Friday, December 31, 2004

Sears Cuts a Deal

There has been some news in the Austin TX Grand Jury investigation into DeLay's PAC and associates. I mentioned this investigation here.

Sears was one of the corporations indicted in Austin for breaking Texas law regarding corporate donations to political campaigns.

Sears has now cut a deal that will involve their cooperation with prosecutors. This could be a big story, depending on what they know. This may also be the first of the several corporate defendants cutting deals.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Really Unbelievable

From today's WaPo,
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert is leaning toward removing the House ethics committee chairman, who admonished House Majority Leader Tom DeLay this fall and has said he will treat DeLay like any other member, several Republican aides said yesterday.

Although Hastert (Ill.) has not made a decision, the expectation among leadership aides is that the chairman, Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), long at odds with party leaders because of his independence, will be replaced when Congress convenes next week.

The aides said a likely replacement is Rep. Lamar S. Smith, one of DeLay's fellow Texans, who held the job from 1999 to 2001. Smith wrote a check this year to DeLay's defense fund. An aide said Smith was favored for his knowledge of committee procedure.
Unbelievable hubris,....if they do it. They seems like a test balloon.

This kind of arrogance never ends well.

More News from Phuket

For those who do not know, my chief advocation is scuba diving warm water reefs. This hobby has led to friendships literally all over the world, including the areas affected by the tsunami.

Below are excerpts from an email received from a friend:
"Somewhat fortunately I was "out to sea" when it hit although we had ourfair share of "fun" with its arrival. We had 14 divers in the water when ithit Similan Islands. My group was first in, had been diving in lovellyconditions for about 18 minutes when the water started moving very fast,creating a sand storm under water. It did not look or feel like anything Ihad seen or experienced before so I aborted the dive. We were carried alongunder water for some time but were able to get to the surface unharmed andto get on board the dinghy as it worsened . The dinghy started to nose diveinto the swirling muddy waters but we all flung ourselves towards the back which righted it and we were then able to get to "blue waters" away from the main problem. The last group in had 16 minutes of roller coaster underwater ride. They were hurled from 5 metres to 30 metres in 20 seconds, twice, and eventually the sea spat them out and they surfaced in the dirty white water rapids where they were picked up by helping boats and returned to us safely but shaken. On board we had a scary time searching for the five divers, 3 surfaced initially and finally the other 2...this was a long wait. The force of the water was so strong that the 220 ton boat I was on lost almost all control and with its engines revving at 2,000rpms was able to finally move at 1 knot to get out of the swirling mess to come and pick us up. I thought we were going to lose it as did many other boats watching unable to assist in any way or else they would have faced a similar fate. All boats finally moved together to the safety of the west coast of Island no. 8 where we waited to see if anything else was going to happen. By this point we started to hear what was going on...We stayed out at the Similans as the waters calmed and it seemed the best place to be while things started to sort themselves out in Phuket. The news we were getting was too much and wanting to see if I could help friends and colleagues when I heard there was another boat returning I jumped on and came back yesterday evening. Up till then I had not been able to contact any of my Phuket friends and was feeling very bad about this and also about not being able to contact those overseas who might be worried about me.

As always some of the news is fiction and sadly much of it is fact. Phi Phi was devastated as was Khao Lak. At Khao Lak heaps of new hotels and bungalows had been built in the past 2 years along the shore and now all are literally gone except 1. The main road was far enough back to be okay which is where most of the dive shops are located. Taplamu, the port from which many boats leave for the Similans was wiped out and boats there did not survive. A friend works at IQ dive which lost all its boats and a few of its offices. Another friend lost 1 speed boat but luckily their other boats were also at the Sims and are ok. All their staff and friends and okay although there are estimated to be some 2,000 deaths there which are not being reported as yet - fact or fiction - not sure which yet on these numbers as friends are in shock as there are quote "dead bodies everywhere".

In Phuket things are returning to as normal as possible. Some beaches were hit badly and some were hit by the wave but were relatively unscathed. My home is near the hills in Patong so is okay. From the beach to 2 blocks back have been badly damaged and are closed off except to pedestrian traffic and vehicles truly having to go inside.

However, life continues on. Kata Beach looks okay, Karon Beach survived well. Things are being cleared up quickly so life can continue on. The dayboats started again today although with new schedules without Phi Phi... There are water damaged goods sales all along the okay roads with locals and tourists alike grabbing a bargain or 2. When we were safely on board the Thai crew jumped into the dinghy and collected many coral trout that had been thrown to the surface and the bbq was yummy...

Some people are reporting that all the reefs at the Similans have been wiped out but this is simply not true. We dived a couple on the 27th and although some are no longer the same they are still great dive spots and some were completely untouched and as beautiful as ever. Please help our diving comunity and the hundreds and thousands of Thai people who depend on the income from tourism in the Similans by sharing this news.

I am not sure what comes next. The diving market continues and whether there will be enough work will depend on how quickly things can return to normal. For now I will stay here and see what can be done to assist. ...."

A Scuba View of the Tsunami

CNN.com - American diver underwater during catastrophe - Dec 28, 2004.

This is amazing,
Faye Wachs, 34, was diving with her husband, Eugene Kim, Sunday morning off Ko Phi Phi Island in Thailand when they noticed the water visibility worsened and felt as though they were being sucked downward, Helen Wachs said.

Their dive master signaled to them to surface, "but we still didn't know what happened," Faye wrote in an e-mail to her mother Tuesday.

"She said she saw a lot of trash in the water. The dive master said it was really rude for people to throw trash. Then they saw large bits of debris and thought there might have been a boat crash," Helen Wachs said.

[they] didn't know what had happened until the dive master got a text message from his wife telling him about the catastrophe.

Soon they saw bodies floating past them,....

Once they returned to shore, the couple did what they could to help, Helen Wachs said.

"I can't describe carrying a moaning person who just saw his girlfriend killed down a hill in the middle of the night," the e-mail said. "I saw more bodies than I care to report. The hotel where we were staying is mostly gone. We lost everything, but our lives."

The Tsunami


This is the flooded lobby of the Seapearl Beach Hotel on Phuket Island, in Thailand.

I haven't blogged on this for a couple reasons, one of which is that I find it overwhelming. The UN now fears there may be as many as 80,000 deaths. That is incomprehensible.

I have friends who live and vacation in this part of the world. I spent time on Sunday attempting to contact them to make sure they were safe. I'm please to report they all are safe.

One friend who lives in Singapore, loves scuba diving in Phuket Thailand and I was afraid he was spending Christmas with his wife and children in Phuket. I received this email from him early Monday,
If we had planned a bit earlier, we would have been there. We were sitting in Bintan [Indonesia] talking about how we should have gone to Phuket, and promising each other to be earlier out next year.

That's the second time something like this has happened to me in a few years: The first was when I checked out of the Marriott in Jakarta 20 minutes before the bomb went off...

There is no telling when Phuket will be back to its former glory, or for that matter whether the Similan Islands will be diveable for a while, without finding human remains on every dive. Probably years.

The President's Response: Badmouth Bill Clinton

As Josh Marshall points out, with the President MIA, they see this as an opportunity to badmouth Bill Clinton,
From today's WaPo,

Earlier yesterday, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the president was confident he could monitor events effectively without returning to Washington or making public statements in Crawford, where he spent part of the day clearing brush and bicycling. Explaining the about-face, a White House official said: "The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn't want to make a symbolic statement about 'We feel your pain.' "

Many Bush aides believe Clinton was too quick to head for the cameras to hold forth on tragedies with his trademark empathy. "Actions speak louder than words," a top Bush aide said, describing the president's view of his appropriate role.
They just don't get it. Being the leader of the free world means showing actual leadership. The only time the world hears from this WH is when they have their hand out. It's no wonder they are so universally disliked.
Some foreign policy specialists said Bush's actions and words both communicated a lack of urgency about an event that will loom as large in the collective memories of several countries as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks do in the United States. "When that many human beings die -- at the hands of terrorists or nature -- you've got to show that this matters to you, that you care," said Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

There was an international outpouring of support after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and even some administration officials familiar with relief efforts said they were surprised that Bush had not appeared personally to comment on the tsunami tragedy. "It's kind of freaky," a senior career official said

Durbin Should be the Democratic Leader

From the Chi Trib
President Bush should pardon six Army reservists from Ohio who were court-martialed for taking equipment to carry out their mission in Iraq, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Tuesday.

In a letter to the president, Durbin said the members of the 656th Transportation Company may have committed a technical violation and an error in judgment but the military should not have treated this mistake as a felony.

"The punishment is completely out of step with the violation," Durbin said. "Soldiers have been scavenging for equipment on battlefields from the time of the Romans to the present day. ... Yes, they made a mistake, but it was not so someone could get rich; these soldiers were trying to protect their unit and accomplish their mission."
Of course, Durbin is exactly right and this is just the kind of issue we should take up as a party. These soldiers were doing their duty,
Six reservists, including two veteran officers who had received Bronze Stars, were court-martialed for commandeering two tractors and two trailers left in Kuwait by other U.S. units that had already moved into Iraq and for stripping a third vehicle for parts they needed to repair their trucks.
There is no way Bush is going to want to pardon these soldiers because he would view such a pardon as an admission that they were sent into a combat zone without the equipment they need.

The WH press corps needs to ask some questions about this. We need to let the WH know how we feel.

(via Archpundit)

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Did OBL Screw-up With His Latest Video?

Kevin Drum points to Juan Cole's weblog, Informed Comment, where Professor Cole thinks Osama bin Laden made a serious miscalculation with his latest video,
Bin Laden's intervention in Iraq was hamfisted and clumsy, and will benefit the United States and the Shiites enormously. Most Iraqi Muslims, Sunni or Shiite, dislike the Wahhabi branch of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia, and with which Bin Laden is associated. Nationalistic Iraqis will object to a foreigner interfering in their national affairs.
....
Bin Laden as much as declared Grand Ayatollah Sistani an infidel. But Sistani is almost universally loved by the 65% of Iraqis who are Shiites, and is widely respected among many Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, as well. Bin Laden, the Saudi engineer, makes himself look ridiculous trying to give a fatwa against the Grand Ayatollah of Najaf. If anything, to have al-Qaeda menacing the Shiites in this way would tend to strengthen the American-Shiite alliance.
Professor Cole has an interesting take on Zarqawi as well,
Zarqawi is widely hated in Iraq because the operations of his group often kill innocent Iraqis as opposed to American troops. The Shiites in particular despise Zarqawi, and are aware of his hopes of provoking a Sunni-Shiite bloodbath in Iraq. (The muted Shiite response to the US assault on Fallujah in November and December derived in large part from a conviction that the city had become a base for Zarqawi and like-minded Salafi terrorists). Zarqawi websites have claimed credit for the assassination in 2003 of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, a respected Shiite leader, which involved descrating the Shiite holy city of Najaf. The mainstream of the Kurds hates Zarqawi, because of his earlier association with the small Kurdish radical Muslim terrorist group, Ansar al-Islam, which targeted the two major Kurdish parties.
Professor Cole's is frequent guest on The NewsHour and his websight is the best source of information and commentary on Iraq and the ME you will find.

Poppy Made France Look Principled

The New Republic Online: Sins of the Father

Tom Frank writes in TNR online today that as bad as Jr is, Sr was worse and he can't believe anyone would miss him. Frank does a good job of reminding us just what Poppy was actually like: Unprincipled and uninspired.

What I enjoyed most about the article was the little trip down memory lane that Frank takes us on pointing out so much of what we had forgotten.

Frank points out that Bush is the father of the modern campaign of destruction that his son does so well. Following the campaign in 88 he felt Bush settled in nicely into the Presidency until the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision (with Scalia and Kennedy in the majority) upheld flag burning as a first amendment right. Bush then called for a constitutional amendment to "protect the flag".
By toying with the Bill of Rights, Bush had shown himself to be grubby and frivolous at once. It was a knack he had. That fall, he delivered a televised speech from the Oval Office about the dangers of drug use in America, pausing at one point to pick up a plastic bag. "This is crack cocaine," Bush gravely informed his viewers, "seized a few days ago by Drug Enforcement Administration agents in a park just across the street from the White House. It could easily have been heroin or PCP. It's as innocent-looking as candy, but ... this stuff is poison." The Washington Post quickly looked into the matter and determined that luring a drug dealer to Lafayette Park had been a serious headache for DEA agents. At first, the suspect had been confused, according to tapes of the phone conversation. "Where the fuck is the White House?" he asked, before clearing it up: "Oh, you mean where Reagan lives." As to whether Bush had a genuine drug policy, no one seemed to know or care--after all, neither did Bush.

Even his foreign policy was unprincipled and heedless--at least when the stakes were low. When officers in Panama's army attempted a coup against the country's dictator, Manuel Noriega, Bush, who had openly advocated such a revolt, now couldn't decide whether to intervene or stand aside. In the end, he managed to do neither, ordering American troops in the country (the canal had not yet been transferred to Panamanian sovereignty) to set up a pair of roadblocks but otherwise wringing his hands. After the press criticized him for timidity, Bush had second thoughts and, a few weeks later, invaded the country. He was, increasingly, a silly man in a serious job.
And then there was this,
But Bush also had to figure out how he wanted to end the war. Marching to Baghdad would splinter the coalition, but leaving Saddam in power meant trouble, too. So Bush chose to encourage a rebellion in the Iraqi military, in the hope that a new Sunni strongman might emerge to replace Saddam. While the fighting raged, Bush suggested in February 1991 that Iraqis "take matters into their own hands, to force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside." Radio broadcasts later linked to the CIA encouraged Iraqis to overthrow Saddam. Things didn't go as planned, however. Shia and Kurds bravely accepted the invitation to rise up, but Saddam's army officers didn't, turning their guns instead on the rebels.

Faced with the prospect of supporting a Shia rebellion--and the possible creation of a Shia state, which friends such as Saudi Arabia opposed--Bush suddenly found the prospect of Saddam's ouster less appealing. So he changed his mind. Saddam, happy to have a free hand, employed helicopter gunships to kill tens of thousands of Shia and Kurds as American forces in the region stood by. By early April, millions of Kurds were fleeing the massacres and crowding into refugee camps in neighboring Turkey, and Bush was starting to come under fire in Washington. "We went over there for a moral purpose," argued Senator Al Gore at the time, "and now we are insisting that our American forces stand by and watch as helicopter gunships, responding to the orders of Saddam Hussein, open fire on innocent men, women, and children--even firing on hospitals--simply because these people who are being killed responded to our request that they rise up against Saddam Hussein."

Bush, in response to such criticism, said he naturally felt "frustration and a sense of grief for the innocents that are being killed brutally, but we are not there to intervene ... that is not our purpose. It never was our purpose." Even when all twelve members of the European Community (yes, even France was tougher than Bush on this one) argued for placing humanitarian considerations above territorial ones--to create safe enclaves in Iraq, say, for those fleeing Saddam--Bush remained obdurate. "The objectives ... never included the demise and destruction of Saddam personally," Bush explained to reporters. Sorry if there was any misunderstanding.
When Jr talks about Saddam's mass graves he never mentions his father's role. We should never forget.

Franks views on Jr are little odd at times, "If he is leading us astray in Iraq, at least his aims are unquestionalbey good an just" -- huh?

But he does have a point that Jr seems clearly guided by principles: Bankrupting the Federal Government, removing all taxation from non-wage income, etc.

The trip down memory lane makes this worth the read.

This is Troubling

Tim A. sends this:
USATODAY.com - Ex-official tells of Homeland Security failures,
....Clark Kent Ervin, [that's right, Clark Kent] who served as the department's inspector general until earlier this month, said in an interview last week that airport security isn't tight enough and that little has been done to safeguard other forms of mass transit. Ervin said ports remain vulnerable to terrorists trying to smuggle weapons into the country. He added that immigration and customs investigators are hampered in their efforts to track down illegal immigrants because they often lack gas money for their cars.

"There are still all these security gaps in the country that have yet to be closed," Ervin said. Meanwhile, he added, Homeland Security officials have wasted millions of dollars because of "chaotic and disorganized" accounting practices, lavish spending on social occasions and employee bonuses and a failure to require competitive bidding for some projects.
Did you see the reports on 20/20 last week about Home Land Insecurity?

Trips to Hawaii to reward the staff at a conference that was mainly a trade show for those who want to sell something and very little time spent in "seminars". Most of the time spent on the beach.

Very good column today in the Chicago Tribune [sorry, no link from on-line edition] about how the R's have turned their collective heads at all the bullshit that has gone on in this Admin and how the D's have rolled over and played dead for 4 years. Something has got to change or this country is going to end up like all the other great empires of the past...self destruction from within assisted by outside forces no one sees coming because we've turned a blind eye.

Tim

Tuesdays With EJ

You Hate Me? I'm Listening. (washingtonpost.com)

EJ goes through some of the email he received in the last year, mostly sighting that from the loony right.

This Isn't Good

The WaPo reports,
The largest political party representing Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority announced Monday that it would drop out of the Jan. 30 election, dealing a fresh blow to the vote's credibility on the same day the top Shiite Muslim candidate survived a car bombing.

The withdrawal of the Iraqi Islamic Party, combined with the assassination attempt on cleric Abdul Aziz Hakim, heightened concerns that the parliamentary election may produce a lopsided result, further alienating Sunni areas where the armed insurgency is growing.
heightened concerns of a lopsided result?

Is anything other than a lopsided result even possible? Even aside from a Sunni boycott, with the Shiites dominating population advantage and the 'at large' election. As I understand it, and I may be wrong, the election is NOT choosing leaders by regions (like our Congress) but with an 'at large' national election in some way weighted to supposedly allow non-Shiites to elect represenatives. I can't imagine any way that this can go well.

Man, Am I in the Wrong Business!

The NYTs reports this was a good year for bonuses.
Samantha Kleier Forbes, a 30-year-old real estate broker, was getting ready to leave for a vacation to Florida with her mother and sister when she got an urgent call. It was a client who had spent the summer scouring the Upper East Side of Manhattan for an apartment priced between $4 million and $5 million.

The client insisted on seeing more apartments that day, but now she wanted to look in the $6 million range. Her husband, a banker at Goldman Sachs in his late 30's, had just received his year-end bonus.

"Normally this time of year is dead," said Ms. Forbes, a vice president at Gumley Haft Kleier, a residential real estate brokerage. But this winter there is unusual buying interest that she attributes to rich Wall Street bonuses. She is cutting her end-of-the-year vacation short, so she can prepare for an onslaught of clients eager to see apartments.

Monday, December 27, 2004

'Ethical Waterloo'

Marshall Whittman, aka, the Bull Moosehas an excellent piece up today pointing to the WaPo article highlighting the Rs ethical lapses on fundraising.

Remember when the Rs where all up in arms about Clinton's fund raising. Well, their antics makes Clinton look amateurish.

Go read, and enjoy his post.

I'll be back tomorrow blogging again at a more normal level. I've enjoyed the brief break.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Day Off From Blogging

I'm taking the day off from Blogging. This is the time of year I start seeing more movies and am going to see Sideways shortly.

I just don't feel like looking at the Sunday Times yet.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

What Really Happened to Pat Tillman?

As I posted earlier, the Army fabrigated a story about the death of Pat Tillman. Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire.

Today, the WaPo has the first of a two part series on the tragic death of Pat Tillman.

'Mediocre'

From the Christmas Day WaPo
The U.S. military invaded Iraq without a formal plan for occupying and stabilizing the country and this high-level failure continues to undercut what has been a "mediocre" Army effort there, an Army historian and strategist has concluded.

"There was no Phase IV plan" for occupying Iraq after the combat phase, writes Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, who served as an official historian of the campaign and later as a war planner in Iraq. While a variety of government offices had considered the possible situations that would follow a U.S. victory, Wilson writes, no one produced an actual document laying out a strategy to consolidate the victory after major combat operations ended.
Who is this man, you ask?
During the period in question, from April to June 2003, Wilson was a researcher for the Army's Operation Iraqi Freedom Study Group. Then, from July 2003 to March 2004, he was the chief war planner for the 101st Airborne Division, which was stationed in northern Iraq.

A copy of Wilson's study as presented at Cornell University in October was obtained by The Washington Post.
Obviously, a liberal conspirator intent on bringing down our beloved leader.

Friday, December 24, 2004

A very Bushy Christmas

WorkingForChange-Fiore presents: A very Bushy Christmas

Click on Image to Enlarge

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all.

And in keeping with the spirit of the season, I'd like to invite everyone to read the Gospel according to St Luke, Chapter 18, versus 9 - 14. The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is one of my favorite passages from the New Testiment seems especially appropriate this year.

Battle Rages in Falluja

Although not widely reported, the fighting is far from over in Fallouja.
U.S. Marines backed by warplanes and tanks battled insurgents Thursday in the heaviest fighting here in weeks, as nearly 1,000 residents returned for the first time since last month's American-led assault on the city.

At least three Marines were killed.

In the center of Fallouja, F-18s dropped several bombs, sending up plumes of smoke. Tank and machine-gun fire could be heard to the south, and howitzers at Camp Fallouja, southeast of the city, boomed throughout the day. The guns fired illumination rounds after dark to help Marines on the ground spot attackers.

The military would not give specific figures for casualties, saying only that the three Marines were killed Thursday in Al Anbar province, which includes Fallouja.

Vietnamization Going Swimmingly

Bomber Likely in Iraqi Uniform,
The suicide bomber believed to have blown himself up in a crowded dining hall on a U.S. Army base in Mosul, killing 22 people, was probably wearing an Iraqi military uniform, U.S. officials said Thursday, offering the first indication of how such an attack could have taken place.

"What we think is likely, but certainly not certain, is that an individual in an Iraqi military uniform, possibly with a vest-worn explosive device, was inside the facility and detonated the facility, causing this tragedy," Brig. Gen. Carter F. Ham, the commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq (news - web sites), said in an interview on CNN.
Who was it that obseserved that those who forget history (or perhaps in this case never learned it) are doomed to repeat it?

Screw Colin Powell

Today's WaPo reveals that Powell Advised Bush to Add Iraq Troops........last month!
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair last month that there were too few troops in Iraq, according to people familiar with official records of the meeting.
Powell really went out on a limb on that one.

DO NOT wheep for Colin Powell. This war is as much his fault as anyone else's. In fact, Powell may be more culpable. The rest were deluited fools, but Powell knew what we were getting into and what did he do about it? He went to the UN and destroyed his own credibility.

F*ck Colin Powell. If he had any integrity he would have resigned in protest over the this war. Perhaps the mere threat of resignation could have avoided the war. Powell forgot that he was no longer a soldier and served the American people first.

I hope he goes to bed each night for the rest of his life thinking about those who died because he lacked the courage to object.

Rudy's Bubble has Finally Burst

The New York Times:A Legacy of Giuliani Years: Damage Suits Against City

On September 11, 2001, and the aftermath that followed, Rudy Giuliani was the man for the time. He was remarkable, and it's hard to imagine that anyone could have done so well. Without guestion, it was Rudy's finest hour,....and he's been riding on that bubble ever since.

So good was Rudy in the aftermath of the attack that we forget that his Senate Campaign in 2000 completely collapsed amid scandal after scandal. Remember when his wife got a restraining order to keep Rudy's girlfriend out Gracy Mansion where she and their children lived!

Anyway, with he and Kerik trying to ram through Kerik as DHS, and revelation that Kerik is a gangster and should be in jail, the Rudy bubble has burst.

Let's recap, just a bit. Josh Marshall at his Talking Points Memo has done an excellent job of detailing the long trail of corruption in Kerik's wake. I won't go through all of that, but you can find it at Josh's site.

Following Kerik's withdrawal and all the stories Kerik's criminal activities and malfeasance, Giuliani began to distance himself. He lied about Kerik's role in Giuliani Partners and booted Kerik out.

Then Rudy dumped Kerik from Giuliani-Kerik LLC which was renamed Giuliani Security & Safety.

Well, it seems it may be too late for Rudy. Finally, the media has reopened the door to Rudy's legacy to NY and the stinch is overwhelming.

In the three years since Michael R. Bloomberg succeeded Mr. Giuliani, the city has spent close to $2 million to settle lawsuits brought by residents and city workers who accused the Giuliani administration of retaliating against them for exercising free speech or other constitutional rights.

Among them is a limousine driver, James Schillaci, who had complained in a newspaper article about a red-light sting set up by the police in the Bronx. The same day, police came to his home to arrest him for a 13-year-old unpaid ticket. The next day, the mayor obtained - illegally, Mr. Schillaci said - the record of his arrests from decades earlier and discussed it, inaccurately, at a news conference. The city settled with him for $290,000 in 2002.

A correction worker charged that he was bypassed for promotion because he supported a political opponent of Mr. Giuliani's and that city investigators videotaped the guests arriving at his home for a political fund-raiser. The city paid him $325,000 this year.

Lawyers for the city say they agreed to pay as a way of making the best deal for the public, not because of wrongdoing by Mr. Giuliani or other officials.

The totals for such claims could grow. Dantae Johnson of the Bronx has charged in a lawsuit that after he was shot by a police officer in May 1999, Mr. Giuliani and the police commissioner, Howard Safir, falsely described him as a criminal to justify the shooting. The officer was convicted of assault. The city has denied responsibility.

Eric H. DeVarin III, an assistant deputy warden in the Correction Department, has claimed in a lawsuit that he was denied promotion because of a dispute with Mr. Kerik's former girlfriend. Mr. Kerik has said that is untrue.

This is just the beginning of remembering life before September 11. Perhaps next, some will question his shameless profiteering from those events.

What Will Arlen Do?

The WH is going to push the old judicial nominees previously blocked.
Although the announcement appears at odds with Mr. Bush's post-election remarks that he would reach out to opponents, it is in line with what had been a principal campaign theme for him and Vice President Dick Cheney, namely 'kiss my ass!'
But Arlen Specter who was castrated earlier this year by the religious right has offered some hope,
But the most notable reaction came from Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a Republican who is expected to become the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Mr. Specter, who was re-elected in November and seems to have survived a challenge from some conservative Republicans who had opposed his ascension to the chairmanship, suggested that he was also troubled by Mr. Bush's announcement.

"It has been my hope that we might be able to approach this whole issue with some cooler perspective," he said in an interview. "I would have preferred to have some time in the 109th Congress to improve the climate to avoid judicial gridlock and future filibusters."

Mr. Specter, who said he had been talking to both Republicans and Democrats in order to improve the chances for compromise, said it might now be "difficult to change the atmosphere with the submission of these names." But he said the president was, in any case, entitled to do as he had done and that as chairman he would "play the cards that are dealt," in trying to get Mr. Bush's nominees confirmed.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Banned Art


A portrait of President George W. Bush (news - web sites) using monkeys to form his image that was banished from a New York art show last week amid charges of censorship was projected on a giant billboard in Manhattan on December 21, 2004. 'Bush Monkeys,' a small acrylic on canvas by Chris Savido, created the stir last week at the Chelsea Market public space, leading the market's managers to close down the 60-piece show. The image is seen on an electronic billboard near the entrance to New York's Holland Tunnel, December 22. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

Bush is very sensitive to suggestions he resembles a monkey.

Today's Message from Homeland Security

The Propaganda Remix Project

Chuck Hagel Didn't Hold Back

You should read this article in Sen Hagel's local paper, the Lincoln NE Lincoln Journal Star.

He doesn't like Rummy and apparently doesn't care who knows it,
Deteriorating conditions in Iraq are a consequence of "the arrogance and incompetency of the civilian leadership at the Pentagon," Sen. Chuck Hagel said Monday.

Increasing violence and instability spring from "the accumulation of a series of bad judgments," the Nebraska Republican said.

Pointing to decisions to disband the Iraqi army, dismantle the Baathist government bureaucracy and attempt to secure the country with an inadequate number of U.S. troops, Hagel suggested "the buck does stop somewhere."

Hagel's sharp words came in response to news media questioning after an appearance before about 60 eighth-grade students at St. Joseph School.

"It's always the uniformed military that has to bear the brunt of bad decisions," Hagel said. "They do the dying and the suffering," he said, and their families sacrifice, too.

Never will he utter "a criticism of the warrior," Hagel said, but the military's civilian leaders must be held accountable.

"I went through one of these wars," he said. As a member of the Senate, he said, "I am not going to stand back and allow it to happen again."

Hagel was twice wounded as an Army sergeant in Vietnam.

"These men and women deserve leadership that is worthy of them," Hagel said. When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld "flippantly dismisses" a young soldier's question about lack of protective armor on military vehicles in Iraq, Hagel said, "that is not worthy."
I'm convinced Rummy will leave in February, after the election.

(via TAPPED)

Missinformation Campaign to Begin

Kevin Drum points to thisReuters News Article,

President Bush will spearhead an election-style public relations campaign early next year to try to convince Americans that Social Security is in urgent need of change but will keep dollar and cent details deliberately vague, analysts and officials say.

With Bush's political capital riding on a successful overhaul of the popular retirement program, the White House and its allies plan to bombard the public with presidential speeches, television and radio ads, newspaper op-ed articles and grass-roots rallies between now and early 2005.

"It's going to be a battle royal, very much like an election campaign but over an issue rather than a candidate," said Stephen Moore, executive director of Club for Growth, a Republican group that hopes to spend $15 million on a media campaign backing the White House.

So who on our side plans to spend on a counter blitz? Rallies and grass roots is nice, but it won't be enough.

We organized an army for the last election. We need that army now, but someone has to take command.


Iraq Status Report

Richard Stevenson of the NYTs gives us a status report on Iraq.

Here is a key passage,
For a year, the administration has suggested that Iraq would move closer to stability as it reached one milestone after another: the capture of Saddam Hussein; the handover of sovereignty and the appointment of an interim government; the deployment of Iraqi security forces; the military campaign to expel the insurgents from strongholds like Falluja; and the first round of elections next month.

Yet most of those milestones have passed with little discernible improvement in the security situation. Now some analysts are concerned that the elections could make the political situation in Iraq even more unstable by producing an outcome in which the Sunni minority feels so marginalized by the Shiite majority that it fuels not just further violence against Americans and Iraqis working with them but also more intense sectarian strife or even civil war.
little discernible improvement?

What in the hell is he smoking? The situation in Iraq grows demonstrably worse with each passing day.

The capture of Saddam, the handover of sovereignty, the interim government, the deployment (followed by the desertion) of Iraqi security forces, the military campaign to expel insurgents have all been met with more violence. Why doesn't some so called journalist muster the courage to simply say the obvious.

Hell, even Bush, who usually doesn't even know what day it is, finally conceded some of these problems.

On the whole, it a good read, and in fairness, Robert does address these, issues, but I'm so very tired of this mealy-mouthed language coming from reporters.

The Oil-for-Food Scandal - What's All the Fuss?

The right just can't get enough of the so-called oil for food scandal in Iraq. Of course, they will do anything to keep attention away for the 'Lies about WMD' scandal also in Iraq.

If you need a primer, Slate has it:The Oil-for-Food Scandal - What happened, and who's to blame. By Michael Crowley

Mathew Gross: Bush Ordered Torture

Go read Mathew's post. It's is 'to the point'.
Mathew Gross: Bush Ordered Torture

Lovely

This is a scandal.

The National Institutes of Health: Public Servant or Private Marketer?
For 15 million Americans, it is a daily ritual: gulping down a pill to reduce cholesterol.

They do it because their doctors tell them to. Their doctors, in turn, rely on recommendations from the National Institutes of Health and its scientists, such as Dr. H. Bryan Brewer Jr.

Brewer, as a leader at the NIH, was part of a team that gave the nation new cholesterol guidelines that were expected to prompt millions more people to take the daily pill. He also has written favorably of a specific brand of cholesterol medication, Crestor, which recently proved controversial.

What doctors were not told for years is this: While making recommendations in the name of the NIH, Brewer was working for the companies that sell the drugs. Government and company records show that from 2001 to 2003, he accepted about $114,000 in consulting fees from four companies making or developing cholesterol medications, including $31,000 from the maker of Crestor.

Brewer was far from alone in taking industry's money: At least 530 government scientists at the NIH, the nation's preeminent agency for medical research, have taken fees, stock or stock options from biomedical companies in the last five years, records show.

U.S. Contractor Pulls Out of Reconstruction Effort in Iraq

This isn't good.

U.S. Contractor Pulls Out of Reconstruction Effort in Iraq
For the first time, a major U.S. contractor has dropped out of the multibillion-dollar effort to rebuild Iraq, raising new worries about the country's growing violence and its effect on reconstruction.

Contrack International Inc., the leader of a partnership that won one of 12 major reconstruction contracts awarded this year, cited skyrocketing security costs in reaching a decision with the U.S. government last month to terminate work in Iraq.
Halliburton apologists have long maintained that Halliburton isn't making money in Iraq. I just assumed they meant that if they have to actually account for their expenditures there plan to loot Iraq and the US Government's reconstruction funds wouldn't be profitable. But maybe, there is more to it.

We can all see where this is going and it's not a good place.

People Need to Go To Jail...

This just keeps getting better.

It's long past time for a special prosecutor.

And when I say people need to go to jail, I'm talking about leaders. Those who are responsible for the plans, civilian and military command people, not grunts.

What most Americans don't understand is the damage this does to our international crediblity.

New Papers Suggest Detainee Abuse Was Widespread
The Bush administration is facing a wave of new allegations that the abuse of foreign detainees in U.S. military custody was more widespread, varied and grave in the past three years than the Defense Department has long maintained.

New documents released yesterday detail a series of probes by Army criminal investigators into multiple cases of threatened executions of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers, as well as of thefts of currency and other private property, physical assaults, and deadly shootings of detainees at detention camps in Iraq.
We have become what they are.

What is the Unfunded Soc Security Liability?

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a non-partisan budget watchdog group that is a great resource for information on Federal spending.

The Bush administration likes to speak of a $10 trillion dollar unfunded Social Security liability which is parroted by the media without context.

the CBPP has the context.

Would Borrowing $2 Trillion for Individual Accounts Eliminate $10 Trillion in Social Security Liabilities?
Administration officials have been downplaying the significance of the $2 trillion in transition costs required by some individual accounts plans, by comparing that cost to the unfunded liability in Social Security over an infinite time horizon, which totals more than $10 trillion. For example, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan responded recently to a question about how the White House would pay for the $2 trillion transition cost by arguing “It’s a savings, because the cost is $10 trillion of doing nothing, and this will actually be a savings from that cost of doing nothing.”[2]

This argument is misleading. The $10 trillion number is taken out of context; it refers to the Social Security shortfall not over 75 years, but into eternity. Social Security does face a long-term deficit, but it is relatively modest as a share of the economy; in fact, it is considerably smaller than the cost of the tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003, if those tax cuts are made permanent. More fundamentally, borrowing $2 trillion to fund individual accounts does nothing to reduce Social Security’s long-term deficit. Individual account plans that eliminate the long-term deficit in Social Security, such as the principal plan the President’s Social Security commission proposed, do so entirely by reducing future Social Security benefits, not because of borrowing.
They have more, it's very readable, and an excellent resource.

Faint Hearted Democrats

Josh Marshall points to 13 Democrats believed to be the most likely to defect on Social Security.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, MO's own Ike Skelton is on the list. The 13 faint hearted are,

Dennis Moore
Tom Allen
Marion Berry
Allen Boyd
Robert "Bud" Cramer
Ron Kind
James Moran
Collin Peterson
Adam Schiff
Adam Smith
Ike Skelton
John Tanner
Gene Taylor

Let's make sure each hears from us so they know how strongly we feel about this issue. If you know anyone who lives in one of the respective districts, make sure they know they rep may be on the fence.

UPDATE: Josh Updates his earlier post.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Matt Touches on the Real Crisis

Big Media Matt has a piece up at the American Prospect Online where he works as a staff writer.

He makes the case that there is no Social Security crisis, but if you've been reading what I've posted here, he doesn't really break any new ground.

However, he makes a point that is important about the Soc Security Trust Fund and gets to what is the real crisis,
Advocates of eliminating Social Security argue that...the program holds no "real assets" instead of "mere IOUs." These IOUs, however, are U.S. Treasury bonds, considered far and wide to be the safest investment in the world. In times of grave national crisis, from the Revolutionary War to World War II, the federal government has financed its activities be issuing these bonds -- and they've always been repaid.

The president has chosen to finance a series of tax cuts for people earning more than $100,000 a year by selling these bonds to the central banks of China and Japan, and to Social Security. Now he says that he doesn't want to pay back what he's borrowed from my generation's retirement fund. That's just wrong. Worse, what kind of message does it send to the Chinese and others that Bush plans to offer an additional $2 trillion in bonds when the U.S. government takes the position that these are just IOUs that don't need to be repaid?
In a somewhat fair, (to my great surprise) summary of the Social Security situation in the WSJ online, they, in fact refer to the assets of the Trust Fund only as "IOU's" This is no doubt, an intentional deceit.

So let me elaborate on Matt's comments and the nature and history of the Trust Fund.

Here is the real crisis. When forced to discuss the facts, the Right has a problem. The Social Security Trust Fund is completely solvent for at least the next 50 years and very likely much longer (every year the economy grows at more than about 2% the life of the trust fund gets put off further), and if the economy booms, as it did in the nineties, it gets really put off.

A little history. Back in the early 80's Social Security was running a deficit (retiree benefits paid exceeded Social Security taxes collected) and thanks to Ronald Reagan, the US government deficit had also soared following his tax cuts to wealthy Americans. Republicans were desperate to fund their tax cuts to the wealthy without asking the wealthy to actually give some money back in the form of income tax increases.

So Alan Greenspan had a plan to make Social Security not only currently solvent but to create a trust fund that would cover the baby boomers. The plan was simple. Raise the regressive Social Security tax rate to create a surplus that would be placed into a "Trust Fund" that would purchase US Treasury bonds as it's assets. We were selling these bonds anyway to fund the deficit.

Per this plan, the Social Security Admin has taken the money from wage earners ever since, paid current benefits and purchased bonds with the excess,which they are doing even now. For the Rs, this was a win / win. This trust fund helped to fund the Republican tax cuts. See the Social Security money is counted as general revenue the same as if it were income taxes (again a practice which continues to this day) which makes the deficits appeared smaller. So, they literally took money from working families (raising the Soc Security tax rate and not the income tax rate) and transferred that money to the wealthiest Americans in the form of large tax cuts.

Well, actually, they borrowed the money from working families to fund their own tax cuts.

And here is something else I've mention before, but which bears repeating. As I said, the Rs didn't want to give back some of their tax cuts. So raising the Soc Security tax was perfect. The SS tax is capped. This year the cap was about $5,500 so that once you made over $87,500 in wages, you no longer paid Social Security taxes on the remaining wages, -- and non-wage income (from investments, real estate developments, stock speculations, etc.) are not taxed at all for Social Security.

Depending on economic growth, in about 15 years or so, Social Security will have to start cashing in some of it's assets to supplement current SS taxes collected to pay benefits -- exactly as Greenspan's plan envisioned.

But here is the real crisis. Republicans who took the money of working men and women to fund their tax cuts in the 80's and the last few years, don't want to pay it back. See, it may require tax increases to honor the bonds that funded the nation's debts ran up by these tax cuts. They may have to give back some of the money they took. You know what that means? We've got a f*cking crisis!

Now, one final point. Trust Fund or no Trust Fund, we had to sell bonds to fund the government deficits, and we've sold more bonds each year then the Trust Fund purchased. So this debt would exist even if there were never a Trust Fund. As Matt pointed out above, besides the Trust Fund, these bonds have been sold to investors, foreign and domestic. Under Greenspan's plan, we bought with excess Social Security funds, bonds that would have otherwise been sold to investors. Like any debt, we must honor these bonds and in honoring them, we are simply repaying money taken from wage earners under the promise that at retirement they would receive guaranteed Social Security Benefits.

In short, excess Social Security taxes have been taken from working people to fund tax cuts for wealthy people, and they don't want to give it back. So they want to convince us of a crisis for which we must borrow trillions more, rather than cash in the bonds already borrowed.

Packaging Our Message on Soc Security

Few have covered the Social Security issue as thoroughly as Kevin Drum on the The Washington Monthly blog.

He has a nice summary up of recent writing on the topic, and how to get our message out, but don't just read his post. He links to pieces by Garance Franke-Ruta, Ezra Klein, and Brad DeLong that are also must reads. I'm just too lazy to blog them separately.

Tuesdays With EJ

Today EJ begins,
When I encounter fellow Christians during these days of comfort and joy, I wish them a Merry Christmas. When I encounter Jewish friends, I wish them Happy Hanukah. And when I encounter people whose religious beliefs are unknown to me, I wish them Happy Holidays. Does this make me a Christian sellout? Or does it make me an authentic Christian?
blah, blah, blah....

I like EJ, but I have to say that I am sooooo tired of this non-story being talked about endlessly. Some Christian groups have discovered that by claiming victim status they can raise a lot of money, so they take a handful of anecdotes in this nation of 300 million people and convince the dim whitted that the majority religion is under siege because they can't force their relegion on everyone else. And while, of couse, EJ is diagreeing with the silliness, he is giving them way more attention than they deserve. After all, it is the attention they want.

DeLay Giving Aid and Comfort to the Enemy

Sam Rosenfeld on TAPPED notes that Tom DeLay today on Sean Hannity's radio show (Oliver North sitting in -- yikes) said that all those who criticize Rummy are giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Then Sam's takes us on a little trip down memory lane,
Tom DeLay knows a thing or two about emboldening an enemy and "call[ing] everything a mistake" in a time of war. As he told Tim Russert in May of 1999, regarding the war in Kosovo:

I am opposed to this policy. I think it's a flawed policy. It was flawed going in. We haven't been told the truth about what's going on. This administration told us it would just be a couple of days of bombing. Milosevic would come to the table. If that didn't happen, it would be a couple of more days. And now they're saying that we've got to be in there to win to save face. Well, they have been proven wrong every day, and even the bombing has not made much difference other than weaken Milosevic's ability to defend his nation. But they have strengthened the resolve of the Serbian people. [italics added]

MR. RUSSERT: Peter King, fellow Republican in Congress, said that you view Kosovo as Impeachment II. You didn't get Bill Clinton the first time, you want to get him now. Barney Frank, the Democrat, said, "In Tom DeLay's eyes, hatred of Clinton is the dominant emotion." Why do you dislike the president so much?

REP. DeLAY: I prayed for the president. I prayed for the president this morning. I don't--it's not that I dislike the president.

MR. RUSSERT: You don't like him.

REP. DeLAY: It's not that I don't dislike him.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you respect him?

REP. DeLAY: I don't respect the president, but I don't agree with the president either. I think this president is one of the most ineffective presidents of my lifetime. His foreign policy is disaster, not just Kosovo but China, North Korea, the Middle East. He has put--he has hollowed out our forces while he's running around having these adventures all over the world.

We're right now 18,000 sailors short, over 700 pilots short. We're supposed to have 1,000 cruise missiles. We have less than 70 and no production line to build more. And yet, he is sending our boys to Kosovo. The majority leader flew to Kosovo on a plane with a Bradley fighting vehicle and was told by some of the crewmen that was going to Kosovo that they had not even fired live rounds. We don't have the wherewithal to even provide ammunition for our soldiers to be trained and practice with before they go into harm's way. This is just a horrible, horrible situation. And regarding those Cruise Missiles, I remember some R friends railing about this, but were then did all the cruise missiles fired on Iraq in 2003 come from? They fired 70 the first night, and no, Bush did no build them, because his first DoD budget was only in effect for 6 months when we launched the war. It was Clinton's army that removed Saddam.

Today's Message from Homeland Security

The Propaganda Remix Project

Ouch, Indeed

Salon:

Republicans like to brag about the sweeping mandate that President Bush received on Election Day. But as he prepares for his second term, Bush approaches Inauguration Day with historically weak job-approval ratings, according to a series of new opinion polls. Unless there's a dramatic turnaround in public sentiment between now and Jan. 20, Bush will be sworn into office with the lowest job-approval rating -- barely 50 percent -- of any president in the last 80 years, or since modern-day presidential polling began.

(via Mathew Gross )

Another Wingnut Lie Exposed

Soldier Says He Asked Rumsfeld Armor Question Without Aid of Embed

NEW YORK In his first public account of last week's controversy, Spc. Thomas Wilson says that he came up with the now famous armor question for Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld on his own, without the help of oft-criticized reporter Edward Lee Pitts. And he adds, 'If this is my 15 minutes of fame, I hope it saves a life.'

The account appears in next week's edition of Time magazine.
Of course, it's too late now to go back and clarify that story. On the other hand, I don't know how many people (the AM radio kooks don't count) ever cared where the question came from. The issue was then remains now, about the answer -- which is why the wingnuts were so despirate for the lie to begin with.

(via Roger Ailes)

Attack on U.S. Base in Iraq Kills 22

Attack on U.S. Base in Iraq Kills 22

CASCR

A friend of mine started [site de-linked] with a friend of his. The Committee for the Advancement of Stem Cell Research is a non-partisan 527 intended to support candidates for federal office who support stem cell research.

As my friend told me in an email, this 527 has essentially stalled following the last election.

Like Social Security, this is an issue where the Democratic party must show real leadership. This is a perfect issue to define a key difference between us and the Rs.

That's right it is a wedge issue that is a guaranteed winner for us. We need to back them into a corner on this, the way that they are always doing to us.

Granted, it's not as clean as social security as we will have some members who cannot sign on (Harry Reid?) and we will have to understand that, but that should not dissuade us as a party from making this stand.

Remember, it's not 9/11 that changed everything, it's the Enlightenment.

Monday, December 20, 2004


G-dub completely overwhelmed at today's press conference when asked about his policies.

Our Soldiers Deserve Better

Why do G-dubs supporters hate our soldiers?

Bob Herbert in today's NYTs,
The people who were so anxious to launch the war in Iraq are a lot less enthusiastic about properly supporting the troops who are actually fighting, suffering and dying in it. Corporal Rund was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. Because of severe military personnel shortages, large numbers of troops are serving multiple tours in the war zone, and many are having their military enlistments involuntarily extended.
....
The people who were so anxious to launch the war in Iraq are a lot less enthusiastic about properly supporting the troops who are actually fighting, suffering and dying in it....Because of severe military personnel shortages, large numbers of troops are serving multiple tours in the war zone, and many are having their military enlistments involuntarily extended.
....
The people who were so anxious to launch the war in Iraq are a lot less enthusiastic about properly supporting the troops who are actually fighting, suffering and dying in it. Corporal Rund was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. Because of severe military personnel shortages, large numbers of troops are serving multiple tours in the war zone, and many are having their military enlistments involuntarily extended.
....
From the earliest planning stages until now, the war in Iraq has been a tragic exercise in official incompetence. The original rationale for the war was wrong. The intelligence was wrong. The estimates of required troop strength were wrong. The war hawks' guesses about the response of the Iraqi people were wrong. The cost estimates were wrong, and on and on.

Nevertheless the troops have fought valiantly, and the price paid by many has been horrific. They all deserve better than the bad faith and shoddy treatment they are receiving from the highest officials of their government.
There is much more to the column that deserves your attention.

(via Atrios)

Today's Message from Homeland Security

The Propaganda Remix Project

Tim Noah Wrote What I Was Thinking

I only heard part of Bush's press conference today, and have read about the subsequent press accounts.

In Slate, Timothy Noah writes what I was thinking.,
Until now, Bush has seemed either too dumb or too stubborn to recognize that Social Security privatization will necessitate either hitting up taxpayers or reducing Social Security benefits. But watching Bush in today's press conference, I realized that there was another possibility: Bush is simply too cynical to acknowledge practical realities of which he is well aware. Maybe he figures that accommodating those realities simply isn't his job. Maybe he's thinking: Let Congress get the blame for insisting that two plus two equals four!
Exactly. But I'm not so sure they will take the bait.

Of course, will the TV media allow Bush to get away with this, or hound him?

As I noted earlier, they have their own agenda.

Josh is All Over the Soc Security Fight

Josh Marshall at TPM, is also all over the fight to save Soc Security. After you read Nick Confessore's post (see below) go read Josh's post which goes hand in hand.

We cannot lose this fight. Nothing is more important.

'Bet the Table'

Nick Confessore has an excellent piece up on TAPPED that you have got to read.

It has become very fashionable now to suggest that the Democratic party must position itself as the reform party. I agree with this, but then this has always been the role I wanted the party to play.

Nick makes the case for an agenda of reform and points out that such a position comes with some pain.

Nick observes that because we are so close it retaking both houses of Congress (we are only down 9 seats in the house which means a pick up of 5 and were back in control) we have become timid and ineffective as a party.

Democratic leaders continue to act like the junior partner in some national unity government, where the main purpose of keeping the caucus together seems to be pushing slight changes to awful Republican legislation rather than mounting wedges and laying traps that will help define the political debate down the road and vault the party back into the majority.

Under different political circumstances, this kind of caution might make sense. The problem is that the Republican majority is, in fact, fairly stable, and is likely to remain so for some years. The Democrats will not return to power on the Hill until there is a major change in the underlying political dynamic in this country, a fact which the relative smallness of the GOP majority (by historical standards) tends to obscure. And the only way to effect a major change in the underlying political dynamics is to bet the table -- to really change the order of business.
Further, we need to be prepared to lose a battle or two to win the war. Individual reps need to be prepared even to lose a little pork for their district in the interest of the greater good. Party discipline must be a major priority and we must be prepared to loose a seat or two even in 2006 to keep discipline.

winning will also require of the Democratic minority a willingness to suffer tactical defeats in the service of strategic victory. A good example here is, as Josh Marshall has been pointing out, a willingness to sacrifice Democratic members who waver on Social Security abolition, even to work for their defeat if they defect in the coming months and years. Why? Because "[m]asking the elimination of Social Security a strictly Republican gambit raises the political stakes dramatically. Many Republicans will be far more cautious without bipartisan cover. Democrats must deny them even the thinnest of fig leaves. Making it a strictly Republican affair will also provide valuable clarity in the coming election, rather than the muddled picture created by Democratic defections on the 2001 tax bill." Indeed, in the long run it's probably better for the Democrats to lose a few members in 2006 than to allow the GOP that fig leaf.
You must read the whole thing. I think Nick has hit the nail on the head.

What the part needs is leadership, and Nick is acknowledging and observing that many Ds in Congress out of self interest and too much caution are not stepping up to provide it.

I've noted time and again that Americans reward those who show leadership even when they don't agree with them. Our biggest failure of late has been a lack of leadership on important issues that voters perceive as weakness. Voters hate weakness.

We must also remember that party leadership is that much more difficult when you are not in the WH because you lack a national figure and spokesperson. But the Rs found it in the 90's and we must now.

And to jive these comments with my earlier comments on 'Whinin Joe' , we must let all of the elected Ds know how important specific issues are to us and that we will accept no compromise. We have to make are feeling known to them in a attempt to avoid a confrontation within our own party. With such knowledge, if they capitulate, then they do so at their own peril.

Go read this piece, it's very good. And tell us what you think of it in comments.

McCain in 2008?

Dana Milbank, in today's WaPo writes that McCain's people are beggining the preliminary steps.

Dana's well connected and his observations and quotes tell the story.

Here is my caveat, McCain's now 68 and would turn 72 in his first term, which would make him about 2 years older than Reagan when he took office.

This Congress Won't Be So Passive

Apparently, this Congress has it's own agenda.

Unfortunately, I don't think we will be of much concern for Bush as he pushes his second term agenda. His problem will come from his own party.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Tex.) has privately criticized White House handling of the recent intelligence bill and Bush's plan to postpone tax reform until 2006 or later. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.) and others have publicly complained about the political and fiscal hazards of overhauling Social Security. Several senators, including a few 2008 presidential contenders, are rushing to promote their own Social Security plans to compete with Bush's.

And a number of conservative Republicans concerned about states' rights, such as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), are threatening to derail the White House plan to impose federal limits on medical lawsuits. "It's one of the worst bills going," Graham said.

But the president's most nettlesome intra-party issue in early 2005 may be immigration, lawmakers said.....
Although the media never reports it, in fact a number of prominent Rs are also friends to the plaintiff's bar. In addition to Lindsey Graham, Trent Lott is also in that group.

I can't imagine that Bush will go down fighting on immigration issues, although this is a part of their plan to gain sustained support in the Hispanic community. But Bush won't go down fighting on this. He'll just bail like he did on Kerik.

Bush seems to really be pushing Social Security privatization, and that is where the fight will be. We will have to find our friends were we can from those across the isle.

My hope is that the idealogues in Congress will spend all their time fighting each other and nothing will get done. So far, so good.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Giuliani Fleeing Kerik?

Josh has a great post up quoting Newsweek quoting Giuliani that is not to be missed.

Here's the Neweek quote, but you need to read Josh's post.
Giuliani said repeatedly that Kerik's role in the firm is very limited, representing "less than 5 percent" of its business. He also said that Kerik's position was largely limited to their joint venture, Giuliani-Kerik. "He's not part of Giuliani Partners," the former mayor said. But at the firm's Web site, Kerik is described as a "Senior Vice President at Giuliani Partners." Giuliani later explained the discrepancy by saying: "Senior vice president of the group is what Bernie was when we started. I think that remains his title, but that's not the way we primarily relate to him. As you know, he does some work for a few of our clients." He added: "We should probably straighten it out and point out where his ownership interest is and primary work is done."
What a hoot.

George Bush's World

Atrios points to this tidbit. The Social Security Administration is rejecting marriage certificates from heterosexual couples married in counties that had recognized gay marriages.

This would be a fun law suit to file,
The Social Security Administration is rejecting marriage documents issued for heterosexual couples in four communities that performed weddings for gay couples earlier this year.

The agency is rejecting all marriage certificates issued in New Paltz, N.Y., after Feb. 27, when the town's mayor began marrying gay couples, according to town officials.

Certificates issued during the brief periods when Asbury Park, N.J., Multnomah County, Ore., and Sandoval County, N.M., recognized gay marriages are also being rejected.

Susie Kilpatrick, 30, of New Paltz, said the local Social Security office told her that no marriage documents issued after Feb. 27 could be used to establish identity because of the gay marriages that took place there earlier this year. About 125 heterosexual couples have been married since then.

Kilpatrick said her marriage certificate was rejected when she went to get a new card earlier this month so she could take her husband's name.

"What concerns me is that the certificate is the only way to prove that we're married," she told The New York Times for Sunday editions. "If something happens to us, or some other couple from New Paltz, we can't prove we're married. We would not be able to draw benefits."

The agency did not respond to repeated requests from the Times for comment. A call from The Associated Press for comment on Sunday was not immediately returned.

Pentagon Pressed to Cut Its Budgets

This is an important story in today's LA Times.

Military funding grew hugely after Sept. 11—from $317 billion in 2001, to $355 billion, $368 billion, $416 billion, and now $500 billion. The Navy's budget, now slated for large cuts, has risen 20 percent a year to $120 billion. Now with the 2006 budget just weeks away from being submitted to Congress the WH is pressing the DoD hard for cuts. Maybe this is why they want Rummy around. The Navy and Army budgets are both expected to be reduced between $4 billion and $5 billion in 2006.

As belts are tightened, a few of the larger and more prominent weapons development projects could be downsized, possibly including the Air Force's F/A-22 and the Navy's new Virginia-class submarine fleet. Living is St Louis were major component parts for the F-22 are manufactured, its a little difficult to talk about these cuts, but the truth is the F-22 is a weapons system in search of an enemy. It was designed as a heavy fighter to counter a cold-war era Mig never built. Meanwhile, the F-15 remains the most advanced fighter in the world, but increasingly it has no purpose. Other countries aren't building fighters any more, so there is no one to fight. Al Qaida doesn't have any fighters.

The DoD now relies much more on smaller, lighter combo attack/fighter planes like the FA-18 with the F-16 seeming to be the favored fighter.

I know one place to save billions: missile fraud.

Civil War?

When do we call it a civil war?

Today in Kerbala and Najaf, suicide bombers set off bombs near busy areas designed to kill as many Shiites as possible. So far, 62 are reported dead, but that number is likely light with how many more seriously injured and permanently maimed?

Last Wednesday a bomb apparently targeting Shiite cleric Abdul Mehdi al-Kerbalai exploded as he was returning to his office after evening prayers at the Imam Hussein shrine killing 12 and wounding 30.

The Shiite clerics are calling on their people not to respond in kind, but how long can that last? Imagine a US politician calling on Americans not to respond in kind to such attacks?

Are we supposed to assume that this violence will miraculously end after the election when the Shiites officially dominate the new government and write the new constitution?

Meanwhile, back in Baghdad, 3 electoral workers were gunned down in the middle of the day with an AP photographer catching the whole thing on film.

Rummy Watch Update

More Rs pile on Rummy this time for not personally signing letters to the families of soldiers killed in combat.

What's interesting is that this is not a new story. I first read about this more than a year ago and circulated the story by email. Rummy doesn't personally sign the letters to the families of the fallen. According to Senator Hagel, Bush personally signs the letters he sends.

The Rs are now making a concerted effort to dump him and we can expect a lot more of these kind of complaints.

That Rummy hasn't signed these letters says a lot about him, as I pointed out last year when this story first surfaced. These letters probably average about 3 per day, so it's not unmanageable. It's just something he couldn't be bothered with.

Now that Rs have started complaining about this, he will sign all future letters.

Too little, too late, Don.

Today's Message from Homeland Security

The Propaganda Remix Project

"Today's Message" returns after an unwanted hiatus resulting from a new computer and a firewall that didn't like my photo software.


The Need for Unity

Matthew Yglesias has a post up today on the The Importance of Unity in defeating any so-called reform of Social Security.

We cannot tolerate any D defections on this issue that will allow the Rs to claim bipartisan support. This is an issue that defines us as a party and we must let our elected officials, even the Rs, know how strongly we feel about this.

Interestingly, he sees 'Whinin Joe Lieberman' as the most likely defector.

The left is just waiting for an excuse to allow them to target Joe for defeat the way the right targeted Spector.

Here I want to offer a word of caution. I understand the frustration with Lieberman. I'm out of patience with him too, but he does serve a purpose in our party. First, He is an example to the more conservative members of the party that our big tent has room for them too. We run him out on a rail and what message does that send?

Second, now is not the time to be using our precious resources on fighting within our ranks. Every dime given to oust Lieberman is a dime not available to pick up a seat, or save a seat.

If Lieberman defects on Social Security then screw him. But for now, I think we should be informing him (NOT threatening him!) on just how important this issue is to us and bombarding his office with letters, faxs, emails, etc. making it clear to him that this is not an issue upon which he should feel free to dance with those on the other side of the dance floor.

Of course, the more contact 'Whinin Joe' has from those actually in Connecticut, the better, but all of us should contact him.

You will find his contact info here.

James Wolcott will be on CNBC tonight

James Wolcott will be on Topic [A] with Tina Brown tonight with CNBC at 7 PM CST.

I've never cared for Tina Brown, but Wolcott's a hoot and always funny.

Wolcott plugs his appearance on his blog, thusly,
As for the panel discussion itself, imagine a Partisan Review symposium circa 1954, only without words like "Hegelian" and "contradistinction" and peppered with references to Bernie Kerik's mojo and the recent acquisition of Pedro Martinez. It's kinda like that. Anyway, it'll be on CNBC Sunday night at 8PM EST, and I only pray the tape editor trimmed my "joke" about Judith Regan's jaws of steel, which in retrospect could easily be misconstrued.

Oy!


This re-election has really gone to his head.

(via Digby)

Friday, December 17, 2004

WH Stabbing Rummy in the Back?

Josh Marshall puts up an excerpt from today's WH Gaggle wherein a reporter says that Kristol has been telling everyone that the WH is encouraging him to call for Rummy to quit in writing.

Very interesting.

Matt Speaks for a Generation...

Big Media Matt, on TAPPED makes an excellent point about our response to the liars.
I'm not sure the older liberals who run the show quite understand how overwhelmingly important it is to keep the 'there is no crisis' message front and center in the Social Security debate. Most of the young people I know -- including myself until very recently -- have been taken in by a decades-long effort on behalf of privatizers into believing that Social Security is in 'crisis,' and that if we do nothing the system will 'go bankrupt' before we retire, meaning that the system will somehow collapse and we won't get any benefits.

If you approach the issue from inside that frame, then no amount of cavailing about benefit cuts or 'risky' stock market transactions is going to get you anywhere. A smaller benefits package and a stock portfolio that may or may not pay off looks like a really good deal compared to a bankrupt pension plan that gives you nothing. Once you understand that even if we do nothing whatsoever to fix Social Security and the Trustees' overly pessimistic predictions come true, the system will still have enough money to pay my generation more in real terms then current retirees get, everything looks different. Bush is offering us a guarantee of lower benefits and $2 trillion in debt to forestall the possibility that benefits will need to be lowered sometime in the 2040s. That's a terrible deal in a straightforward way. But only if you try and see the truth: There is no crisis. If you can't make people see that, everything else becomes pretty irrelevant.
The truth is it's not just the twenty-somethings who have this missperecption. It's most Americans. It's widely belived the system is in crisis. A forty-something friend of mine informed me a few months ago that "Alan Greenspan said I'm not getting any social security!" Sure, he's an idiot, but he's in good company. He refuses to believe anything I say on the subject because this is all he's heard.

Not only do I agree with Matt, but I think he touches on something much bigger. We, and even more so our leaders in Congress, have never taken seriously the impact of the R misinformation campaign. we serially make this mistake. The Rs are relentlessly on message on every TV appearance, talk radio, public speech, etc. and those who are suppose to represent our side are too damn polite to call them what they are: Liars. We seem to think the rehetoric is all a GD game and that everyone really knows better. This seems to be especially acute with our Washington folks.

Well guess what friends? People believe them when no one calls them on their BS. Social Security is a prefect example. Americans widely believe it is going bankrupt and fairly soon. Why shouldn't they, it's all they hear. Perhaps if our side got a little confrontational with facts, embarrasing the liars in public appearances, they'd start to back down, but God forbid we upset the club.

We are going to keep losing battle after battle until we grow up and grow some balls.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum also weighs in on this.

UPDATE Dos: Atrios also weighs in

Krugman Can't Stay Away

Paul Krugman, who remains on book leave, has yet another column on Social Security fraud coming from the Administration.

Paul's now frustrated by the lack of reporting on the problems (read failures) of others who have privatized.
Information about other countries' experience with privatization isn't hard to find. For example, the Century Foundation, at www.tcf.org, provides a wide range of links.

Yet, aside from giving the Cato Institute and other organizations promoting Social Security privatization the space to present upbeat tales from Chile, the U.S. news media have provided their readers and viewers with little information about international experience. In particular, the public hasn't been let in on two open secrets:

Privatization dissipates a large fraction of workers' contributions on fees to investment companies.

It leaves many retirees in poverty.
He then turns to the two systems that seem to be the darling of the right and observes them both to be failures,
Privatizers who laud the Chilean system never mention that it has yet to deliver on its promise to reduce government spending. More than 20 years after the system was created, the government is still pouring in money. Why? Because, as a Federal Reserve study puts it, the Chilean government must "provide subsidies for workers failing to accumulate enough capital to provide a minimum pension." In other words, privatization would have condemned many retirees to dire poverty, and the government stepped back in to save them.

The same thing is happening in Britain. Its Pensions Commission warns that those who think Mrs. Thatcher's privatization solved the pension problem are living in a "fool's paradise." A lot of additional government spending will be required to avoid the return of widespread poverty among the elderly - a problem that Britain, like the U.S., thought it had solved.

Britain's experience is directly relevant to the Bush administration's plans. If current hints are an indication, the final plan will probably claim to save money in the future by reducing guaranteed Social Security benefits. These savings will be an illusion: 20 years from now, an American version of Britain's commission will warn that big additional government spending is needed to avert a looming surge in poverty among retirees.
There's more.

More on the WH Economic Summit

The WaPo offers up it's take on the staged economic summit by the WH and it's obvious that even the news reporter had a hard time taking it seriously,
Throughout a two-day conference on the economy, President Bush and his allies extolled the virtues of his tax cuts and "pro-growth" policies, which they said have lifted the nation from recession and propelled it well above its international economic competitors. If Washington adheres to the path of fiscal restraint while following the president's tax prescriptions, it was suggested, policymakers could secure powerful economic growth far into the future.

Yet when the subject turned to the nation's legal or Social Security systems, the picture grew suddenly dark. Frivolous lawsuits have hobbled America's businesses and have put them at the mercy of their enlightened overseas competition, administration officials said. As for federal entitlements, a rising tide of retiring baby boomers will inevitably slow economic growth and bankrupt Social Security.

"The crisis is now," Bush warned in his closing speech.

Such contradictions emerged repeatedly, pointing up the delicate balancing act that Bush faces as he tries to sell his economic proposals. On tax changes, the president must convince constituents that four years of tax cutting has worked so well in promoting economic growth that his tax policies should be not just continued but enhanced. The cuts of his first term should be made permanent, the president says, while the broader tax code must be changed further to cut taxes on savings and investment.

But Bush must also convince lawmakers that no matter what they do to spur growth through tax changes, the future will remain dire for the U.S. legal and Social Security systems.
There is also references the the experts and their contridictions which Noam Scheiber first reported in TNR.

O'Reilly is An Idiot

Media Matters has the story.

The Rest of the Commission Recommendations

James Baker and Warren Christopher, of all people, have an Op-Ed in Today's WaPo reminding us that the 9-11 Commission had other significant recommendations that must be implemented.
...Terrorism is not caused by poverty," the commission said. "Yet when people lose hope, when societies break down, when countries fragment, the breeding grounds for terrorism are created. . . . Economic and political liberties tend to be linked."

Most of the strategies on the commission's to-do list fall under the purview of the international affairs budget, which in fiscal 2005 amounts to about $30 billion. That's a little over 1 percent of the total U.S. budget. We've made progress the past several years in providing support to U.S. international affairs efforts, increasing the budget from $26 billion in fiscal 2002, the last budget before the Sept. 11 attacks. Still, this year's budget, just passed by Congress, fell short of President Bush's request by $1.5 billion. We need to do better; the international affairs budget must reflect the new world reality and our increased need for a vigorous national security strategy.

This budget, which includes international assistance and other global programs, has evolved into the most significant non-military tool in the U.S. foreign policy arsenal and has gained widespread support in Congress and among national security specialists, especially in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Like the use of strong military action and effective intelligence gathering, the strategies promoted by the international affairs budget are essential tools in the fight against global terrorism, against the spread of weapons of mass destruction and our efforts to promote global stability....
It's intersting and worth a read.

Willie Nelson for NORMAL

You have to love a radio network that runs ads by Willie Nelson on behalf of NORMAL calling for the legalization of marijuana.

When time permits I listen live to Air America during the day over the Internet. We don't have an affilliate as yet in Saint Louis.

I particularly enjoy the Al Frankin Show. Al is presently in Iraq on a USO tour which he has done for several years. Joe Conason is filling in for him this week.

Air America Radio | Listen Live

Roger Ailes Sums it Up

Not that Roger Ailes.

This Roger is a blogger whose blog is always blunt and to the point. I enjoy reading him every day (and usually laughing out loud) for saying what I'm thinking and trying to say here, less, um,...bluntly.

This post sums up the Kerik issue perfectly:

Feeling Safer?

The reason every crime, failure, sleazy connection and indiscretion of Bernie Kerik is so important is that it illustrates just how little Bush cares about homeland security. Bush sees Director of Homeland Security as a patronage job to give to a patently incompetent political crony for campaign services rendered rather than a position which requires a competent and ethical professional. Even if Bush could justify his ignorance of all Kerik's other corruption (which he can't), he can't claim ignorance of Kerik's utter failure in Baghdad. And, with all the resources at his disposal, Bush's background check of Kerik was less thorough than would be any sane person's background check when hiring a (non-fictitious) nanny. By nominating Kerik, Bush proved that his rhetoric about being the better choice to protect America from those nasty wolves was nothing but hot, malodorous air.