Saturday, December 31, 2005

"Leave the driving to us"

Drive carefully everybody. They're all out there, and it ain't even dark yet.

Meanwhile across the ocean,
Living in the Internet,
Is the cause of an explosion
No one has heard yet.

But there's no need to worry.
There's no reason to fuss.
Just go on about your work now.
And leave the drivin' to us.

And we'll be watching you,
And everything you do.
And you can do your part
By watchin' others too.


The moral of this story
Is try not to get too old.
The more time you spend on earth,
The more you see unfold.

And as an afterthought,
This must, too, be told,
Some people have taken pure bullshit
And turned it into gold.

Happy new year.

Day after Friday dog blogging

As seen in Vogue
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Discovered in a Los Angeles burger joint (stealing meat), she has come to define elegance in today's Hollywood.

She has indeed become "The Queen of All Media."

Whistle blowing

It seems that the Times will have another First Amendment fight on their hands. The Cheney administration is trying to blow smoke and hide the fact that they're acting illegally by demanding an investigation into the leak that uncovered the NSA's wiretapping. But unlike protecting a source who used the paper to try to disparage a political rival, the Times has a real whistleblower to protect this time.

Investigate away. Meanwhile, the DoJ should investigate whether or not the president has, in fact, broken any laws, and Congress should investigate as well. It'll be an investigatepalooza! They will help keep this story stay in the newspapers. And I predict that the more people learn about what Bush authorized -- and continues to authorize -- the less they'll like it.

"A staggering sum"

Abramoff is running out of time to cop a plea.

But what will it take for a Congressional inquiry of DeLay? Does he have to appear on videotape robbing a bank? Because there are enough "red flags" around his fundraising to rival the Kremlin. Coincidentally.

The U.S. Family Network, a public advocacy group that operated in the 1990s with close ties to Rep. Tom DeLay and claimed to be a nationwide grass-roots organization, was funded almost entirely by corporations linked to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to tax records and former associates of the group.

During its five-year existence, the U.S. Family Network raised $2.5 million but kept its donor list secret. The list, obtained by The Washington Post, shows that $1 million of its revenue came in a single 1998 check from a now-defunct London law firm whose former partners would not identify the money's origins.

Two former associates of Edwin A. Buckham, the congressman's former chief of staff and the organizer of the U.S. Family Network, said Buckham told them the funds came from Russian oil and gas executives. Abramoff had been working closely with two such Russian energy executives on their Washington agenda, and the lobbyist and Buckham had helped organize a 1997 Moscow visit by DeLay (R-Tex.).

The former president of the U.S. Family Network said Buckham told him that Russians contributed $1 million to the group in 1998 specifically to influence DeLay's vote on legislation the International Monetary Fund needed to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy.

A spokesman for DeLay, who is fighting in a Texas state court unrelated charges of illegal fundraising, denied that the contributions influenced the former House majority leader's political activities. The Russian energy executives who worked with Abramoff denied yesterday knowing anything about the million-dollar London transaction described in tax documents.

Whatever the real motive for the contribution of $1 million -- a sum not prohibited by law but extraordinary for a small, nonprofit group -- the steady stream of corporate payments detailed on the donor list makes it clear that Abramoff's long-standing alliance with DeLay was sealed by a much more extensive web of financial ties than previously known.

Records and interviews also illuminate the mixture of influence and illusion that surrounded the U.S. Family Network. Despite the group's avowed purpose, records show it did little to promote conservative ideas through grass-roots advocacy. The money it raised came from businesses with no demonstrated interest in the conservative "moral fitness" agenda that was the group's professed aim.

In addition to the million-dollar payment involving the London law firm, for example, half a million dollars was donated to the U.S. Family Network by the owners of textile companies in the Mariana Islands in the Pacific, according to the tax records. The textile owners -- with Abramoff's help -- solicited and received DeLay's public commitment to block legislation that would boost their labor costs, according to Abramoff associates, one of the owners and a DeLay speech in 1997.

A quarter of a million dollars was donated over two years by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Abramoff's largest lobbying client, which counted DeLay as an ally in fighting legislation allowing the taxation of its gambling revenue.

It's astonishing. DeLay's criminality is so serious that reporters aren't even trying to "strive for balance."

Two former Buckham associates said that he told them years ago not only that the $1 million donation was solicited from Russian oil and gas executives, but also that the initial plan was for the donation to be made via a delivery of cash to be picked up at a Washington area airport.

One of the former associates, a Frederick, Md., pastor named Christopher Geeslin who served as the U.S. Family Network's director or president from 1998 to 2001, said Buckham further told him in 1999 that the payment was meant to influence DeLay's vote in 1998 on legislation that helped make it possible for the IMF to bail out the faltering Russian economy and the wealthy investors there.

"Ed told me, 'This is the way things work in Washington,' " Geeslin said. "He said the Russians wanted to give the money first in cash." Buckham, he said, orchestrated all the group's fundraising and spending and rarely informed the board about the details. Buckham and his attorney, Laura Miller, did not reply to repeated requests for comment on this article.

The IMF funding legislation was a contentious issue in 1998. The Russian stock market fell steeply in April and May, and the government in Moscow announced on June 18 -- just a week before the $1 million check was sent by the London law firm -- that it needed $10 billion to $15 billion in new international loans.

House Republican leaders had expressed opposition through that spring to giving the IMF the money it could use for new bailouts, decrying what they described as previous destabilizing loans to other countries. The IMF and its Western funders, meanwhile, were pressing Moscow, as a condition of any loan, to increase taxes on major domestic oil companies such as Gazprom, which had earlier defaulted on billions of dollars in tax payments.

On Aug. 18, 1998, the Russian government devalued the ruble and defaulted on its treasury bills. But DeLay, appearing on "Fox News Sunday" on Aug. 30 of that year, criticized the IMF financing bill, calling the replenishment of its funds "unfortunate" because the IMF was wrongly insisting on a Russian tax increase. "They are trying to force Russia to raise taxes at a time when they ought to be cutting taxes in order to get a loan from the IMF. That's just outrageous," DeLay said.

In the end, the Russian legislature refused to raise taxes, the IMF agreed to lend the money anyway, and DeLay voted on Sept. 17, 1998, for a foreign aid bill containing new funds to replenish the IMF account. DeLay's spokesman said the lawmaker "makes decisions and sets legislative priorities based on good policy and what is best for his constituents and the country." He added: "Mr. DeLay has very firm beliefs, and he fights very hard for them."

Yes, yes he does. No one fights harder for his "firm beliefs" than Tom DeLay. And if that means accepting what most observers would label a "bribe" then Tom will avert his nose and grab the cash with both hands.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Fighting back

Recently, while plowing away on an elliptical trainer at the gym, FoxNews was as always beaming darkly out of several of the TV screens. Although I couldn't hear the sound, I couldn't miss the large type message: "New York Times tries to free terrorists." Referring, I assume, to the Times's scoop on Bush's illegal wiretapping which it was reported was being used to question the legality of the evidence against them.

The 20th centuries most throat grasping dictators would have marveled at the efficiency of FoxNews in communicating to the masses the State's approved messaging.

Nevertheless, as Digby preaches, if this latest egrigious abuse of power by the Cheney administration isn't pushed back against by Democrats (and those few remaining Republicans who are, how you say, "conservative" when it comes to restraints on the power of the State), then they will have missed an opportunity to finally and decisively stand for something important.

Perhaps the NSA scandal is a political loser for Dems. We can't know that now. But it is a winner for us in the long term. We believe in civil liberties and civil rights. With economic fairness, they form the heart of our political philosophy. If this particular issue doesn't play well, that's too bad. People who believe in things sometimes have to be unpopular. Over time, they gain the respect of the people which is something we dearly need.

A party that is described as fumbling, confused and scared is unlikely to win elections even if they endorse the wholesale round-up of hippies and the nuking of Mecca. People will listen to us if we can first convince them that we know who we are and what we believe in.

I'm of the mind to adopt "give me liberty or give me death" as my personal motto. If I have to kowtow to a bunch of childish Republican panic artists who have deluded themselves into believing that fighting radical Islam requires turning America into a police state, then it's just not worth it.

It is time that Democrats start to point out that the Republican Party has come to stand for quivering fear in the face of terrorists; their response to the attacks of 9-11 have not been to catch the masterminds, take steps to protect our ports, and to secure obvious threats like chemical plants. No, their response has been to shred the Constitution.

That won't do much to make us safer (though maybe they use it for Miss Beasley's house training), but it sure must amuse those -- in Bush's words -- "who want to hurt us."

Rumsfeld's fiefdom

I am no expert on military matters, certainly. And I understand that civilian oversight of the military is a key provision of our democracy. But given the politicization of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, the insertion of political appointees like the "stupidest fucking guy on the planet" in key roles in the military, and the ongoing, relentless use of the military as props in Bush campaign-style events, this seems like a pretty significant change at the Pentagon.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29 (AP) - The three military service chiefs have been dropped in the Bush administration's doomsday line of Pentagon succession, pushed beneath three civilian under secretaries in the inner circle of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

A recent executive order from President Bush moved the Pentagon's intelligence chief to the No. 3 spot in the succession hierarchy. Mr. Rumsfeld is No. 1, and the second spot would be the deputy secretary of defense, but that position is vacant at the moment. The Army chief, who long held the No. 3 spot, was dropped to sixth.

The changes, announced last week, mirror the administration's new emphasis on intelligence gathering versus combat in 21st-century wars.

The line of succession is assigned to specific positions, rather than the people holding those jobs.

But this version of the doomsday plan moves up the top three under secretaries, who are Rumsfeld loyalists and who previously worked for Vice President Dick Cheney when he was defense secretary.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the changes were recommended because the three under secretaries have "a broad knowledge and perspective of overall Defense Department operations." He said the service leaders were more focused on training, equipping and leading a particular military service.

Thomas Donnelly, a defense expert with the American Enterprise Institute, said the changes would centralize power and make it easier for the administration to assert political control.

"It continues to devalue the services as institutions," Mr. Donnelly said.

Loyalty to Rumsfeld and Cheney is the only sure ticket to success in Washington. Regardless of other qualifications, if you are seen as not having sufficient supplies of that, you need not apply.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

"We have met the enemy and it is us."

Oh, my. Is there no civility on the island called blog?

It is this latter - our new enemies - that interests me most. I don't mean al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden, but the less visible, insidious enemies of decency, humanity and civility - the angry offspring of narcissism's quickie marriage to instant gratification.

There's something frankly creepy about the explosion we now call the Blogosphere - the big-bang "electroniverse" where recently wired squatters set up new camps each day. As I write, the number of "blogs" (Web logs) and "bloggers"(those who blog) is estimated in the tens of millions worldwide

"Frankly creepy," enemy of all that is good, decent, human, and civil. Kathleen Parker knows me so well. As for her prose: all you could expect from the "director of Written Expression at the Buckley School of Public Speaking and Persuasion in Camden, South Carolina."

And if only she were writing of Clown Hall when she bangs out,

We can't silence them, but for civilization's sake - and the integrity of information by which we all live or die - we can and should ignore them.

Something out of nothing

9-11 changed everything, right? For some, it meant rendering the Constitutions "quaint." For others, it transformed them into the 101st Fighting Keyboardists, alternately clutching their pearls in fear and beating their chests in righteous rage.

For one group, though, who were touched most closely by the attack on the World Trade Center, it meant creating something that had not before existed.

There was no bleaker time in New York's history than 9/11. Yet it was then, with the restaurant where he had worked for six years - Windows on the World - in splinters and 73 of his fellow employees gone, that Silverio Moog's dream started to take shape.

Now Mr. Moog, a spunky 41-year-old bartender from the Philippines, can hardly believe what is about to happen. Next week he'll go to work in a brand-new restaurant, and start a totally new life.

Restaurants open in New York all the time, but there has never been one like this. Mr. Moog and 50 other waiters, busboys, bartenders and dishwashers, many of them immigrants who worked at Windows, have formed a cooperative that will run one of the city's first worker-owned restaurants.

Each one of them will claim a piece of the restaurant, called Colors, as their own and share in any profits. Each one submitted a family recipe to help shape the restaurant's eclectic menu - which they describe as American fare with a global twist. And each one has pinned lifelong dreams on an idea formed in the crucible of disaster.


Mr. Mailvaganam realizes this is no ordinary job. "What we are trying to do here is start a restaurant with a conscience," he told two dozen co-op members who gathered last week for a final training session. While he spoke, spacklers and carpenters rushed to complete their work. The restaurant, in Lower Manhattan a few doors down from the Public Theater, is scheduled to open for dinner on Tuesday. "It's challenging," Mr. Mailvaganam said over the din of steel and wood, "but we are committed to doing it."

Rarely has one project had to carry so many expectations. Besides memorializing the 73 who died in Windows, which was atop 1 World Trade Center, the co-op is trying to do no less than change an industry.

Nobody in the restaurant, not even the dishwashers, will receive less than $13.50 an hour, far higher than average restaurant wages. They will share tips and be eligible to receive overtime and vacations. Eventually they will be covered by health insurance and have pensions.

It takes a group of immigrants, restaurant workers no less, in the heart of that city known to so many as a latter day Sodom, to turn the horrors of the World Trade Center attacks into something positive, however small it may be.

Who knows if the restaurant will succeed; six out of ten don't make it in New York. But Madame Cura and I will be dining there soon, we hope.

Couldn't they have found him something on the "Help Desk?"

That crazy Ninth Circuit. Even a liburol has to scratch the head.

In 1982, Joshua L. Josephs was charged with trying to murder a quadriplegic former high school classmate, Kip Hayes, by unplugging his respirator. Mr. Josephs was found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent two and half years in a state mental hospital.

Mr. Josephs did not disclose any of this when he applied for a job as a service technician, installing and repairing phone lines in people's homes, at Pacific Bell in 1997. When the company found out, it fired him. A short while later, it refused to rehire him.

On Tuesday, a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, affirmed a $500,000 jury verdict for Mr. Josephs, saying the company had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against him on the basis of mental impairment when it refused to rehire him.

"While PacBell's counsel testified that it was her 'belief' that someone who attempted to kill another person should not be in a service technician position," Judge Edward Leavy wrote for the majority, "PacBell introduced no evidence of a written company policy prohibiting employment of person who had committed violent acts. In fact, the jury heard evidence that PacBell had reinstated one service technician who had a domestic violence conviction."

I believe I can hear PacBell's lawyers rewriting that policy document as we, well, whatever it is we're doing: "Attempted murder -- even by reason of insanity -- is deemed to be in opposition to the company's mission statement and will not be tolerated."

Just another instance of that crazy, liburol, pledge-hatin' ninth circuit, right? Um, not so much.

A dissenting judge on the Ninth Circuit court, Consuelo M. Callahan, wrote that the majority's decision put employers like Pacific Bell to a difficult choice.

Were Mr. Josephs "to gain entrance to a customer's home and attack a customer" while on the job, Judge Callahan wrote, the "potential liability to Pac Bell is obvious and sizable."

"Unless it is determined that Pac Bell's concern that Josephs is dangerous is unreasonable," she added, "Pac Bell should not be required to send him into its customers' homes."

Judge Callahan was appointed by President Bush. Judge Leavy, who wrote the majority decision, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan; he was joined by Judge Susan P. Graber, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton.

Gregory I. Rasin, who practices employment law at Jackson Lewis in New York, said the decision was "a disturbing result for employers." But Mr. Rasin added that it was a routine application of the law to the available facts.

"You cannot discriminate against someone because of their disability or because you perceive them to have a disability," Mr. Rasin said. "Clearly, if you can show them to be a danger, that's a different situation. But they didn't show that here."

Preachin' to the converted

The other big article in the Post is just as amusing as the "Rise and Fall Of Jack Abramoff." It concerns the White House's admission that they need to find a new strategy for '06.

Despite the gain in polls, some advisers see trouble ahead. Bush's top aides are telling friends they are burned out. Andrew H. Card Jr., already the longest-serving White House chief of staff in a half-century, is among those thought to be looking to leave. Rove's fate is uncertain, as he appears likely to remain under investigation in the CIA leak case, people close to the inquiry said.

Some are concerned that although Bush has changed his approach, he has not changed himself. He has been reluctant to look outside his inner circle for advice, and even some closest to Bush call that a mistake because aides have given up trying to get him to do things they know he would reject.

That last paragraph came to me as I read Digby this morning. I, too, did not realize that John Yoo, the mastermind behind the "if preznit authorizes torture than it can't be torture" legal memos, was a fairly low-level staffer in the Justice Dept.

This NSA spying scandal is the tipping point, in my opinion. It's not the worst of the legal atrocities (I would argue that the sickening finding on torture remains the gold standard) but the culmination of all these revelations show that this president understood 9/11 to be a threat so dire that his vow to preserve and protect the constitution had been superceded by a new vow to protect the American people by any means necessary.

I know that the fevered warbloggers agree that the 9/11 attacks were the opening salvo in a war in which civilization itself is under attack by an unimaginable, all powerful evil. Others, not so much. To many of us who spent our childhoods diving under our desks in nuclear drills, the idea that the oceans had always protected us and this was the most frightening threat the world has ever known is ridiculous.

Frightened people overreacted to 9/11 and sought out people who would justify their actions. (All you have to do is look at the My Pet Goat footage of a paralyzed leader in a time of crisis to know it's true.) John Yoo, with his radical, untested theories was there to provide them. The question now is whether there are any lawyers in the Justice department at the time who presented opposing views. If there were, perhaps these hearings won't be the bust we are all expecting them to be.

Truth is, as the more seasoned lawyers in the DOJ realized that presenting dissenting views to Ashcroft, Gonzalez, Cheney, and Bush was a career killer, young Turks like John Yoo were there to fill the void with soothing love songs pleasing to his masters' ears.

Further, I find articles like the VandeHei and Baker piece mentioned above interesting. It is all some spectator sport to them -- a rethinking of the game plan at halftime, with the home team trailing by 13 points (and worse, if you're gambling on the spread, with Bush so heavily favored going into the game). Bush's syle and "leadership" has implications beyond mere "strategy" and polling numbers. It doesn't occur to these reporters to suggest that Bush's habit of listening to only those who agree to agree with his demented world view may result in actions and policies that are unconstitutional, illegal, and disastrous to the state of the Union.

"Bigger than Abscam"

I agree with Josh Marshall, the Post article on Abramoff seemed to go out of its way to work Democrats into the fraudfest and, most egregiously, to include a paragraph like the following...

When Republicans wrested control of the House from the Democrats in 1994, Abramoff turned his focus back to Washington politics. With Norquist's help, he reinvented himself as a Republican lobbyist on heavily Democratic K Street. Norquist was one of the intellectual architects of the Republican Revolution and a muse for its leader, Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), soon to be speaker of the House.

...without mentioning DeLay's famous "K Street Project," designed to make sure that no one got a top job on K Street who hadn't pledged fealty to the Republican Party.

Nevertheless, the Post article does resonate with the thunderous sound of a vertitable stampede of ponies.

Within the past year, Abramoff began selling off assets such as his restaurants and has told his lawyers he is broke. He faces the possibility of lengthy prison sentences and stiff financial penalties that could be reduced if he cooperates.

All these developments have added to the pressure on Abramoff to reach his own deal before the SunCruz trial begins on Jan. 9.

Alan K. Simpson (R), the former Wyoming senator who was in Washington during the last big congressional scandal -- the Abscam FBI sting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in which six House members and one senator were convicted -- said the Abramoff case looks bigger. Simpson said he recently rode in a plane with one of Abramoff's attorneys, who told him: "There are going to be guys in your former line of work who are going to be taken down."

Dozens of lawmakers -- who were showered with trips, sports and concert tickets, drinks and dinners -- are returning campaign contributions from Abramoff and his clients and calling him a fraud and a crook.

Burns, one of half a dozen legislators under scrutiny by the federal Abramoff task force, returned $150,000 in campaign contributions this month.

"This Abramoff guy is a bad guy," Burns told a Montana television station. "I hope he goes to jail and we never see him again. I wish he'd never been born, to be right honest with you."

Former Republican congressman Mickey Edwards (Okla.), usually a defender of lobbying and Congress, said there have always been members who get caught "stuffing money in their pants." But he said this is different -- a "disgusting" and disturbingly broad scandal driven by lobbyists whose attitude seemed to be "government to the highest bidder."

Which makes Dana Rohrabacher's (R-Greedlandia) spirited defense of Abramoff earlier in the article all the more enjoyable. "Happens every day" in Washington. Nothing to see here folks.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Will the real Olga Rudge please stand up?

As found in the Jan. 2, 2006 print edition of The New Yorker:

EDITORS' NOTE: The New Yorker review of "The City of Falling Angels," by John Berendt (Penguin Press), in the issue of October 3, 2005, incorrectly referred to the "seduction and swindling of Olga Rudge, Ezra Pound's mistress, by the director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection." This statement was inaccurate, and The New Yorker regrets the error.

Hmmm. Perhaps they meant to say, the "flatulence and armored car heists of Ludmilla Plinge, T.S. Eliot's mother-in-law, by the day manager of the O'Farrell Theater."

"Yahooism" and the "Conservative Mind"

I will accept, for argument's sake, that there still exists a "conservative mind." But, as Jeffrey Hart points out -- whether intentionally or not, I'm not quite sure -- it is no longer really reconcileable with the Grand Old Party.

The Republican Party. Conservatives assume that the Republican Party is by and large conservative. But this party has stood for many and various things in its history. The most recent change occurred in 1964, when its center of gravity shifted to the South and the Sunbelt, now the solid base of "Republicanism." The consequences of that profound shift are evident, especially with respect to prudence, education, intellect and high culture. It is an example of Machiavelli's observation that institutions can retain the same outward name and aspect while transforming their substance entirely.

The Republican Party unhitched its wagon to conservatism when it lunged in response to Goldwater's drubbing, and the "Party of Lincoln" has long since made it's pact with the Sons of the Confederacy. It's a party whose base no longer consists of conservatives who are and have long been a fringe group (which is why the Republican party was the minority for much of the 20th century up until 1968), but rather consists of those with unmeetable grievance -- an ever-replenishing resource in modern America. If you don't believe me, watch O'Rielly.

Anyway, OpinionJournal, so often a miasma of uninspired lunacy, is actually worth a read with this piece.

P.S. Not sure how to take this (but you can be sure I have an idea), but Blogger's spell check function suggests "Orwell" as a replacement for "O'Rielly."

The "evolution [gasp]" of Movement Conservatism

Via Mr. Edroso, the 1994 and 2005 editions.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Checking in

I guess the tip-off was the inability to download boarding passes before leaving for the airport. Whatever it was, Madame Cura and I were taken aside at airport security in "Oakland International" for the "deluxe" search. All very civilized, although it's disconcerting watching one guy swabbing for bomb residue on you bag to your left, while a guy on the right is holding your coat (with wallet) in the air, patting it down just to your right, during which time a third woman has the backpack off to your left. Anyway, when it was all over and all possessions back in possession, I said "Thank you" to the TSA agent handing me my laptop in the final rite of this 21st century ceremony (we were the virgins sacrificed to the gods of sense of public well being).

Why thank him? And I was not alone in doing this. Strange. I mean, crossing the Dumbarton Bridge a few nights earlier (Christmas night, in fact), I stunned the toll collector when I replied to her "Thank you," by wishing her a "Merry Christmas." It seemed like no one was being particularly civil to her.

A Congress for the Gilded Age

"The True Meaning of Republican Harmony."

Consider federal health programs. The House bill proposed substantial cuts for Medicaid beneficiaries, but the Senate bill -- partly because of pressure from moderate Republicans -- did not include those cuts. Instead, the Senate proposed to save taxpayer money by eliminating a $10 billion fund to encourage regional preferred-provider organizations, known as PPOs, to participate in the Medicare program. It also sought more rebates to the federal government from drug manufacturers participating in Medicaid.

Note the difference: Instead of imposing cuts on the poor, the Senate sought savings from corporate interests. Surprise, surprise: The final bill dropped the $10 billion cut to the PPOs and most of the rebate demands on drug manufacturers. Instead, the agreement hammered Medicaid recipients with $16 billion in gross cuts over the next decade. (The net cuts are lower because of new Medicaid spending, partly to help cover the scattered victims of Hurricane Katrina.)

The Medicaid cuts include increased co-payments and premiums on low-income Americans, and the budget assumes savings because fewer poor people will visit the doctor. As Kevin Freking of the Associated Press reported: "The Congressional Budget Office has concluded that such increases would lead many poor people to forgo health care or not to enroll in Medicaid at all -- contributing to some of the $4.8 billion in Medicaid savings envisioned over the next five years."

Ah, where is our Bernhard Gilliam, to chronicle these Great Times?

Ya think?

The Vega avoids the e-z-snark of writing "Bobo's World" every time there's a news story out of one of the red states that shows a certain perverse...backwardness. This one, though, was a tough one to lay off of.

BLUE SPRINGS, Mo., Dec. 26 (AP) - A woman who the police thought had tried to swallow her cellphone in an argument with her boyfriend last week was apparently the victim of an assault, the authorities said.

The police have a suspect in the incident, which sent the woman to a hospital, Sgt. Allen Kintz said. The police would not discuss what they believe happened. "It appears she didn't voluntarily swallow this phone," Sergeant Kintz said.

Early Friday, the police responded to a call from a man who said his girlfriend was having trouble breathing. Officers arrived to find the woman with a phone lodged in her throat.

The police were at first told that the boyfriend wanted the phone and the woman tried to swallow it.

What makes it "Bobo's World" is that it took a few days to come to the conclusion that, perhaps, she wasn't engaged in a telephonic version of "Deep Throat."

CORRECTED to avoid the confusion of "red" for "blue."

Saturday, December 24, 2005

No sympathy

With liberal friends like these, transit workers don't need enemies. Kevin Drum writes.

But retiring at age 55, with 25 years on the job, at half salary? I support unions and I support the notion that Americans work too much, but even so that strikes me as indefensible. After all, most people have working lives of 40-50 years, and it's hard to imagine that they have a lot of sympathy for a deal like that. I have to confess that I don't.

I suggest Mr. Drum get out of his car, leave lovely Southern California for a wee bit, and spend an hour -- an hour -- underground on the Shuttle platform or navigating a bus crossing midtown Manhattan. Between the noise, the hypertension, the grit and the dust, and the general air of hostility, he'd find that 25 years on the job is a freakin' lifetime.

We heard notions like that all week from liberals nevermind conservatives during the transit strike (most often from people living far from NYC). People are living oh, so much longer, they should work longer too (I don't remember liberals saying this so loudly during the fight over Social Security). As a professional blogger, where his greatest health threat is carpal tunnel syndrom or wrenching his back reaching under his desk to retrieve a cheese doodle, I can understand why he wouldn't understand that transit workers -- like cops and firefighters -- are so insistent that they get the chance to retire (at half pay) a few years before high blood pressure, a heart attack, or lung disease gets them.

Merry Christmas, Kev.


Friday, December 23, 2005

When "scholars" attack

Last week, the Vega made so bold as to question the scholarly credentials of Washington "think tank (I love that name, makes me think of policy makers in Open Water)" hacks. In response, I received the following from the "Institute of Policy Innovation:"

Tom Giovanetti said...

The article in BusinessWeek that started this whole thing, upon which all subsequent articles and Paul Krugman's commentary are based, omitted important statements and resulted in a complete misrepresentation. All subsequent who have written on this topic are guilty of passing on misrepresentation without bothering to fact-check. You can view IPI's and Ferrara's statements at

Never mind the fact that I was, in this blog's pathetically snarky way, merely mocking bozos like Ferrara who in all seriousness call themselves "scholars," as even Google is generally beyond their research ken. I didn't question whatever Giovanetti said I did question (and I'm not sure what that is, since in his lawyerly threat he doesn't indicate what "misrepresentation" was being passed on).

Well, Tom finds himself in the news again this morning.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 - Susan Finston of the Institute for Policy Innovation, a conservative research group based in Texas, is just the sort of opinion maker coveted by the drug industry.

In an opinion article in The Financial Times on Oct. 25, she called for patent protection in poor countries for drugs and biotechnology products. In an article last month in the European edition of The Wall Street Journal, she called for efforts to block developing nations from violating patents on AIDS medicines and other drugs.

Both articles identified her as a "research associate" at the institute. Neither mentioned that, as recently as August, Ms. Finston was registered as a lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug industry's trade group. Nor was there mention of her work this fall in creating the American Bioindustry Alliance, a group underwritten largely by drug companies.

The institute says Ms. Finston's ties to industry should not have prevented her from writing about those issues. Nor is there a conflict, it says, in the work of Merrill Matthews Jr., who writes for major newspapers advocating policies promoted by the insurance industry even though he is a registered lobbyist for a separate group backed by it. "Lobbying is not a four-letter word," said the institute's president, Tom Giovanetti.

Maybe not, but if even Paul Gigot and the PR industry itself smell something unpleasant, maybe it's time to bring out the Lysol.

The editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, Paul Gigot, said in an interview that "we're absolutely convinced" the paper was not told of Ms. Finston's industry ties. The paper might still have run the article, he said, but with more information about her background.

David Rickey, chairman of the board of ethics of the Public Relations Society of America, an industry group that includes lobbyists, said the industry opposed the use of outside writers to promote a client's interests unless the financial ties were fully acknowledged. "This is going to sound pretty much mom and apple pie," he said. "But if there is a conflict of interest, it must be disclosed."

But let's get back to Mr. Giovanetti and his pristine institute.

Mr. Giovanetti said the institute had a policy of not identifying its individual donors. But he did reveal that it received no money from health insurance companies, lessening a possible conflict of interest in its relationship with Dr. Matthews. Asked if the institute had accepted money from pharmaceutical manufacturers or any drug companies affiliated with Ms. Finston, Mr. Giovanetti would not comment.

Looking forward to getting a response from my new Pen Pal.

The Times faces a real freedom of the press test

While Judy Miller was making a mockery of defending press freedomes in this country -- and Bill Miller was forced, with increasing reluctance, to defend her -- the Times has a real reporter in all likelihood looking at the prospect of spending ten years or more in a Chinese jail.

Once a muckraking journalist who exposed official corruption and wrote about the abuses endured by farmers, Mr. Zhao started working in the Times's office in Beijing in April 2004. He was arrested on Sept. 17, after state security agents tracked him to a Pizza Hut in Shanghai. Agents had targeted him after a high-level investigation was ordered in response to the article in The Times about Mr. Jiang.

That article, written by Mr. Kahn, cited two anonymous sources in reporting Mr. Jiang's resignation offer. (Mr. Jiang later did resign the military post.) The Times has said that neither source was Mr. Zhao. Indeed, according to a confidential state security report, the key piece of evidence is a photocopy of a handwritten note that Mr. Zhao wrote to Mr. Kahn two months before the publication of the article.

The note describes some jockeying between Mr. Jiang and Mr. Hu over military appointments. Mr. Kahn later included a reference to such jockeying as background material in one of the final paragraphs in the Sept. 7 article.

A central question is how state security agents obtained the photocopy. The original note remains in the Times office in Beijing, suggesting either that agents entered the office without permission or enlisted someone to help them make a copy. In either instance, the note should be inadmissible under Chinese law, legal experts say.

Now that the case is coming to "trial," perhaps the punditocracy will break their silence over Zhao's situation. Wishful thinking, I suppose, since he doesn't regularly lunch with the Bobs Novak or Woodward.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

" least the appearance" of flipping us off

Hmmm. Do you think this has anything to do with Judge Luttig overhearing Bush call the 4th Circuit "Mah beeeitches?"

In the opinion on Wednesday, written by Judge J. Michael Luttig, the court said the panel was denying permission to transfer Mr. Padilla as well as the government's suggestion that it vacate the September decision upholding Mr. Padilla's detention for more than three years in a military brig as an enemy combatant.

Judge Luttig, a strong conservative judicial voice who has been considered by Mr. Bush for the Supreme Court, said the panel would not agree to the government's requests because that would compound what was "at least an appearance that the government may be attempting to avoid consideration of our decision by the Supreme Court, and also because we believe that this case presents an issue of such especial national importance as to warrant final consideration by that court."

Judge Luttig wrote that the timing of the government's decision to switch Mr. Padilla from military custody to a civilian criminal trial, just as the Supreme Court was considering the issue of the president's authority to detain him as an enemy combatant, had "given rise to at least an appearance that the purpose of these actions may be to avoid consideration of our decision by the Supreme Court."

No matter. Bush has an Alito in his back pocket.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"Almost cut my hair. Happened just the other day..."

Savage love
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Merry Christmas.

The Yankees overpaid, but the length is right at four years; it's the same deal as the Yankees gave Matsui, so it makes sense.

What is so shocking, though, is that Boston was so complacent. I assumed and feared they were going to at least force the Yankees into a bidding war where New York would go five years. Allowing your hated rival to significantly upgrade offensively while leaving a huge hole where Center Field used to be looks like Boston dropped the ball. Figuratively, you know.

And Dan Shaughnessy is so cute when he's enraged. And inchoherent. First he compares Boston's current management (sans Theo Epstein, wunderkind) with the team's history of ineptitude.

No way around this one. Johnny Damon is a Yankee and it looks like the Red Sox don't know what they are doing. Time for Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer to say hello to Lou Gorman and Dan Duquette. Looks like John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino finally know what it feels like to be Haywood Sullivan, Buddy LeRoux, and/or John Harrington.

While New England slept last night, Damon got into bed with the enemy. Sox officials smugly believed there was no market for their marquee center fielder and the Yankees took advantage of Boston's big sleep.

But in true Boston sportswriter fashion, it doesn't take long for Shaughnessy to lash out at the player.

The Sox won't recover from this one easily. In an already dismal offseason, they've now lost their center fielder and their leadoff hitter. They've also lost a local icon, a rare favorite of teenage girls and fanboy bloggers. Losing Damon hurts them on the field and in the arena of popular opinion. And losing Damon to the Yankees compounds the damage. When Alex Rodriguez got away a couple of years ago, Sox fans were fairly quick to scorn A-Rod and move forward.

Losing Damon won't draw the same reaction. The Idiot center fielder is Johnny Angel with Sox fans and his production in pinstripes will be a personal affront to Red Sox fans around the world.

Damon was quick to say he'll get on board, and cut his hair and shave to conform to Yankee ways. An all-too-modern ballplayer, he switched allegiance from Boston to New York before you could say, ''the New York Times owns 17 percent of the Red Sox."

Here's what Damon told Channel 4: ''They were coming after me aggressively. We know George Steinbrenner's reputation. He always wants to have the best players. He showed that tonight. He and Brian Cashman came after me hard. Now I'm part of the Yankees and that great lineup. We're going to be tough to beat."

We? Johnny, how could you? It took only a few minutes and $52 million to make you start calling the Yankees ''we."

Actually, it's pretty easy to understand. For all of his athletic gifts, we always knew Johnny had the depth of your average kiddie pool, and it's therefore entirely believable that he could invoke the royal Yankee ''we" so quickly.

He had no problem hanging the Sox brass out to dry.

"Hanging out to dry?" How so? If Shaughnessy thinks super-agent Scott Boras failed to do all he could to get a Sox counter-offer then he is dumber than even his prose would indicate.

Welcome home, Johnny.

Deficit misdirection

A mother could love
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Dick Cheney rose from his crypt this morning for no other reason than to take food from mouths of babes, medicine from the aged. A fine day's work.

The measure, the product of a year's labors by the White House and the GOP in Congress, imposes the first restraints in nearly a decade in federal benefit programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and student loans.

Puhlease. For the AP writer to write that this represents some sort of "fiscal restraint" when more goodies for the rich are the priority for the start of the year is inane. Wouldn't it make sense to provide some context, such as stacking the cuts of medicare against the spending increases made possible by the Highway bill earlier this year?

Republicans think we are either stupid or amnesiacs. AP writers like Andrew Taylor help them make sure that's the case.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

No mas

The Yankees' era of Nomar Garciaparra has come to an end.

Transit workers go on strike

Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Easy for me to say, observing from the car-choked suburbs, but listening to callers on the radio this morning, it's obvious New Yorkers (and we former New Yorkers now ensconced north of the City), have a fairly ambivalent view of the strike. We'll see how that mood lasts if the strike goes on for a week, or 16 days as it did in 1966. But in the meantime, most New Yorkers seem a little annoyed with the inconvenience, but surprisingly supportive of the strikers. Although it's hard to sympathize with workers striking over a pension, when most of the workers who rely on the subways to get to work these days can expect no guaranteed pension from their own employers, we know that working for the city, for the MTA, and the NYPD and FDNY, were tickets to the middle class. That's no longer the case. Starting salaries for the police and fire departments are $25,000 a year. $25, New York. That's not a living wage (wages do ratchet up pretty quickly, I understand, but still given the occupations we're talking about...).

New York City has lost its industrial base and with it, a means for the City's working poor to climb to a middle class lifestyle. The City has become one of income extremes -- of extreme wealth and of poverty moved farther away from Manhattan and Park Slope -- and for those who care about the City and what it's stood for since the end of WWII, that's worrying. And as for those walking to work today, they know they're just one outsourcing initiative from not having a job to go to, so the union's militancy feels a little like, well, at least someone's sticking it to The Man and fighting, as one caller I heard this morning say, the ongoing race to the bottom for workers.

The other bit of ambivalence is that, for lots of people, especially commuters from the 'burbs, it ain't 1966. The strike isn't bringing the City to its knees. The Internets, baby. A lot of people are starting the holidays early...I mean, working from home.

Oh, and a tip if you live or work around 6th Ave or the Village. The PATH train is still operating. And it's 50 cents cheaper than the subway.

NSA domestic spying -- What's really going on?

Kevin Drum is probably on to something. Some new technology is probably at work in the NSA domestic spying scandal, one that must be awfully intrusive.

UPDATE: Lots of people have suggested that the NSA program has something to do with Echelon, a massive project that vacuums up communications of all kinds from all over the globe. The problem is that Echelon has been around for a long time and no one has ever complained about it before — so whatever this new program is, it's something more than vanilla Echelon. What's more, it's something disturbing enough that a few weeks after 9/11 the administration apparently felt that even Republicans in Congress wouldn't approve of it. What kind of program is so intrusive that even Republicans, even with 9/11 still freshly in mind, wouldn't have supported it?

George Will has principles?

Why, there's at least one conservative Republican still able to stagger to his feet and express a conservative principle.

One reason was that Congress's cumbersomeness, which is a function of its fractiousness, is a virtue because it makes the government slow and difficult to move. But conservatives' wholesome wariness of presidential power has been a casualty of conservative presidents winning seven of the past 10 elections.

On the assumption that Congress or a court would have been cooperative in September 2001, and that the cooperation could have kept necessary actions clearly lawful without conferring any benefit on the nation's enemies, the president's decision to authorize the NSA's surveillance without the complicity of a court or Congress was a mistake. Perhaps one caused by this administration's almost metabolic urge to keep Congress unnecessarily distant and hence disgruntled.

"Perhaps," indeed. That "metabolic urge," as Will so delicately puts it, is otherwise known as "abuse of power."

Monday, December 19, 2005

"It Can't Happen Here"

How timely, Sinclair Lewis's classic is being reissued.

Enter Berzelius ''Buzz'' Windrip, Lewis's tyrant. He's a regular guy, personable, plainspoken, ''with something of the earthy American sense of humor of a Mark Twain...a Will Rogers.'' Guided by his secretary Lee Sarason, he cozies up to the electorate by stoking their disdain for fancy ideas and encouraging them to follow their hearts, not their minds.

Windrip's economic policies are disastrous, his figures often incorrect, and his platform seems to change depending on who he's talking to, but none of that matters as long as he keeps expressing himself decisively. ''I want to stand up on my hind legs,'' he writes in ''Zero Hour,'' his widely read pre-campaign book, ''and not just admit but frankly holler right out that...we've got to change our system a lot, maybe even change the whole Constitution (but change it legally, not by violence)....The Executive has got to have a freer hand and be able to move quick in an emergency, and not be tied down by dumb shyster lawyer congressmen taking months to shoot off their mouths in debates.''

The limitless power of the [Republican] president

Attorney General Gonzalez, who should be investigating reports of domestic spying by the NSA, but rather instead makes "tortured" excuses for it.

Gonzales said he had begun meeting with members of Congress on the Bush administration's view that Congress' authorization of the use of military force after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks was ample authorization for the surveillance.

"Our position is that the authorization to use military force which was passed by the Congress shortly after Sept. 11 constitutes that authority," Gonzales said.

It was the most detailed legal explanation given by an administration officials since the New York Times reported Thursday that since October 2001 Bush had authorized the NSA to conduct the surveillance.

Gonzales said Congress' action after Sept. 11 essentially "does give permission for the president of the United States to engage in this kind of very limited, targeted electronic surveillance against our enemy."

The domestic spying revelations has created an uproar in Congress, with Democrats and Republicans calling for an investigation.

That is now, then was then.

Think Progress: According to President Bush's radio address today, as White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales personally approved Bush's program for warrantless domestic wiretaps. By circumventing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, those wiretaps violated federal law.... During his confirmation hearings for Attorney General in January 2005, Sen. Russ Feingold asked Gonzales about this precise issue:

SEN. FEINGOLD: I -- Judge Gonzales, let me ask a broader question. I'm asking you whether in general the president has the constitutional authority, does he at least in theory have the authority to authorize violations of the criminal law under duly enacted statutes simply because he's commander in chief? Does he -- does he have that power?

After trying to dodge the question for a time, Gonzales issued this denial:

MR. GONZALES: Senator, this president is not -- I -- it is not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.

In fact, that was precisely the policy of the President.


SEN. FEINGOLD: Finally, will you commit to notify Congress if the president makes this type of decision and not wait two years until a memo is leaked about it?

MR. GONZALES: I will to advise the Congress as soon as I reasonably can, yes, sir.

Liars, all of them. We are asked to trust them, accept that there will be no abuses because the Bush administration is focusing only on the security of Americans. If a citizen gets caught up in an investigation as a result of checking out a seemingly harmless book, well, that's unfortunate but not part of any systemic problems. In fact, it's not a glitch, it's part of the design.

Remember, this has nothing to do with terrorism other than threats of terrorism provide the excuse and the cover. This power grab has been the dream of Dick Cheney since the decline and fall of the Ford administration, and it was in the works long before September 11, 2001.

When the president has this kind of unfettered power "in times of war," then the president has the authority to define who the enemy is. So, listen to their increasingly fierce rhetoric. Administration critics are "dishonest and reprehensible." It's never been too far below the surface.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware of the press reports about what he said. I have not seen the actual transcript of the show itself. But assuming the press reports are right, it's a terrible thing to say, and it unfortunate. And that's why -- there was an earlier question about has the President said anything to people in his own party -- they're reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do. This is not a time for remarks like that; there never is.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Weird America, vol. XXIX

A setback in the war on Christmas.

In fact, what's most striking about a Mannheim Steamroller show is its strangeness, a mix of seasonal iconography and musical pastiche so loopy that you can almost see how, as Davis boasted to me, the group was once regarded as a "weird art act." Images flash past on the overhead movie screens: horse-drawn sleighs plying snowy hillsides, Mannheim performing at a White House tree-lighting ceremony, a soft-focus dramatization of the Magi's desert crossing, with a cameo by Davis, swaddled in robes. One minute the band is playing a mild funk-rock "Good King Wenceslas," with Davis smacking away at his high-hat and delivering a spooky vocoder-like vocal coda, the next they've broken out the krummhorn and lute and are doing an early-music medley at the front of the stage, while a filmed re-enactment of a 15th-century banquet bacchanal plays on the screens above. At such moments, it seems astonishing that Mannheim Steamroller has become a kind of latter-day Bing Crosby, whose music represents for millions the home-and-hearth comforts and traditions of the holiday.

27 million albums Mannheim Steamroller has sold. Learning that this morning left me shaken and frightened.

Ah, this is more like it.

Perhaps the best part of the DVD is the appearance of Glen Benton, leader of the genre-defining Florida band Deicide. He growls the vocals on a "Roadrunner United" song called "Annihilation by the Hands of God," and in the documentary he recalls his moment of inspiration. He heard a certain riff and immediately thought, "Nailed to the cross by the hands and feet." (In time he would finish the couplet with "Your washed-up religion is now worthless and weak"; anyone who's really looking to wage war on Christmas might want to give Mr. Benton a call.) He adds, "It just came right out of me," and even those of us who don't have upside-down crosses burned into our foreheads can probably understand the satisfaction of finding just the phrase you're looking for.

I think there could be cross-over appeal.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Jack Abramoff, the gift that keeps on giving

Scholars? They call these guys "scholars?"

The scholar, Doug Bandow, who wrote a column for the Copley News Service in addition to serving as a Cato fellow, acknowledged to executives at the organization that he had taken money from Mr. Abramoff after he was confronted about the payments by a reporter from BusinessWeek Online.

"He acknowledges he made a lapse in judgment," said Jamie Dettmer, director of communications at Cato. "There's a lot of sadness here."

Copley suspended Mr. Bandow's column.

Efforts to reach Mr. Bandow through the Cato Institute and at home were unsuccessful.

The revelation caps a year of disclosures about partisan payments to seemingly independent writers, including Armstrong Williams, the conservative columnist and television host, who received payments from the federal Education Department at a time when he was promoting the Bush administration's education policies in his columns. The administration has been under mounting pressure to become more transparent in its communications after accounts that it paid for and printed articles in Iraqi periodicals as part of its overseas propaganda effort.

Mr. Bandow did not take government money, but the source of his payments - around $2,000 an article - is no less controversial. His sometime sponsor, Mr. Abramoff, is at the center of a far-reaching criminal corruption investigation involving several members of Congress, with prosecutors examining whether he sought to bribe lawmakers in exchange for legislative help.

A second scholar, Peter Ferrara, of the Institute for Policy Innovation, acknowledged in the same BusinessWeek Online piece that he had also taken money from Mr. Abramoff in exchange for writing certain opinion articles. But Mr. Ferrara did not apologize for doing so. "I do that all the time," Mr. Ferrara was quoted as saying. He did not reply to an e-mail message seeking comment on Friday.

Seems you can't walk down K Street without bumping into a scholar these days. Even Scholars of Talmudic Studies.

“I hate to ask you for your help with something so silly but I’ve been nominated for membership in the Cosmos Club, which is a very distinguished club in Washington, DC, comprised of Nobel Prize winners, etc.,” Abramoff wrote. “Problem for me is that most prospective members have received awards and I have received none. I was wondering if you thought it possible that I could put that I have received an award from Toward Tradition with a sufficiently academic title, perhaps something like Scholar of Talmudic Studies?”

There were titters in the audience as Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) read aloud the e-mail, then outright laughter as he continued reading: “Indeed, it would be even better if it were possible that I received these in years past, if you know what I mean.”

The rabbi, conservative radio host Daniel Lapin, gave his blessing. “I just need to know what needs to be produced,” he wrote. “Letters? Plaques?”

A scoop of schadenfreude

Um, snap.

Yesterday's article was a dramatic scoop for a newspaper whose national security coverage has been marked by some turmoil in recent years. The Times admitted last year that much of its reporting on Iraq's weapons programs before the war was flawed. The principal author of those stories, Judith Miller, later spent 85 days in jail to protect the identity of an administration source in the CIA leak case.

More recently, the Times has been scooped by the Los Angeles Times on a story that the U.S. military has been secretly paying to run favorable stories in the Iraqi media, and by The Washington Post on the revelation last month of a secret network of CIA prisons for terrorism suspects in foreign countries. The Times announced last week that it was replacing its deputy bureau chief in Washington, which outsiders read as a sign of the paper's dissatisfaction with its Washington coverage.

Friday, December 16, 2005

"You shuffle the Shuffle"

A couple of hip Baby Boomers, talkin' music.

Everyone thinks it's soooo funny that preznit listens to The Archies. I will only say to "Everyone:" Weren't The Archies, in fact, the prototype for Gorillaz?

Friday dog blogging

Impersonations of Joe Pesci never fail to kill me.

Checks but little balance

The Senate filibustered a four-year renewal of the Patriot Act today.

The Patriot Act, approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, made it easier for the FBI to conduct secret searches, monitor telephone calls and e-mails, and obtain bank records and other personal documents in connection with terrorism investigations. Critics said the proposed renewal would do too little to let targeted people challenge national security letters and special subpoenas that give the FBI substantial latitude in deciding what records -- including those from libraries -- should be surrendered.

In today's Senate debate, several lawmakers cited a New York Times report disclosing that Bush signed a secret order in 2002 authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in the United States, despite previous legal prohibitions against such domestic spying.

"Mr. President, it is time to have checks and balances in this country," thundered Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat. "We are a democracy!"

Sure we are, but in the democracy we find ourselves living in today, what's Constitutional is what the president says is Constitutional.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 - Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

"This is really a sea change," said a former senior official who specializes in national security law. "It's almost a mainstay of this country that the N.S.A. only does foreign searches."

It's not exactly a high hurdle to get a warrant in this country, especially a Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) warrant.

And this is interesting:

The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted.

The report doesn't indicate why, a year later, they went ahead with publication. I'm guessing that it's because the White House never came up with a compelling reason not to.

While the Patriot Act is coming under increasing scrutiny, the Patriot Act is irrelevant if the administration is making up the president's constitutional perogatives as they go along.

Several national security officials say the powers granted the N.S.A. by President Bush go far beyond the expanded counterterrorism powers granted by Congress under the USA Patriot Act, which is up for renewal. The House on Wednesday approved a plan to reauthorize crucial parts of the law. But final passage has been delayed under the threat of a Senate filibuster because of concerns from both parties over possible intrusions on Americans' civil liberties and privacy.

Under the act, law enforcement and intelligence officials are still required to seek a F.I.S.A. warrant every time they want to eavesdrop within the United States. A recent agreement reached by Republican leaders and the Bush administration would modify the standard for F.B.I. wiretap warrants, requiring, for instance, a description of a specific target. Critics say the bar would remain too low to prevent abuses.

Bush administration officials argue that the civil liberties concerns are unfounded, and they say pointedly that the Patriot Act has not freed the N.S.A. to target Americans. "Nothing could be further from the truth," wrote John Yoo, a former official in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, and his co-author in a Wall Street Journal opinion article in December 2003. Mr. Yoo worked on a classified legal opinion on the N.S.A.'s domestic eavesdropping program.

At an April hearing on the Patriot Act renewal, Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the F.B.I., "Can the National Security Agency, the great electronic snooper, spy on the American people?"

"Generally," Mr. Mueller said, "I would say generally, they are not allowed to spy or to gather information on American citizens."

President Bush did not ask Congress to include provisions for the N.S.A. domestic surveillance program as part of the Patriot Act and has not sought any other laws to authorize the operation. Bush administration lawyers argued that such new laws were unnecessary, because they believed that the Congressional resolution on the campaign against terrorism provided ample authorization, officials said.

Our imperial president puts forth these executive orders because the administration expects Congressional opposition.

Meanwhile, other privacy and civil liberties lines are being crossed.

WASHINGTON - A year ago, at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla., a small group of activists met to plan a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. What they didn't know was that their meeting had come to the attention of the U.S. military.

A secret 400-page Defense Department document obtained by NBC News lists the Lake Worth meeting as a “threat” and one of more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” across the country over a recent 10-month period.

“This peaceful, educationally oriented group being a threat is incredible,” says Evy Grachow, a member of the Florida group called The Truth Project.


The Defense Department document is the first inside look at how the U.S. military has stepped up intelligence collection inside this country since 9/11, which now includes the monitoring of peaceful anti-war and counter-military recruitment groups.


The DOD database obtained by NBC News includes nearly four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, including some that have taken place far from any military installation, post or recruitment center. One “incident” included in the database is a large anti-war protest at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles last March that included effigies of President Bush and anti-war protest banners. Another incident mentions a planned protest against military recruiters last December in Boston and a planned protest last April at McDonald’s National Salute to America’s Heroes — a military air and sea show in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The Fort Lauderdale protest was deemed not to be a credible threat and a column in the database concludes: “US group exercising constitutional rights.” Two-hundred and forty-three other incidents in the database were discounted because they had no connection to the Department of Defense — yet they all remained in the database.

The DOD has strict guidelines (.PDF link), adopted in December 1982, that limit the extent to which they can collect and retain information on U.S. citizens.

Still, the DOD database includes at least 20 references to U.S. citizens or U.S. persons. Other documents obtained by NBC News show that the Defense Department is clearly increasing its domestic monitoring activities. One DOD briefing document stamped “secret” concludes: “[W]e have noted increased communication and encouragement between protest groups using the [I]nternet,” but no “significant connection” between incidents, such as “reoccurring instigators at protests” or “vehicle descriptions.”

UPDATE: Go watch the various civil [cough...bullshit...cough] libertarians and the Dear Leader conservatives fall all over themselves defending this as a.) not a big deal and/or b.) a traitorous leak of vital intelligence information. Please. Guys. You were oh so better coordinated when Janet Reno was stomping on civil liberties with her army of jack-booted government thugs, UN blue helmets, and black helicoptors. Now, I just don't know what to think.

Job insecurity

I've certainly seen enough movies about life in the press room to know that they are not exemplars of equanimity, diversity, sweetness, or light. But I also know that, in the corporate world -- a world not devoid of backstabbing and political posturing for those grasping the ladder -- if I publicly and approvingly referred to an article, blog post, etc., that denigrated a colleague, the repercussions would be pretty swift. Particularly if those comments reflected poorly on the organization as a whole.

So nevermind that the WaPo's national political editor, John Harris, used the comments of a GOP webmaster to criticize Dan Froomkin's "White House Briefing." He used comments that referred to Froomkin -- Harris's colleague -- as "a second-rate hack." That would reflect badly, not on Froomkin, but on Harris and, more to the point, the Washington Post organization.

Um, where does the Post's publisher stand on all of this?

And, by the way, Harris is still being stupidly coy. First he tries to evade telling readers that he is using the comments of a GOP operative to mug the online columnist. Then, when caught with his pants down around his ankles, he writes,

John F. Harris: I said I was not going to return much to the Froomkin matter today, but I'm going to take this one because it bothers me. Also because many other questions I'm not posting are on a similar theme. I did refuse to answer questions posed by a blogger named Brad Delong asking whether I knew that one of the people on record complaining about the confusion over White House Briefing was affiliated with Republicans. As a journalist, I hate not answering questions, even from (in this case) someone who clearly was coming from a point of view quite hostile to me. But I had jointly decided with colleagues that I had responded enough to the blogosphere, so I took a pass. I'll address the matter here. I did know that some people raising questions about Froomkin are Republicans...

Maybe he's awfully ignorant, and doesn't really know that Brad DeLong is not just some Cheez-its eating, pajama-wearing unemployed crank, typing away in his mother's basement, but rather a respected professor of economics at Berkeley and a former member of the Clinton administration (Harris is, of course, political editor; why would he know that?). But wouldn't a good editor want to know who, exactly, is the guy raking him over the coals? Referring to DeLong simply as "a blogger" is just another example of how much WaPo editors dislike transparency these days.

Once again, where does his publisher stand on all of this?

More muck a-comin'

Help Josh Marshall & Co. rake it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

How the monks saved civilization

What a strained column from Davey this morning. Basically, he's not incorrect. Certainly the "Dark Ages" weren't so dark, and the Church's monastaries were vital in the preservation of Greek and Roman knowledge. And, subsequently in the advancement of that knowledge.

But, Oh, Davey™, aren't you forgetting something? Astronomy perhaps. Chemistry?

"You can tell by the way she smiles"

Technology marches on.

In what they viewed as a fun demonstration of technology rather than a serious experiment, the researchers scanned a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece and subjected it to cutting-edge "emotion recognition" software, developed in collaboration with the University of Illinois.

The result showed the painting's famous subject was 83 percent happy, 9 percent disgusted, 6 percent fearful and 2 percent angry. She was less than 1 percent neutral, and not at all surprised.

There's real poetry to that last paragrah.

In fact, it's been known for awhile that you could tell by her smile she had the highway blues.

Where do you think that extra 10% comes from?

Stephen Colbert debates the baseball steroid controversy with...a formidable opponent.

Meanwhile Steve Goldman and Will Carroll discuss Nomah!'s health and viability for putting in a productive season.

The Nomah! thing may just be tabloid backpage ink fodder, but it has been one interesting event in an otherwise very dull (for Yankee fans) off season. Nomah! would be a rare example of creative thinking for an organization not known for it. While he's not asking for pocket change, $5 or $6 million for his kind of upside, not to mention bench strength the Yankees haven't had in this century, seems like a risk worth taking; certainly a better one than getting into a bidding war with the Red Hosed over Johnny Damon. In fact, are the Red Sox bluffing their interest in resigning Damon in order to force the Yankees into over paying/over committing, while the Sox snap up Jeremy Reed for a damaged goods pitcher?

Waiting in the wings with a consolation prize are the Mariners with Reed, who hit .254 as a rookie last year. The Mariners need pitching, and lost out on free agents Carl Pavano and Matt Clement last winter. Now, they are interested in trading Reed to the Yankees for Pavano, who has three years and $30 million left on his contract, or to the Red Sox for Clement, who has two years and about $17 million left. Those contracts seem like bargains since A.J. Burnett signed a five-year, $55 million contract with the Blue Jays, leaving free agents such as Jarrod Washburn, Kevin Millwood and Jeff Weaver in strong bargaining positions. All three are also Boras clients.

Since Reed is hardly a proven commodity, the Yankees, who have unproven Bubba Crosby at the top of their current depth chart, are not inclined to trade Pavano for him. If they can sign Damon, they would force the Red Sox to scramble to fill their center field vacancy.

Sure, the Red Sox would be scrambling. Scrambling right over to get a young player whose mediocre rookie season and left him in the discount bin.

Which side are they on?

The Vega has long wondered if George Bush and Dick Cheney are acting as agents of Iran. Now, the president of Iran is acting as a paid agent for U.S. neocons, spouting off paranoid fantasies regarding the state of Israel and the Holocaust which fuel and play right into the paranoid fantasies of neocons.

It is confusing. Who's working for whom?

World Baseball Castro free!

The "World Baseball Classic" is certainly a joke. Scheduled for March, most veteran MLB players -- especially pitchers -- will be physically unready to compete (or their team's ownership will be unwilling to let them compete), making this little more than a series of exhibition games.

And Mike Piazza will be playing for Italy.

Apparently the Bush administration Treasury Dept. agrees.

The department's Office of Foreign Assets Control notified Major League Baseball on Tuesday that Cuba would not be allowed to have a team in the inaugural classic, which is scheduled to be played in March.

"We just received notice yesterday," Paul Archey, senior vice president for international baseball matters, said last night. "We're obviously disappointed in the decision, but we're going to continue to look into it and see what we need to do to have it changed, if at all."

Officials involved in the planning of the world tournament said the reason for keeping Cuba out was unclear, but it appeared to be linked to the possibility that if the tournament made a profit, the Cuban team could take American dollars home to its island, which is what the Cuban embargo is meant to prevent.

In 1999, the Cuban national team, as part of a home-and-home series, played the Orioles in Havana and in Baltimore. Cuba obviously gained money from those games.

"This came as a complete surprise to us," said Gene Orza, the No. 2 official of the players union, which has joined with Major League Baseball in organizing and sponsoring the event. "We thought the administration was supporting the event."

A Cuban ban could lead to a boycott of the classic by individual players from other Latin countries and by baseball federations in those countries.

If a boycott were to develop, it could jeopardize the classic. "I don't think that's likely," Orza said. "We haven't heard anything to that effect."

Archey said organizers have a backup plan in the event Cuba cannot play, but he said he wanted to pursue the matter "before we make any decisions."

Nothing is too small for this administration to inject political calculations...albeit tone-deaf ones. Wouldn't the smart thing to do be to let Castro make the decision not to let his players come to the U.S.? After all, the last thing he wants are his best players auditioning for Major League GMs and offered the temptation to defect. And what's with the timing? The "WBC" has been in the works for months, why'd the administration decide to act the hemispheric bully now? A casual fat joke?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Kneepads with the Washington Post logo

Ezra Klein is right. Regardless of who is in charge, power corrupts. Blogostan's pretty cool, but we need a traditional press corps devoted to holding the feet of the powerful to the fire, whether the powerful be Republicans or [sigh] Democrats, not to mention keeping us "fickle bloggers" relatively honest.

And that's why the whole "kerfuffle" over at the Washington Post so madding. If John Harris, the Post's political editor, believes that criticizing the White House's unabashed spin, balder, and dash is evidence of "liberal bias," then we are all in big trouble.

Northern ally applauds Patriot Act

Santa Baby
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Barbara Bush announced new provisions under the Patriot Act which will allow Santa's Helpers unprecedented access to Library records, Internet usage, and DVD rentals, as well as roving wiretaps, in an effort to find who has been naughty and who has been nice. Or Muslim.

Photo via Attaturk.

The Post is getting played

Washington Post national politics editor is being used as a tool of the Republican National Committe.

Who is the "conservative blogger" that John Harris cites? His name is Patrick Ruffini More interesting, Patrick Ruffini is eCampaign Director at the Republican National Committee

Shouldn't John Harris have told Jay Rosen that Patrick Ruffini is not some grassroots "conservative blogger" outraged at Froomkin's bias but rather a Republican operative engaged in working the ref?

Go ahead and read what John Harris apparently believes are Dan Froomkin's examples of "liberal bias." You'll laugh. You'll cry.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong's link seems to have disappeared. But here's a link that gets to the same point. F'rinstnace:

UPDATE: Pure bias:

It is flatly un-American for people to be hauled out of a public event with the president of the United States because of, say, a political bumper sticker on their car.
But is it too much to ask the White House to say so?


Oy vey.

Heh. Indeedy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Incredible. With the public's opinion of journalists at what would be an all-time low if said opinion isn't always at an all-time low, the WaPost's national editor as well as its ombudsman decide to eat their on-line young.

Political reporters at The Post don't like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin's "White House Briefing," which is highly opinionated and liberal. They're afraid that some readers think that Froomkin is a Post White House reporter.

John Harris, national political editor at the print Post, said, "The title invites confusion. It dilutes our only asset -- our credibility" as objective news reporters. Froomkin writes the kind of column "that we would never allow a White House reporter to write. I wish it could be done with a different title and display."

Well, gosh. Color me batshit crazy, but I don't think their "credibility" problem has anything to do with readers confusing Froomkin -- who is basically a fact-checker of White House spin -- with a "reporter." The Post's -- and other newspapers' -- credibility problem has to do with readers confusing "reporters" with "reporters." Again and again.

Christ, what a dunderheaded, smug, and entirely clueless act by the Post's ombudsman. Her dunderheadedness, smugness, and cluelessness is best exemplified by the fact that, while her column appears on-line, she does not provide a link to Froomkin's column. Not getting it would be an understatement.

Meanwhile, back at the Post, Richard Cohen, self-described "liberal," is outraged, OUTRAGED" by Syriana's suggestion that the U.S. government, K Street fixers, and big oil may have converging interests. And that sometimes those converging interests recognize -- and profit from -- the convergence. If Cohen is confused by the, according to his cinematic perspective, it is because the movie is not so heavy handed as to suggest a conspiracy, but rather that "U.S. interests" can sometimes cast a very, very wide net. No, Richard Cohen, it's you, not the critics who praised an interesting film who is in the dark. Sure, liberating Iraq from the Baathists is all about bringing democracty to the middle east. If it also throws a bone or two to some old friends, so much the better. What fucking planet does Richard Cohen breathe on, assuming for a moment that his medulla oblangata is still capable of the most primitive somatic reflex arc?

Elegy to a Yankee center fielder

Larry Mehnkin has a nice piece begging Bernie Williams to pack it in.

I love Bernie Williams, at least as much as a heterosexual man can love another heterosexual man he's only seen on television and a couple of times from a few hundred feet away with several thousand other people in a baseball stadium. I don't want to see him playing poorly, I don't want to see him playing for another team.

But I also don't want to see him playing for the Yankees, he no longer has any value to them, and while loyalty is a very nice thing, it's something that's best cast aside in baseball. The point is to win games, not be nice to your friends, and Bernie Williams can't help the Yankees win games. He needs to go.

But who am I, or anyone else, particularly Phil Allard, to tell him to hang it up? No, Bernie is not a very good baseball player any more, but there are dozens, maybe hundreds of professional ballplayers who aren't good enough to keep playing in the majors, and they keep it up. It's not for money, or pride, or because someone talks them into it, it's because it's baseball, and who in their right mind would willingly walk away from that?

These guys don't owe us anything. They don't owe it to us to leave a special memory of them at their peak, they don't owe it to us to stop playing when they're no longer helping the team. They owe nothing to anyone but themselves, and if they want to keep playing, and someone wants to keep playing them, then that's their right.

I am inclined to go in a different direction. As Joe Sheehan pointed out recently, any team sporting Bubba Crosby as its starting CFer can't be too picky about who their fourth outfielder is. Nevertheless, the fear for all of us Jankee fans, especially those of us who know and love Joe Torre, but are generally made nervous by his decisions when it comes to "experience," is the knowledge that the temptation to play Bernabe in center will be just to great for the skipper to withstand.

Spinning the discs with Bobby D

Tom Petty's band, the Heartbreakers, were a vital backup band for Dylan in the mid and late 1980s. The band's wide range of musical knowledge and styles were perfect for an artist trying to reclaim his form and trying to achieve freshness with songs he'd grown tired of singing.

Regular (Dear) Readers of this humble slice of blogostan know that Tom Petty has a weekly show on XM Radio that is a must listen every Monday morning. Something tells me Petty had something to do with this as well.
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