picture of him playing the guitar as people died in New Orleans and suggested that it was not taken too well?

Look, the guy reads his speeches and pretends he understands them. I guess that with good lighting, an appropriate background chosen by advance guys and a genius of a photographer he can also appear to be in charge without understanding the problem. You can do almost anything with lighting - except make Bush into a competent President and leader.

There will be no civil war in Iraq - per Robert Fisk

There will not be a civil war in Iraq. There never has been a civil war in Iraq. In 1920, Lloyd George warned of civil war in Iraq if the British Army left. Just as the Americans now threaten the Iraqis with civil war if they leave. As early as 2003, American spokesmen warned that there would be civil war if US forces left.
This is according to Robert Fisk at the Independent.

Since he has repeatedly skewered the British and American disinformation programs out of Iraq, it should be no surprise that the American Department of Homeland Security barred him from entry to the U.S. a few days ago stating that "his papers were not in order." according to political journalist Doug Ireland.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Frist lied about not knowing what was in 'blind' trust

Sen. Frist placed his HCA stock (HCA) in blind trust to avoid conflict of interest as a Senator, then told the public in 2002 that he did not know what was in the trust. His June 13, 2005 directive to the trustees to sell all HCA stock just weeks prior to release by HCA of financial reports that caused a sharp drop in HCA stock value shows that he lied in 2002. He knew his HCA stock was still there. The timing of the directive suggests that he was acting on insider information when he directed the sale.

Recently obtained documents verify that he was updated on the contents of the so-called blind trust shortly before stating publicly that he did not know what investments the trust contained.

Associated Press Sat Sep 24,11:33 AM ET

WASHINGTON - Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., was updated several times about his investments in blind trusts during 2002, the last time two weeks before he publicly denied any knowledge of what was in the accounts, documents show.
An earlier report from USA Today Money stated
The company (HCA), said Friday that federal prosecutors for the Southern District of New York had issued a subpoena for documents HCA believes are related to the sale of its stock by the senator.

The SEC also contacted HCA on Friday to informally request copies of the subpoenaed documents, HCA spokesman Jeff Prescott said. "We of course will comply with that request," he said.

Frist traded using only public information, and only to eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest, Stevenson said.
Eliminating conflict of interest was the reason the stocks were in a "blind" trust in the first place. Every time he voted on Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement or procedures he was aware that his vote would effect his personal wealth.

From the Associated Press Sept. 22, 2005 published in the NY Times.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- When Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist asked a trustee to sell all his stock in his family's hospital corporation, a large-scale sell-off by HCA Inc. insiders was under way.

Shares of the Nashville, Tenn.-based hospital company were near a 52-week peak in June when Frist and HCA insiders were selling off their shares -- just about a month before the price dropped.[...]

On June 13, Frist asked his trustees to sell his HCA holdings, as well as those of his wife and children. Letters from his trustees on July 1 and July 8 confirmed the sales, said Frist spokeswoman Amy Call.
Even directing his trustees to make the sale of HCA stock in his "blind" trust based on only public information would mean he lied to the public in 2002 when he said he did not know what was in the blind trust. Adding to the dishonesty the lie represents, he sold when the stock was at its highest price before HCA presented public financial reports that caused the stock price to drop shortly.

After he has demonstrated that level of dishonesty, does anyone really believe that he did not have insider information before directing that the HCA stock be sold just prior to the announcement of poor earnings that caused a drop in the stock price?

Everyone who bought the stock his trust sold was defrauded.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Did Bush steal the 2004 election?

The following is from the National Cyber Alert System Cyber Security Bulletin SB04-252 published September 2004.
A vulnerability exists due to an undocumented backdoor account, which could a local or remote authenticated malicious user modify votes.
No workaround or patch available at time of publishing.

We are not aware of any exploits for this vulnerability.
This was posted on The Brad Blog recently:
In exclusive stunning admissions to The BRAD BLOG some 11 months after the 2004 Presidential Election, a "Diebold Insider" is now finally speaking out for the first time about the alarming security flaws within Diebold, Inc's electronic voting systems, software and machinery. The source is acknowledging that the company's "upper management" -- as well as "top government officials" -- were keenly aware of the "undocumented backdoor" in Diebold's main "GEM Central Tabulator" software well prior to the 2004 election.
This was posted on
On November 9, 2003, the New York Times reported: "In mid-August, Walden W. O'Dell, the chief executive of Diebold Inc., sat down at his computer to compose a letter inviting 100 wealthy and politically inclined friends to a Republican Party fund-raiser, to be held at his home in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. 'I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year,' wrote Mr. O'Dell, whose company is based in Canton, Ohio. That is hardly unusual for Mr. O'Dell. A longtime Republican, he is a member of President Bush's 'Rangers and Pioneers,' an elite group of loyalists who have raised at least $100,000 each for the 2004 race. But it is not the only way that Mr. O'Dell is involved in the election process. Through Diebold Election Systems, a subsidiary in McKinney, Tex., his company is among the country's biggest suppliers of paperless, touch-screen voting machines. Judging from Federal Election Commission data, at least 8 million people will cast their ballots using Diebold machines next November. ... Some people find Mr. O'Dell's pairing of interests -- as voting-machine magnate and devoted Republican fund-raiser -- troubling." New York Times [now in fee archives.]

On November 3, 2004, Reuters reported: "Voters across the United States reported problems with electronic touch-screen systems on Tuesday in what critics said could be a sign that the machines used by one-third of the population were prone to error.... "
Common Dreams.

On October 24, 2004, the Palm Beach Post reported: "A federal judge
on Monday rejected U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler's claim that paperless
electronic voting violates the constitutional rights of
Floridians...." Palm Beach Post.

On November 3, 2004, Thomas Crampton wrote in the International Herald Tribune: "The global implications of the U.S. election are undeniable, but international monitors at a polling station in southern Florida said Tuesday that voting procedures being used in the extremely close contest fell short in many ways of the best global practices...."
International Herald Tribune.

For more information, contact at the
Institute for Public Accuracy
Sam Husseini (202) 347-0020, (202) 421-6858
or David Zupan (541) 484-9167
Then we get this from Consortium News

Theoretically at least, it is conceivable that sophisticated CIA-style computer hacking – known as “cyber-warfare” – could have let George W. Bush’s campaign transform a three-percentage-point defeat, as measured by exit polls, into an official victory of about the same margin.

Whether such a scheme is feasible, however, is another matter, since it would require penetration of hundreds of local computer systems across the country, presumably from a single remote location. The known CIA successes in cyber-war have come from targeting a specific bank account or from shutting down an adversary’s computer system, not from altering data simultaneously in a large number of computers.

To achieve that kind of result, cyber-war experts say, a preprogrammed “kernel of brain” would have to be inserted into election computers beforehand or teams of hackers would be needed to penetrate the lightly protected systems, targeting touch-screen systems without a paper backup for verifying the numbers. [More on “cyber-war” techniques below.]

Though there's still no proof of such a cyber-attack, suspicions are growing that the U.S. presidential election results were manipulated to some degree. Voting analyses of some precincts in Florida and Ohio have found surprisingly high percentages for Bush. Others have noted that the large turnout among young voters and the obvious enthusiasm of John Kerry’s voters would have suggested a better showing for the Democrat.

Exit Polls

But the most perplexing fact is that exit polls into the evening of Nov. 2 showed Kerry rolling to a clear victory nationally and carrying most of the battleground states, including Florida and Ohio, whose totals would have ensured Kerry’s victory in the Electoral College.

Significantly, polls also showed Republicans carrying the bulk of the tight Senate races. However, when the official results were tallied, the presidential exit polls proved wrong while the Senate polls proved right.

Explanations from the architects of the exit-poll sampling system also sound specious. Their report said Kerry voters were simply more willing than Bush voters to answer the exit pollsters’ questions. But this “chattiness thesis” seems more like a post-facto excuse than a serious argument.

Another explanation from some pundits was that the exit polls were adjusted by late in the day to rectify pro-Kerry exaggerations from the earlier samples. But that is not what happened. As the New York Times reported, “The presumption of a Kerry victory built a head of steam late in the day, when the national survey showed the senator with a statistically significant lead, one falling outside the survey’s margin of error."

Washington Post managing editor Steve Coll wrote in an online chat on Nov. 3 that “the last wave of national exit polls we received … showed Kerry winning the popular vote by 51 percent to 48 percent – if true, surely enough to carry the Electoral College.” [NYT, Nov. 5, 2004]

Through the late afternoon, exit polls did show Kerry’s lead in some swing states shrinking, For instance, his lead in Ohio slipped from four points to one point. In Florida, his lead dropped from three points to one point. However, his edge in the popular vote seems to have held fairly steady at about three percent.

During the day, even Bush’s aides informed the president that he was losing the election by about three percentage points, according to a source with access to information inside the White House. But Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove reportedly voiced confidence that the vote would turn around. By evening, Bush was displaying a cool confidence that he would prevail.
I was waiting for reasonable evidence that the election was stolen. I am now about 95% convinced that it was, and apparently President Carter is certain that Al Gore won in 2000. That means that besides being the worst President Ameica ever had, as will as being incompetent he is not even the legitimate President.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bush White House is not ready for Bird Flu

This was in the Houson Chronicle. It is extremely important.
Sept. 20, 2005, 11:18PM

In face of killer flu threat, Bush speech was for birds -- U.S. finally addresses pandemic, but is it too late?


The most important speech President Bush gave last week was not the prime-time address from Jackson Square in New Orleans. The world will little note nor long remember what he said there. It was stagey and prosaic, and his words were artificially elevated in importance by the passing political moment, not the substance of his remarks.

The most important speech Bush gave last week was delivered at the United Nations. It contained an ominous reference, which very few people seem to have noticed. The president signalled his concern over a new threat currently building in southeast Asia — and this time the threat has nothing to do with terrorism.

In the poultry farms of Vietnam and Thailand, in the slums of Indonesia, along the migratory routes of wild fowl in China, a new strain of bird flu is mutating and spreading. It's just a matter of time, scientists say, before the strain — H5N1, the most virulent form of influenza ever identified — will fully lodge itself within the human population. When that happens, start looking for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalyse — in particular, the one named Pestilence who's riding a pale horse.

This is not your ordinary, off-the-shelf, garden variety flu strain. It's a superbug. Currently, the virus is transmitted to humans only through direct contact with birds. Up until now, there's been very little to worry about unless you work with chickens in Thailand, or you eat Vietnamese delicacies such as uncoagulated duck blood soup. But scientists tell us that the virus is mutating, and it will soon become a human-to-human contagion that's spread the old-fashioned way — by nose, hand and mouth.

And here's what's really disturbing. The documented mortality rate from the current oubreak in southeast Asia is around 55 percent. Even if the bug is less virulent in its mutated form (which is likely), H5N1 could well be as contagious and deadly as smallpox.

The virus is poised to make its way around the world, killing perhaps hundreds of millions in its wake. There are no human antibodies for the virus, and there is no vaccine. The only drug known to be effective in treating the symptoms is Tamiflu, which governments around the world have been quietly and aggressively stockpiling for the past two years. Governments, that is, except our own.

While France and Canada and Australia have been amassing doses of Tamiflu, we've been fixated on preventing bioterrorism threats such as anthrax. France has a population of 60 million, but will soon have 12 million doses of Tamiflu on hand. For our own population of nearly 300 million, we have a paltry 2.5 million doses. That's a 24 to 1 advantage for the French.
This is scary. Keep informed of it.

The Next Hurrah.

Is Bush drinking again?

This article reports that Bush is under great stress and has resorted to drining again.
Bush, who said he quit drinking the morning after his 40th birthday, has started boozing amid the Katrina catastrophe.

Family sources have told how the 59-year-old president was caught by First Lady Laura downing a shot of booze at their family ranch in Crawford, Texas, when he learned of the hurricane disaster.

His worried wife yelled at him: "Stop, George."

Following the shocking incident, disclosed here for the first time, Laura privately warned her husband against "falling off the wagon" and vowed to travel with him more often so that she can keep an eye on Dubya, the sources add.
Of course, this report is in the National Inquirer.

Remember, though, that after they lost a libel suit to Carol Burnett for reporting that she had appeared drunk in public some 25 or so years ago, they put in place a training program for their editors and reporters and every story published is vetted by their lawyers. They have not been successfully sued since the Burnett case.

Safavian to be used to get Abramoff, others

The Republicans are beginning to really worry about the investigations surrounding Jack Abramoff. The recent indictment of David Safavian is probably an effort to flip him so that he will lead the investigators to someone higher on the food chain. Kos pulls some of the blogs about the case together.

Bloomberg says this about the Abramoff investigation and the Republicans:
Sept. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The widening investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff is moving beyond the confines of tawdry influence-peddling to threaten leading figures in the Republican hierarchy that dominates Washington.

This week's arrest of David Safavian, the former head of procurement at the Office of Management and Budget, in connection with a land deal involving Abramoff brings the probe to the White House for the first time.

Safavian once worked with Abramoff at one lobbying firm and was a partner of Grover Norquist, a national Republican strategist with close ties to the White House, at another. Safavian traveled to Scotland in 2002 with Abramoff, Representative Robert Ney of Ohio and another top Republican organizer, Ralph Reed, southeast regional head of President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who once called Abramoff "one of my closest and dearest friends," already figures prominently in the investigation of the lobbyist's links to Republicans. The probe may singe other lawmakers with ties to Abramoff, such as Republican Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, as well as Ney.
Now if Fitzgerald will just bring out his indictments in the Rove-Plame case and this pans out....

Global warming is real. Only fools question it now.

Kenneth Anderson writes the following:
the imagery of the arctic ice pack that Christian presented was most assuredly evidence of global warming. She presented two Landsat (I think) images of the arctic ice pack, one from September 1991 and another from September 2001. The differences could only be more striking if the latter image had no ice at all. It was truly frightening. But the interesting aspect of this part of the talk was Christian stating that, amongst the arctic nations, there was no disagreement as to whether global warming was happening or whether the arctic ice pack was shrinking. It was. And every state department from every arctic nation was well past such arguments; the ice cap had shrunk, now how do we exploit that? The real discussion taking place within these governments was how to now specify the newly available shipping lanes and negotiators from Canada, the US, Russia, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland are now developing specifications for such shipping lanes (where bilge purges can occur, etc.).

That was an eye opener. While the State Department of the United States is actively engaged in negotiations about how best to use newly available arctic shipping lanes, George Bush and company still insist that there is doubt that global warming is real. George, you need to check in and see what the State Department is up to these days.
So the real question is how do we get back to "reality-based" government?

Want evidence of global warming that you can see? The Gulf of Mexico is half a degree centigrade warmer than ten years ago. Warm water adds energy to hurricanes. Both Katrina and Rita were category 1 and 2 hurricanes when they hit Florida. Both immediately jumped to category 5 as soon as they entered the warmer Gulf of Mexico.

Santorum splits with White House on Social Security

Rick Santorum has attacked the Bush strategy for Social Security reform.

It's hard to see that as anything except a major split in Republican ranks between Santorum in the Senate and the White House. That split probably says Social Security privatization cannot be passed. It also says that Rick Santorum, in a race for his political life in 2006, is running away from the President.

Why does Bush have his rabid following?

Over at Kevin Drums political Animal he wrote about Andrew Sullivans' comment in which Sullivan almost but not quite called Bush a Fascist. There were over 80 comments, including This one by Apollo 13 listing the characteristics of the Authoritarian Personality. It fits a large number of the Bush followers, and I got to wondering why they would react that way.
This was my conclusion as I look at American history since 1950.

Looking at Appollo 13's description of the Authoritarian Personality above, that is what you would find if lower middle class people as a class feel extremly threatened. They are reacting as though their whole life-style were under attack and they had no way to deal with it.

The rigidity of thought and traditional values are an effort to resist change and go back to an idealized, safer past. The oversimplified thinking is the result of stress. The fight-or-flight mechanism that kicks in from stress cuts out the ability to perform higher thought, so that you are left doing the things you already know how to do well. The need for a strong leader and a group to belong to is an effort to maintain a stable environment.

So what does the lower middle class have to be afraid of? The Post WWII economic gains ended for them in the 60's and are not coming back. Feminisim and the pill threatens their settled family roles, as does abortion on demand. The Civil Rights movement still upsets them as destroying the old order. America, the strongest nation on Earth, got its butt kicked in Viet Nam, and the President (Nixon) was overthrown. Probably the assasination of Kennedy fits into that also, but less so. Then the inflation of the 70's hurt, and the stagflation of the late 70's and early 80's severely damaged a lot of small businesses and farms. Small farms are disappearing, and small businesses are being WalMarted out of existance.

Reagan was a savior to these people. He stopped stagflation, stepped on Civil Rights, played the race card very nicely, and helped to kill the ERA amendment. He also built up the military and brought down the USSR. Bush I was supposed to continue that, but wasn't able to deliver the economics and low taxes. Still, Bill Clinton was everything these people absolutely feared, and his election and economic success infuriated them.
Bush II has been a return to Reaganism in spades. Authoritarian personalities are also drewn to fundamentalist religion for the same reason - social stability. Bush combined the economic and strong military philosophies of Reaganism with an appeal to fundamentalist religion.

This was a weak replacement for Clinton, but the anger at Clinton had to be expressed and the Supreme Court broke the tie. Then 9/11 jacked up the fear and social instability, throwing us into a whole new world and leaving a lot more people searching for a strong leader - one Kerry never offered them.

The on-going war in Iraq, the weak economy with poor employment and the failed effort to recover from Katrina have left Bush II's appearance as a strong leader in tatters. But he has Rove and three years to recover. The Democrats are not offering any counter-leader.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Is race the reason America has no national health care?

Digby provides the answer with some statistics.

Army to recruit high school dropouts now

The Army is trying to expand the number of potential qualified candidates to be recruited. Until now a candidate had to have a high school diploma, or 10% could have a GED. Now the GED is no longer required.
If an individual has been out of high school for at least six months, can pass a physical exam and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, he or she may be eligible for help getting a GED.

The program allows recruiters to enlist a high school dropout, according to S. Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command. But the enlistee must have the GED before shipping off to basic training. The Army will pay for individuals to attend a course to prepare for the GED test and will cover the cost of taking the GED exam.

Before attending the GED course on the Army’s tab, the person must enlist into the Army’s delayed entry program, Smith said.
The military can't get a draft passed through Congress, so they are lowering the standards.

Pentagon doesn't want us to know something

The Senate was to have hearings today about Able-Danger the secret project the Pentagon had going in 2000 to identify al Qaeda operatives. Allegedly they identified and located Mohammed Atta, the leader of the al Qaeda team that pulled off 9/11 by name and al Qaeda affiliation a year prior to 9/11. Then the program was shut down and the information never given to the FBI Counterterrorism unit and never passed up to the National Security Council.

Today, the Pentagon order the people who knew anything about Able-Danger to not testify before the Senate.

The last minute orders are themselves suspicions. Someone doesn't want the American public to know what was known before 9/11. This adds to the suspicious nature of the items I listed in Why did the Bush administration leave Zarqawi alive?
This is a Cheney, Rice, and Rumsfeld at the Pentagon operation and had nothing to do with any danger of letting Intelligence sources and methods be exposed. It is internal American politics and the Bush administration is in it up to their necks.

I have surrendered. She beat me.

Mitzi, the five pound tabby who rules this house with a paw of iron has made her decision, and I have had to accept it. I earlier reported the story last week at tried to switch brands of cat food.

First I tried generic. OK. That is understandable. No telling what it was. So I switched to 9-Lives. Again, no-go.

Not only will she not eat it, she harrasses me. She follows me around, hopes on the counter top and reached out a paw to gently tap my arm. Or she waits until I am lying on the bed reading and runs in and lands on my chest. She didn't do that when she was getting Friskies dry food.

It has been a long week, and she is more stubborn than I am. I give up. I just stocked up on Friskies.

Cat 1
Me 0

But I kept a box of 9-Lives in case I get griped at her.

Comparing Bush to Mussolinni

The Prudent Bear continued to compare the Bush admininstration to the Fascist government of Mussolini and others. While the characteristics fitm he goes on to suggest that the real problem is that Bush is governing in panic and political expediency, primarily by throwning money at each problem without bothering to figure out where the money will come from. Bush keeps hitting problems he doesn't know what to do about.

Andrew Sullivan said this about it:
"CORPORATIST CRONYISM": An arresting analysis of the Bush administration's governing "philosophy." More like Spain and Italy in the 1930s than anything resembling Anglo-American conservatism.

But here is Prudent Bear's take:
The reconstruction of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama provides a fascinating picture of how the Bush administration actually works. His government represents an odd melding of corporatism and cronyism, more in tune with the workings of 1930s Italy or Spain. In fact, if one looks at fascist regimes of the 20th century, it is appears that the Bush administration draws more from these sources than traditional conservatism. Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
8. Religion and Government are intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.
9. Corporate Power is protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
10. Labor Power is suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.
(Source: The Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism, Dr. Lawrence Britt, Spring 2003, Free Inquiry)

Perhaps it is unfair to characterise the Bush Presidency in these terms, because it would imply the existence of a coherent governing philosophy. In fact, the President’s actions in regard to the “war on terror”, Iraq, and now the reconstruction efforts in the Gulf basin smack of panic and political expediency: When there’s a problem, throw money at it. For all of the talk about the President “accepting responsibility” for the fiasco, his speech was certainly no Trumanesque “The buck stops here” oratory; it was rather a promise to rebuild New Orleans with other people’s money, saying that his people (not the President himself, mind you) had made mistakes and they would fix them. Of course, part of the point of fiscal responsibility, after all, is that disasters do happen and the government should have fiscal leeway to respond to them. But the US today has no leeway at all, thanks to this president and his party. The “compassion and resolve of our nation” are amply demonstrated by a whopping huge expenditure, the costs of which are to be imposed on future generations of American taxpayers. Or more accurately, coming during a week which also saw the annual rate of growth in the current account deficit hitting nearly $750 billion, (more than 6% of GDP), the President’s latest act of “compassionate conservatism” puts the rest of the world on notice that it is going to have to stump up even more credit for this Argentina of the northern hemisphere. One wonders whether these particular creditors’ goodwill is likely to prove as durable as the levees of New Orleans.

The anti-David Brooks article

If, like me, you read David Brooks latest editorial and wonder what planet he woke up in and what he had been drinking last night [“A Bushian Laboratory”, September 18, 2005)] The Prudent Bear has a much better evaluation of the Bush administration.

For all of the talk of the President’s radical foreign policy, an even more remarkable metamorphosis has taken place domestically: The Republican Party has come full circle from, "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem" to an acceptance of the primacy of government responsibility for all things. The man elected ostensibly to curb the excesses of the “spendthrift Democrats” has presided over an expansion the likes of which put FDR and LBJ to shame. According to the Heritage Foundation (not exactly a liberal propagandist), the rebuilding effort in New Orleans follows a 33 percent expansion of the federal government since 2001, a period that saw:
  • The 2001 No Child Behind Act, the most expensive education bill in American history, which led to a 100 percent increase in education spending;
  • The 2002 Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, the most expensive farm bill in American history;
  • The 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, the most expensive Great Society expansion in history;
  • A war in and the rebuilding of Iraq that, while justified, could cost between $300 and $600 billion, in total;
  • International spending leap 94 percent;
  • Housing and Commerce spending surge 86 percent;
    Community and regional development spending jump 71 percent;
    Health research spending increase 61 percent;
  • Veterans’ spending increase 51 percent; and
  • The number of annual pork projects leap from 6,000 to 14,000.
This from a Federal government, which has hitherto shown a singular inability to conduct an evacuation and relief effort properly, but is now expected to lead the way in reconstructing New Orleans, a city in which the school system is virtually bankrupt and racked by corruption (the U.S. Education Department reported in February that $70-million in federal funds for low-income students had been misspent or could not be accounted for), presumably to be part-administered by a mayor whose stunning failure to mobilize resources to evacuate car-less residents and hospital patients - despite warning signals from the city’s botched response to the threat of Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 – demonstrates that ineptitude extends to all levels of government.
There is a lot more so go read it.

Which will it be? Incompetence then or then and now?

Rita is now a category 5 storm aimed for the Texas Coast. From AP on Yahoo:
Forecasters said Rita could be the most intense hurricane on record ever to hit Texas, and easily one of the most powerful ever to plow into the U.S. mainland. Category 5 is the highest on the scale, and only three Category 5 hurricanes are known to have hit the U.S. mainland - most recently, Andrew, which smashed South Florida in 1992.
The response of FEMA is going to be critical.

So which will it be? Will they screw this one up like Katrina, proving how totally incompetent the Republicans are at running the government? Or will they make this work, and display how truly badly they handled Katrina in comparison?

Republicans using their own incompetence to cut government

The Republicans have wanted to cut government since the Gingrich revolution, but some programs were too popular for them to touch. Now, just as they used 9/11 to propel American into an unnecessary war in Iraq, they are preparing to use the disaster in New Orleans to get more cuts in popular programs.

Of course, much of the disaster they are attempting to use they caused themselves, either by inadequate work by the Corps of Engineers or the failures of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. Katrina was a Republican political disaster much more than a natural disaster.

Michael Grunwald and Susan B. Glasser of the Washington Post write today that the New Orleans levees should not have failed. They were designed to handle a 14 foot storm surge, and the actual surge probably did not exceed 11 feet and certainly did not exceed 13 feet.
John M. Barry -- who criticized the Corps in "Rising Tide," a history of the Mississippi River flood of 1927 -- said that if Katrina did not exceed the design capacity of the New Orleans levees, the federal government may bear ultimate responsibility for this disaster.

"If this is true, then the loss of life and the devastation in much of New Orleans is no more a natural disaster than a surgeon killing a patient by failing to suture an artery would be a natural death," Barry said. "And that surgeon would be culpable."
So, beyond the failures of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to adequately respond, the really devastating part of the damage was directly caused by inadequate work that was the responsibility of the Corps of Engineers.

The President has proposed throwing money at New Orleans in order to reduce the political damage caused him by the failure of the Federal government. The Republican Congress is willing to go along with this, probably because the opportunities for patronage and graft are fantastic. Neither, however, will consider a tax increase. to pay for this.

Instead, the Conservatives in Congress are proposing a series of cuts in the federal government to save money. From the Carl Hulse at the New York Times we get this partial list of cuts:
At the top of a partial list of the potential cuts being circulated on Tuesday were previously suggested ideas like delaying the start of the new Medicare prescription drug coverage for one year to save $31 billion and eliminating $25 billion in projects from the newly enacted transportation measure.

The list also proposed eliminating the Moon-Mars initiative that NASA announced on Monday, for $44 billion in savings; ending support for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, $4 billion; cutting taxpayer payments for the national political conventions and the presidential election campaign fund, $600 million; and charging federal employees for parking, $1.54 billion.
Let's see. Bush has already cut the shuttle and the space station in exchange for the fantasy of the Earth to Mars trip. Now we can clearly see the bait-and-switch there. No delay on the tax cuts, but a delay on the Medicate prescription drug plan? A small cut in the pork recently added to the transportation bill but none from Tom DeLay's district. Since that bill was already a political embarrassment to the Republicans they are happy to do it. Besides, it will probably come out of Democrats' districts.

In short, the Republicans are using their own incompetence in governing as an excuse to obtain more conservative reductions in government - as long as the tax cuts, homeland security and the useless war in Iraq aren't touched.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Why did the Bush administration leave Zarqawi alive?

This is the same question asked earlier about Osama bin Laden, and the answer is the same. They needed Zarqawi alive as a threat to excuse the invasion of Iraq. This is from Trey Ellis and posted at The Huffington Post.
The evidence of the administration’s folly is iron clad. As NBC reported back in March of 2004 military planners had drawn up plans to take out Zarqawi at least three separate times before the start of the war but Condoleezza Rice and the National Security Council consistently vetoed that action. Now I know Ms. Rice a bit. She was one of my advisors on a college panel I was on at Stanford. I found her charming and understanding. Yet her blindness to Al Qaeda’s plans to hijack an airliner despite bold-type warnings in her briefings, and then her and her administration’s actually scrapping plans to take out Zarqawi when they could amount to lethal blunders (or worse) of historic proportion.

Long before the invasion we knew that Zarqawi was actively producing deadly batches of ricin for planned attacks in Europe yet we did nothing. Looking at the evidence the inescapable conclusion is that this administration actually wanted Zarqawi to be in business because he was nominally on Iraqi soil and tangentially associated with Osama bin Laden. His existence was their only link between Saddam and Al Qaeda and the Bush Administration knew then and we all know now that that link was a lie. I say only nominally on Iraqi soil because his bases were in the Kurdish-controlled no-fly-zone. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and our own Special Forces (doing recon for the coming war) ruled that area, not Saddam. When Colin Powell so infamously showed the U.N. and the world satellite imagery of the Ansar al-Islam training camps on February 5th, 2003, he conveniently failed to mention this fact. He also failed to mention what he must also have known: that Zarqawi saw himself as a rival to bin Laden (he’s even more radical if you can believe that. Bin Laden doesn’t generally slaughter other Muslims but to Zarqawi the only good Shi’a is a dead Shi’a) and only after the invasion did he decide to join forces and change his outfit’s name.

Consider that together with the following items:

The following items relate to the revelations from the Downing Street Memos in which the British security chief told Blair that the decision to invade Iraq had already been made in Washington, and the Intelligence was being cooked to support that decision.

It looks extremely likely that Bush, Cheney and Rice had a concerted plan to invade Iraq, and may well have known 9/11 was likely. They did nothing to prevent it, and may have stopped efforts that would have prevented it. Then they let both bin Laden and al Zarqawi escape so that there would continue to be greater threat against the U.S. to encourage support for the invasion of Iraq.

No, the smoking gun is not yet evident. But the preponderance of evidence sure points that way.

Another lying Republican crook is caught

And another one bites the dust.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 19 /U.S. Newswire/ -- A former General Services Administration (GSA) official was arrested on charges of making false statements and obstructing an investigation by the GSA's Office of Inspector General (GSA-OIG), Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division announced today.

David Hossein Safavian was arrested today based on a three- count criminal complaint filed at federal court in Washington, D.C. The complaint charges Safavian with making false statements to a GSA ethics officer and the GSA-OIG, along with obstruction of a GSA-OIG investigation.

The affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint alleges that from May 16, 2002 until January 10, 2004, Safavian served as Chief of Staff at the GSA. During that time he allegedly aided a Washington D.C. lobbyist in the lobbyist's attempts to acquire GSA-controlled property in and around Washington, D.C. In August 2002, this lobbyist allegedly took Safavian and others on a golf trip to Scotland.

The false statement and obstruction of the investigation charges relate to Safavian's statements to a GSA ethics officer and the GSA-OIG that the lobbyist had no business with GSA prior to the August 2002 golf trip. According to the affidavit, Safavian concealed the fact that the lobbyist had business before GSA prior to the August 2002 golf trip, and that Safavian was aiding the lobbyist in his attempts to do business with GSA

Since Nov. 29, 2004, Safavian has served as the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget.
This is from U.S. Newswire, thanks to Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo. Josh adds this neat little bit of information:

Did I mention that before he signed on with the Bush administration Safavian worked for Jack Abramoff at Preston Gates?

Well, he did.

He's also a former business partner of Grover Norquist.

This is more of the social rot of the Republican Party that Jack Abramoff and Grover Norquist exemplify.

Billmon adds his point of view.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

This is from Jim Kuntsler by way of Atrios.
The new assumption will be that when shit happens you are on your own. In this remarkable three weeks since New Orleans was shredded, no Democrat has stepped into the vacuum of leadership, either, with a different vision of what we might do now, and who we might become. This is the kind of medium that political maniacs spawn in. Something is out there right now, feeding on the astonishment and grievance of a whipsawed middle class, and it will have a lot more nourishment in the months ahead.
The Republicans are paralyzed and aghast at how badly Bush has functioned, and the Democratic leadership is paralyzed by focus-group induced fear of losing the Independents.

I think Kunstler is saying there is someone or something out there crazier and more frightening than Bush could ever be, and that this is prime time for he or it to appear and provide leadership.

What Bill Maher says to Bush

I stole this from Mark A. R. Kleiman who apparently stole it from someplace else.

Mr. President, this job can't be fun for you any more. There's no more money to spend--you used up all of that.

You can't start another war because you used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people.

Listen to your Mom. The cupboard's bare, the credit cards maxed out. No one's speaking to you. Mission accomplished.

Now it's time to do what you've always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service and the oil company and the baseball team. It's time. Time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy or spaceman?

Now I know what you're saying: there's so many other things that you as President could involve yourself in. Please don't.

I know, I know. There's a lot left to do. There's a war with Venezuela. Eliminating the sales tax on yachts. Turning the space program over to the church. And Social Security to Fannie Mae. Giving embryos the vote.

But, Sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you govern like Billy Joel drives.

You've performed so poorly I'm surprised that you haven't given yourself a medal.

You're a catastrophe that walks like a man. Herbert Hoover was a crappy president, but even he never conceded an entire city to rising water and snakes.

On your watch, we've lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two trade centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans. Maybe you're just not lucky.

I'm not saying you don't love this country. I'm just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side.

So, yes, God does speak to you. What He's saying is:

"Take a hint."

Update by Kleiman: Yep, it's Maher. Video here.

America's experiment with fiat money

The Cunning Realist has a really interesting discussion of the current American experiment with easy money and tax cuts for the wealthy. He relates it, reasonably to the hyperinflation in Germany in the early twenties and to the collapse of the Argenitine economy a few years ago.

It is quite lengthy, but worth reading.

What happened to the Iraq's $1 billion?

From The Independent By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad
Published: 19 September 2005

One billion dollars has been plundered from Iraq's defence ministry in one of the largest thefts in history, The Independent can reveal, leaving the country's army to fight a savage insurgency with museum-piece weapons.

The money, intended to train and equip an Iraqi army capable of bringing security to a country shattered by the US-led invasion and prolonged rebellion, was instead siphoned abroad in cash and has disappeared.

"It is possibly one of the largest thefts in history," Ali Allawi, Iraq's Finance Minister, told The Independent.

"Huge amounts of money have disappeared. In return we got nothing but scraps of metal."

The carefully planned theft has so weakened the army that it cannot hold Baghdad against insurgent attack without American military support, Iraqi officials say, making it difficult for the US to withdraw its 135,000- strong army from Iraq, as Washington says it wishes to do.

Most of the money was supposedly spent buying arms from Poland and Pakistan. The contracts were peculiar in four ways. According to Mr Allawi, they were awarded without bidding, and were signed with a Baghdad-based company, and not directly with the foreign supplier. The money was paid up front, and, surprisingly for Iraq, it was paid at great speed out of the ministry's account with the Central Bank. Military equipment purchased in Poland included 28-year-old Soviet-made helicopters. The manufacturers said they should have been scrapped after 25 years of service. Armoured cars purchased by Iraq turned out to be so poorly made that even a bullet from an elderly AK-47 machine-gun could penetrate their armour. A shipment of the latest MP5 American machine-guns, at a cost of $3,500 (£1,900) each, consisted in reality of Egyptian copies worth only $200 a gun. Other armoured cars leaked so much oil that they had to be abandoned. A deal was struck to buy 7.62mm machine-gun bullets for 16 cents each, although they should have cost between 4 and 6 cents.
And next Spring, ready or not, the Bush administration is going to declare victory in Iraq and begin bringing the troops home in time for the November 2006 american elections.

Who really killed the six Marine snipers?

William S. Lind reports:
The previous day, 3/25 had lost six men, two sniper teams, under circumstances that were unclear. I recently received information on that incident that raises a very important question, a question with strategic, not merely tactical significance. I was told (not by anyone in 3/25) that the six Marines were ambushed and killed by the Iraqi troops they were attached to.

Let me say up front that I cannot confirm this report. Because I cannot confirm it, I am using it not to make a point but to raise some questions. The questions are, did this happen? If it did, why were the American people not told? And – this is the question with strategic importance – how often is this happening in Iraq today?

The reason the question has strategic meaning is that the Bush administration’s strategy, if it can be called that, for avoiding outright defeat in Iraq is to build up the Iraqi armed forces and police until the war can be turned over to them. If those same Iraqi forces are attacking American troops on a fairly frequent basis, that is a significant piece of evidence the strategy is not working.
If this is the case, then Iraqification of the war is extremely unlikely to work. Even if it didn't happen, but is believed by American troops to have happened, then the problems are immense. Billmon discusses the situation.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Why the news media props up Bush

The two weeks after Katrina hit New Orleans showed us a rare glimpse of what the TV and Newspaper reporters would be reporting if the media weren't bought and paid for by the Republicans. Here is one report from the LA Weekly.
If big media look like they’re propping up W’s presidency, they are. Because doing so is good for corporate coffers — in the form of government contracts, billion-dollar tax breaks, regulatory relaxations and security favors. At least that wily old codger Sumner Redstone, head of Viacom, parent company of CBS, has admitted what everyone already knows is true: that, while he personally may be a Democrat, “It happens that I vote for Viacom. Viacom is my life, and I do believe that a Republican administration is better for media companies than a Democratic one.”

When it comes to NBC’s parent company, GE’s No. 1 and No. 2, Jeffrey Immelt and Bob Wright, are avowed Republicans, as are Time Warner’s Dick Parsons (CNN) and News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch (Fox News Channel). (Forget that Murdoch’s No. 2, Peter Chernin, and Redstone’s co–No. 2, Les Moonves, are avowed Democrats — it’s meaningless because Murdoch and Redstone are the owners.)[...]

CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, announced the hiring of DeLay’s chief of staff as a top Washington lobbyist. This news, and its timing, prompted Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy to tell the L.A. Weekly: “Time Warner aligning itself with the right-wing DeLay machine should send shudders [down] CNN and HBO. Clearly, TW wants DeLay insurance so it won’t have to face cable-ownership safeguards, à la carte rules and broadband non-discrimination policies.”
The corporate masters have yanked the leash and the reporters are back under control. Instead of discussing Katrina we will now get more government handouts, Michael Jackson and Natalie Holloway and little else. Besides, the Fall TV season is starting and the Emmys are on tonight. What do we need news for?

Frank Rich explains Bush's political collapse

Judy Miller is still in prison and not writing to support Bush, Coulter is recognized as the silly joke she is, Limbaugh's ratings are dropping, and Frank Rich is tearing Bush a new one in the New York Times.
The worst storm in our history proved perfect for exposing this president because in one big blast it illuminated all his failings: the rampant cronyism, the empty sloganeering of "compassionate conservatism," the lack of concern for the "underprivileged" his mother condescended to at the Astrodome, the reckless lack of planning for all government operations except tax cuts, the use of spin and photo-ops to camouflage failure and to substitute for action.

In the chaos unleashed by Katrina, these plot strands coalesced into a single tragic epic played out in real time on television. The narrative is just too powerful to be undone now by the administration's desperate recycling of its greatest hits: a return Sunshine Boys tour by the surrogate empathizers Clinton and Bush I, another round of prayers at the Washington National Cathedral, another ludicrously overhyped prime-time address flecked with speechwriters' "poetry" and framed by a picturesque backdrop. Reruns never eclipse a riveting new show.

Nor can the president's acceptance of "responsibility" for the disaster dislodge what came before. Mr. Bush didn't cough up his modified-limited mea culpa until he'd seen his whole administration flash before his eyes. His admission that some of the buck may stop with him (about a dime's worth, in Truman dollars) came two weeks after the levees burst and five years after he promised to usher in a new post-Clinton "culture of responsibility." It came only after the plan to heap all the blame on the indeed blameworthy local Democrats failed to lift Mr. Bush's own record-low poll numbers. It came only after America's highest-rated TV news anchor, Brian Williams, started talking about Katrina the way Walter Cronkite once did about Vietnam.
Less than a year into his second term of office, and Bush has turned the corner into well-deserved ignominy.

Accountability; Yes. But we need to plan forward

Leon Fuerth Makes some really good points. Katrina has exposed major failures in our government, and there needs to be accountability.
But the social problems coming up in the next twenty years are breathtaking. "The National Science Foundation’s reports on the social, economic and physiological effects of onrushing new sciences and technologies, such as nanotechnology, genetics, and informatics, for a wake-up call about what is perhaps only twenty years away.[...] In a democracy, we need time to register emerging issues; time to debate what to do about them; and time to do it.

The breathing spaces between major shocks are getting ever shorter – we need to anticipate them rather than just react to them. We have the analytic capacity to think about these things, but our political leadership doesn’t use it. For that to happen, we need a public which will push leaders to take the risk of preparing for problems early on, when it counts. I think blogs and blogging can be a part of that public argument, and would appreciate your comments as to how this might work."
This current administration does not plan. They don't believe in it. But to be ready for the shocks which are coming we have to plan and prepare the public.

One thing he doesn't mention is the coming loss of America's imagined position as "The only Superpower." If America ever had that position, we have left it in the sands of Iraq, and whatever might have straggled out of Iraq was drowned by Katrina. A superpower exports goods. It doesn't fight its wars and repair its damage using Chinese and Saudi Arabian money.

At some point very soon the American public is going to have to recognize that we belong to a world in which we are powerful, but not the unique power we were after WW II. Looking forward to the effects of things like as nanotechnology, genetics, and informatics is going to first have to pass the shock of realization that our status in the world has changed. While we have been watching people get blown up in Iraq, China has created an economic juggernaut. Trudy Rubin wrote a really good editorial that said (among other things):
Wander through some of Beijing's many malls and watch crowds of young Chinese chatting on cellphones, roaming in and out of Nine West, Mr. Klein, Givenchy, Rolex watch stores, Starbucks, Pizza Hut or the local Cineplex, and you realize Americans have paid too little attention to the world's biggest story.

The Chinese equivalent of yuppies, they have the name "xiao zi," or "little bourgeois."

China's new middle class may already equal the population of the United States, so the "xiao zi" probably number in the tens of millions.
There will be real political repercussions as the recognition of Americas new international position sinks in. They will be comparable to the question "Who lost China?" asked by conservatives in the 1950's.

Until that shock plays out, America is not going to be prepared to look at the more complicated shocks coming from science.

The Able-Danger story is still active.

It seems that Able-Danger actually did identify Mohammed Atta as a member of al Qaeda before 9/11. Then a cell of NeoCons in the Department of Defense stopped dissemmination of the information, keeping it from reaching the National Security Council, and in Feb 2001 the Able-Danger project was shut down by Cheney. So says Sherlock Google over at dKos.

The Diary has a lot of corroborating information mixed with a good deal of speculation. But apparently there will be a Senate Hearing Wednesday, so let's see what is reported.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Update on Kentucky Governor Fletcher

Governor Ernie Fletcher is hitting the very last steps on the steps down and out of the job of Kentucky Governor. As I mentioned earlier, he has been fortunate in that Katrina has dominated the media. But he is still going.

Sept. 17, 2005 The Bluegrass Report. by Mark Nicholas. Prior reports are linked to the one this link leads to.

After Governor Fletcher requested the resignation of the head of the Kentucky Republican Party, the Republican Party Executive Committee refused to consider it. Then Governor Fletcher's fund raiser, expected to raise $500,000, actually took only $70,000. Most of that was before the recent developments. Governor Fletcher is finished, and the Kentucky Republican Party is in real disarray.
Sept. 16, 2005 Lexington Herald-Leader. By Ryan Alessi
FRANKFORT - Gov. Ernie Fletcher's top aides set up the "Governor's Personnel Initiative" largely to quell the growing frustration of Republican job seekers who wanted appointed posts as well as merit positions, according to two key personnel figures.

Republican state Rep. C.B. Embry Jr., who volunteered to help interview state job candidates last year in the Capitol, said he was bombarded with angry phone calls from Republicans who complained that the Fletcher administration was not doing enough to hire loyal supporters. After all, they had waited three decades for a GOP governor.

That sparked a series of meetings last fall with Fletcher's second-in-command, Daniel Groves, about ways to speed up hiring and streamline the personnel processes within each cabinet, Embry said.

Groves then became "the guy behind" the personnel initiative, said Dan Druen, former transportation cabinet administrative services commissioner, in an Aug. 26 interview with state prosecutors.

Wednesday in Franklin Court, prosecutors filed a transcript of their interview with Druen.

The origins of the initiative, whose members later referred to themselves as the "apostles" and "disciples," had remained to this point largely a mystery and the subject of much public speculation. The group is a focus of the ongoing investigation into Fletcher administration hiring practices.

Prosecutors in the attorney general's office have called it the cog of a "corrupt political machine" for tracking the hiring of supporters into protected "merit jobs" and for discussing broad strategies to hasten the hiring of Fletcher-backers.
Sept. 15, 2005 Lexington Herald-Leader. By Ryan Alessi
FRANKFORT - Gov. Ernie Fletcher yesterday fired nine administration officials, dissolved his local outreach office and called for the resignation of the Kentucky Republican Party chairman in further fallout of the ongoing investigation into state hiring practices.

Fletcher, speaking at a hastily called afternoon press conference, said he came to those decisions yesterday morning, more than two weeks after he pardoned nine former or current officials who had been indicted.

For four months, the attorney general's office has been looking into allegations that Fletcher's administration illegally hired rank-and-file merit employees based on politics instead of qualifications -- which Fletcher tacitly admitted yesterday.

"It is now clear to me that there were mistakes made by staff members who either did not understand -- or appreciate -- the spirit of the merit system rules," he said in prepared remarks. "And it is now time for me to take action that I believe is appropriate for the circumstances at hand."

Four of the nine officials whom Fletcher asked to resign yesterday had been indicted, as was Darrell Brock, the state Republican chairman. Three other men, Acting Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert, deputy secretary Jim Adams and commissioner of administrative services Tim Hazlette, also were indicted but remain in their positions.

My previous postings on Fletcher

Sept. 01, 2005
Gov. Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky is enjoying the media saturation from Katrina

Aug. 29, 2005 Kentucky Republican Governor Pardons his staff of ALL crimes committed through Monday

Aug. 19, 2005
Republican Governor of Kentucky subpoenaed .

Iraq reconstruction still failing

Two and a half years into Iraq and U.S. authorities still can't get reconstruction working. NYTimes.
NAJAF, Iraq - In April, Najaf's main maternity hospital received rare good news: an $8 million refurbishment program financed by the United States would begin immediately. But five months and millions of dollars later, the hospital administrators say they have little but frustration to show for it.

"They keep saying there's renovation but, frankly, we don't see it," said Liqaa al-Yassin, director of the hospital, her exasperated face framed by a black hijab, or scarf. "Each day I sign in 80 workers, and sometimes I see them, sometimes I don't."

She walks a visitor through the hospital's hot, dim halls, the peeling linoleum on the floors stained by the thousands of lighted cigarettes crushed underfoot. Anxious women, draped in black head-to-foot chadors, or veils, sit in the sultry rooms fanning their sick children.

"My child has heart problems, she can't take this heat," pleaded one mother as Dr. Yassin walked past.

The United States has poured more than $200 million into reconstruction projects in this city, part of the $10 billion it has spent to rebuild Iraq. Najaf is widely cited by the military as one of the success stories in that effort, but American officers involved in the rebuilding say that reconstruction projects here, as elsewhere in the country, are hobbled by poor planning, corrupt contractors and a lack of continuity among the rotating coalition officers charged with overseeing the spending.

"This country is filled with projects that were never completed or were completed and have never been used," said a frustrated civil affairs officer who asked not to be identified because he had not been cleared to speak about the reconstruction.
With Republicans trying to operate the reconstruction program, incompetence cannot be corrected - period.

FEMA still failing

Three weeks into Katrina, FEMA still can't perform its job. NYTimes
BATON ROUGE, La., Sept 16 - Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Katrina cut its devastating path, FEMA - the same federal agency that botched the rescue mission - is faltering in its effort to aid hundreds of thousands of storm victims, local officials, evacuees and top federal relief officials say. The federal aid hot line mentioned by President Bush in his address to the nation on Thursday cannot handle the flood of calls, leaving thousands of people unable to get through for help, day after day.

Federal officials are often unable to give local governments permission to proceed with fundamental tasks to get their towns running again. Most areas in the region still lack federal help centers, the one-stop shopping sites for residents in need of aid for their homes or families. Officials say that they are uncertain whether they can meet the president's goal of providing housing for 100,000 people who are now in shelters by the middle of next month.

While the agency has redoubled its efforts to get food, money and temporary shelter to the storm victims, serious problems remain throughout the affected region. Visits to several towns in Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as interviews with dozens of local and federal officials, provide a portrait of a fragmented and dysfunctional system.
Incompetence and neglect cannot be corrected overnight merely by replacing the leader. With Republicans trying to operate the program, incompetence cannot be corrected - period.

Billmon explains Bush

The best single explanation of what Bush said last night is from Billmon. Let me steal it.

The Prattle of New Orleans
There's no point in parsing every point in Shrub's big speech last night -- not when we've learned, through bitter experience, that there's rarely a connection between the real world and the text on his teleprompter.

Bush said all the things he was expected to say, and very few that he wasn't. He ran down the laundry list of relief supplies provided and federal agencies mobilized. He heroically declared that New Orleans would rise again. He promised to open up Uncle Sam's checkbook and keep writing and signing checks until his fingers were worn down to bloody stumps. And of course, his text was sprinkled with the obligatory heartwarming anecdotes about the courage, generosity and plucky optimism of the local residents -- none of whom were raped, spent three days sitting in their own shit, or had shots fired over their head as they tried to escape to the white side of the Mississippi River.

Naturally, a lot of it was self-serving spin (what does a "normal" hurricane look like, anyway?) and a lot of it sounded like a Heritage Foundation seminar on enterprise zones. Also as predicted. The acceptance of presidential responsibility sounded even more insincere than it did the first time around -- probably because he's been practicing how to say it without staring off into the middle distance, like a sullen teenager ordered to apologize to his father.

In the end, there were only three points about the speech that seemed significant to me -- two of them being things Bush said, and one being something he didn't talk about at all.

The first was Bush's admission that race is an issue, both in the disaster and the recovery:

As all of us saw on television, there's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.

Would I have liked to heard more -- such as an acknowledgment that most folks who failed to evacuate stayed behind because they were too poor or too scared to leave, not because they "lacked native judgement"? Yes. Do I think Bush was sincere about confronting poverty with "bold" action? No. Saying that "we" have a duty doesn't say much. "We" could be anybody or everybody. When Bush says clearly the federal government has an obligation to fight poverty -- or at least to make sure that others have the tools to fight it -- then I'll believe him. Maybe.

All that said, I still appreciate the fact that he raised the issue. And the next time some mouth-breather at Free Republic starts ranting about the goddamned welfare queens in New Orleans, or a pseudointellectual twit starts babbling infantile nonsense about "tribes," I hope somebody will let them know their beloved president disagrees with them.

Unfortunately, one of Bush's Heritage Foundation-on-steroids proposals immediately made me wonder if I was being too generous in giving him any credit at all for sincerity. I'm talking about his proposal to resettle poor folks on surplus federal property:

Under this approach, we will identify property in the region owned by the federal government, and provide building sites to low-income citizens free of charge, through a lottery. In return, they would pledge to build on the lot, with either a mortgage or help from a charitable organization like Habitat for Humanity.
Yes, home ownership is a good thing -- although whether Habitat for Humanity or subsidized low-income mortgage programs (like the ones run by Fannie and Freddie) would be able to help more than a fraction of the lucky winners is another story. And if this is going to turn into another scam for the subprime lending industry, well, there isn't a griddle in hell hot enough for Rovian butts.

But the real question is where these "surplus" federal properties are located. Is this lottery idea the thin end of a policy wedge designed to relocate the low-income neighborhoods of the 9th Ward to former Army bases deep in the Louisiana back country? Are the Rovians testing out a Heritage wonk's bright new idea, or clearing the way for the great New Orleans land rush?

If that sounds like rampant paranoia, just remember who we're dealing [with].

The final thing I noticed was what I didn't notice -- any mention of the destructive environmental policies that are causing South Lousiana to slide into the Gulf of Mexico (or the Gulf of Mexico to slide over South Lousiana).

Amid Shrub's "bold" talk about rebuilding the levees (note that he said the rebuilt system would be "stronger than it's ever been," not "strong enough to survive a direct hit by another Category 4 hurricane") I heard no explanation of how these improvements will protect New Orleans if the city ends up as a polder island in the middle of a shallow lagoon. I'm not sure even the Dutch would be able to stormproof it then.

(Of course, Bush also didn't mention the risk that all that heroic work and all those federal dollars will eventually be washed away by a rapid rise in sea levels caused by global climate change. But then I was expecting a speech, not a miracle.)

Will the speech help the disaster recovery? (Bush's, I mean.) Perhaps -- depending on whether or not the Rovians have correctly read the public mood as supporting a massive federal spending binge to get New Orleans, and the Republican Party, back on their feet.

But even if they're right on that score, they should mind the old Chinese adage about being careful what you wish for. If they convince people that Bush finally has Katrina under control, they may divert their attention to more permanent disasters -- like Iraq.

Bush of course reads whatever his writers place on the teleprompter. It is important to realize that he does not understand most of it. He merely mouths the words. We will need to wait to see what any of what he said really means in terms of actual policy.

My bet is not much. There is little connection between what Bush's speech writers place in his speeches and what actually gets placed into policy in the executive departments.