Saturday, February 25, 2006

Don't make me come over there. . .

This is an interesting report from Time.

The Justice Department has a message for Congress: clean up your house or else we may have to do it for you. A senior federal law enforcement official told TIME that the paralyzed and often lax House ethics committee has created a vacuum that prosecutors won't hesitate to fill. The House’s internal mechanism for keeping corruption in check is “broken,” says the official.

By contrast, current criminal probes of lawmakers are expanding rapidly. Like the Abramoff probe, the investigation into former Republican Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham from San Diego is also widening. Last week, defense contractor Mitchell Wade OF MZM, INC. pleaded guilty to supplying more than $1 million of the $2.4 million in bribes Cunningham previously admitted taking in a scheme that touches Defense Department officials and two other members of Congress.

. . . Staff of the ethics committee—which is only beginning to get up and running after a partisan deadlock that's lasted for 13 months—did not return phone calls Friday for comment.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Festus Squirms

I dunno what to think on this, but it's fun to watch Festus squirm and threaten a veto so passionately over an issue that not even he knew about last week.

On the negative side:
. . . the White House shouldn't be surprised by the fear-based reaction the port deal has received — the Bush gang has been tilling this soil for a while.

Bush has long been successful in persuading Americans they were under constant threat and he was the best man to protect them…. Fears have not subsided, pollster John Zogby said, although the United States has not suffered a major attack since September 11, 2001. Bush two weeks ago revealed a plot foiled in 2002 to fly an airplane into the West Coast's tallest building and said the terrorist threat had not abated.

That's what makes this story so ironic. I guess you can't have it both ways," Zogby said.
However, a 1993 amendment to the law stipulates that such an investigation is mandatory when the acquiring company is controlled by or acting on behalf of a foreign government. Administration officials said they conducted additional inquires because of the ties to the United Arab Emirates, but they could not say why a 45-day investigation did not occur.

On the other hand:
As the Financial Times reports, state-owned companies already operate terminals in the U.S., including China Shipping at the Port of Los Angeles and APL (owned by Singapore's state-owned NOL) in Oakland. "The US container port industry would be unworkable without companies controlled by foreign governments," says a British analyst. Furthermore, DPW and Singapore's state-owned PSA are the third and fourth largest port operators in the world, and China's Hutchison Ports already refuses to invest in the U.S. If all of these firms are shut out of the country, we lose access to some of the best and most efficient port operators in the world.

This has the same feel of the Cheney misfire last week. An event of little significance creates a political firestorm thanks to the cavalier arrogance and ineptness of the Festus White House. Festus brings it all on himself thanks to a 6 year record of stupid arrogant blundering.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Even Dilbert gets it

From The Carpetbagger
From the State of the Union:

"Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past."

From the day after the State of the Union:

One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.

[The president] pledged to "move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past." Not exactly, though, it turns out. "This was purely an example," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said.

From yesterday's Bush speech in Wisconsin:

"But the American people will be amazed at how far our technology has advanced in order to meet an important goal, which is to reduce our imports from the Middle East by 75 percent by 2025, and eventually getting rid of our dependence totally."

The reality is that we're talking about a pretty modest goal anyway. The United States gets less than a fifth of its oil from the Middle East. If we reduce just those imports by 75%, it's really only a reduction of 1.9% a year for 19 years. A "dramatic improvement" this is not. For that matter, there's nothing in the president's plan that would stop private companies from buying anyone's oil, whether it's from the Middle East or not.

I want to know is it a goal or isn't it, or does Festus just say whatever shit he feels like saying?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Introverts of the World, Unite!

This is an addendum from an earlier post. Apparently the guy who wrote the orginal article stirred up a lot of stuff from it. This is an interview
I was tongue-in-cheek about the introverts' rights movement, but the main principle would just be that it should be as respectable for introverts to be who they are socially as it is for extroverts. We ought to be trying to make extroverts conscious and not uncomfortable about the fact that we're here. Extroverts should understand that if someone is being quiet it doesn't mean they're having a bad time; it doesn't mean they're depressed; it doesn't mean they're lonely or need psychiatric help or medication. A lot of the battle is making the extrovert world more aware.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Link Dump!

I'm way backed up so here are some links I wanna keep track of. . .

Ex-CIA Official Faults Use of Data on Iraq:
The former CIA official who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year has accused the Bush administration of "cherry-picking" intelligence on Iraq to justify a decision it had already reached to go to war, and of ignoring warnings that the country could easily fall into violence and chaos after an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein

Ex-Cheney Aide Testified Leak Was Ordered, Prosecutor Says:
Lewis Libby Jr., the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, told a grand jury that he was authorized by his ''superiors'' to disclose classified information to reporters about Iraq's weapons capability in June and July 2003

Cartoons worth killing for to defend the purity of your religion

A Pakistani cleric announced a $1 million bounty for killing a cartoonist who drew the Prophet Muhammad.

Show me the pony:
The main reason why I didn't watch the speech to hear what Bush would say about science policy is that it doesn't matter what he says. This administration doesn't do policy, they do politics. If Bush says something in a speech, it's because they think it will sound good in a speech, period.

Presidential signing statements are more than just executive branch lunacy.
There are two ways President Bush likes to wage war on your civil liberties: He either asks you to surrender your rights directly—as he does when he strengthens and broadens provisions of the Patriot Act. Or he simply hoovers up new powers and hopes you won't find out—as he did when he granted himself authority to order warrant-less wiretapping of American citizens.

Intelligence, Policy,and the War in Iraq, By Paul R. Pillar
The most serious problem with U.S. intelligence today is that its relationship with the policymaking process is broken and badly needs repair. In the wake of the Iraq war, it has become clear that official intelligence analysis was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized.

EFF's Class-Action Lawsuit Against AT&T for Collaboration with Illegal Domestic Spying Program
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T on January 31, 2006, accusing the telecom giant of violating the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its massive and illegal program to wiretap and data-mine Americans' communications.

'The Biggest Secret' by Thomas Powers
The challenges posed to American democracy by secrecy and by unchecked presidential power are the two great themes running through the history of the Iraq war. How long the war will last, who will "win," and what it will do to the political landscape of the Middle East will not be obvious for years to come, but the answers to those questions cannot alter the character of what happened at the outset. Put plainly, the President decided to attack Iraq, he brushed caution and objection aside, and Congress, the press, and the people, with very few exceptions, stepped back out of the way and let him do it.

DirecTV confirms EchoStar wireless plans
We love it when a good rumor turns out to be true (and, yeah, we love 'em when they're not true, too). And it turns out that almost everything was right about the tales that were spun last month about DirecTV and EchoStar planning to spend as much as $1 billion to bring a high-speed wireless service to the masses in the US.

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

Revenue From Corporate Taxes Could Decline Sorry, paywall
President Bush's 2007 budget anticipates a decline in corporate income-tax revenue next year. And while a growing economy and corporate profits will boost corporate tax receipts in later years, corporate taxes will continue to shrink as a percentage of federal revenue if the president has his way.

Rove's Early Warning, by E. J. Dionne Jr.
And, yes, the core questions must be asked: Are we really safer now than we were five years ago? Has the Iraq war, as organized and prosecuted by the administration, made us stronger or weaker? Do we feel more secure knowing the heck of a job our government did during Hurricane Katrina? Do we have any confidence that the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies will clean up their act if Washington remains under the sway of one-party government?

Republicans today control the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House. They have absolute power, and it has corrupted their Party and led to the culture of corruption that we see now in Washington.

Can Deregulating Toilets Revive Republicans?
`It was a terrible idea,'' Lieberman says, ``and the toilets were terrible, too.''The new 1.6 gpf models had to be flushed two or three times each use and even then succumbed to constant clogging. They backed up easily, causing sanitary, not to mention olfactory, problems. Utility officials reported sewage system blockages caused by insufficient quantities of water flowing through community pipes -- blockages that were undone only by flushing the pipes with thousands of gallons of fresh water.

The 2003 Medicare Modernization Act
The legislation passed on November 22, 2003, right around dawn. The vote was held open an unprecedented three hours to ensure passage (by contrast, when Democratic leaders held a vote open for 15 extra minutes in 1987, then-congressman Dick Cheney called it "the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I've ever seen in the 10 years that I've been here."), a lawmaker was bribed, and the arm-twisting reached such epic proportions that staffers still find severed limbs beneath desks annd behind podiums. If you're interested in a full recounting of the night, the story is best told in Bob Cusack's definitive article, "The Night the Clocks, Scoreboard Stood Still."

For the lockstep Republican Conference of 2003 to prove so fussy and reluctant requires a truly monstrous bill, and the MMA did not disappoint. A normal drug benefit would, as Kate said, simply tack on prescription coverage to Medicare Part B, paying a portion of pharmaceutical costs as part of the outpatient benefits. Medicare could then use its massive size and market share to bargain down drug prices, ensuring affordability and long-term savings over the fractured, smaller private system. But the two losers in that equation -- private insurers and pharmaceutical companies -- were the two with access to Congress, and so the bill takes precisely the opposite approach, choosing to involve and enrich the affected industries rather than achieve savings, comprehensive coverage, or simplicity.

Bush and the War Red Herring
When President George Bush is feeling political heat generated by questions about illegal domestic spying, secret overseas prisons, or prisoner torture, he seeks refuge in the solemn proclamation, "we are at war." The war excuse, which is usually accompanied by the elaboration that these excesses are necessary to protect the American people, does not hold water. If President Bush was serious about his insistence that we are at war, his Administration would be on a war footing. But, we are not.
If we were serious about this war there would be a supreme commander in charge of tracking down Bin Laden and the remnants of the Al Qaeda network. Instead, the NSC job for coordinating the war on terror has been held by seven different people since the President assumed office. General Wayne Downing, who held the post from October 2001 until September 2002, ultimately resigned in frustration after being repeatedly sand bagged and undercut by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Rather than impose order and discipline, President Bush has allowed the coordination function to atrophy.
Today there is no one individual or agency in charge of finding Bin Laden or dismantling Al Qaeda.

Audit: U.S. lost track of $9 billion in Iraq funds
Nearly $9 billion of money spent on Iraqi reconstruction is unaccounted for because of inefficiencies and bad management, according to a watchdog report published Sunday.

'Bin-Laden tape'
"We do not mind offering you a truce that is fair and long-term ... so we can build Iraq and Afghanistan. …There is no shame in this solution because it prevents wasting of billions of dollars ... to merchants of war."

Retiree Accounting: More Than Meets The Eye
Despite plowing billions in borrowed funds into its pension plan, General Motors Corp.'s (GM ) worldwide retirement schemes still had a shortfall of $7.5 billion at the end of 2004. On top of that, the auto maker had a $57 billion gap in its retiree health-care plans. Investors must delve deep into GM's 196-page annual report, to footnote 16, to learn all this. It's certainly not clearly laid out on the balance sheet, where much of GM's retiree obligations are not accounted for at all.

Microsoft lagging in antitrust settlement effort, report says
The situation is delaying efforts to assess a portion of the settlement meant to put some of Microsoft's rivals on a more even footing with the software maker, according to the filing by lawyers for the Justice Department and states involved in the case.

White House Got Early Warning on Katrina, by Joby Warrick
In the 48 hours before Hurricane Katrina hit, the White House received detailed warnings about the storm's likely impact, including eerily prescient predictions of breached levees, massive flooding, and major losses of life and property, documents show.

Welcome to the Machine
How the GOP disciplined K Street and made Bush supreme.

In Martin Luther King Day address, Gore compares wiretapping of Americans to surveillance of King
As we begin this new year, the Executive Branch of our government has been caught eavesdropping on huge numbers of American citizens and has brazenly declared that it has the unilateral right to continue without regard to the established law enacted by Congress precisely to prevent such abuses. It is imperative that respect for the rule of law be restored in our country.

We never had enough troops on the ground to keep order in Iraq, and both George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld knew it.

Bush defends Iraq invasion, acknowledges faulty prewar intelligence
"It's true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong," Bush admitted - omitting that he and top aides had ignored warnings from midlevel intelligence agents that some of the evidence was suspect - then quickly added that he has no regrets about his decision to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. "We are in Iraq today because our goal has always been more than the removal of a brutal dictator. It is to leave a free and democratic Iraq in its place."

Bush Administration Refuses to Comply With FOIA Request on Pre-War Intelligence
House Judiciary Committee Democratic staff members report that the White House and the Departments of State and Defense have for six months refused to comply with a request filed under the Freedom of Information Act by 52 Congress Members – a request seeking information on the Bush Administration's reasons for going to war.

Political economics

This should be a new branch of the science of Economics; Political Economics. Weary of trying to convince everyone who'll listen that the key to a prosperous US economy is lower taxes the Festus White House is going to open a "tax analysis division" to utilize smoke an mirrors to establish the lower taxes mantra as a new reality.

Treasury officials said yesterday that the president's proposed Division on Dynamic Analysis -- with a handful of employees and a $513,000 budget -- would go beyond the government's old "static" methods of analyzing proposed changes in tax policy only in terms of their direct effects on certain affected taxpayers. Instead, "dynamic" analysis looks at how tax changes cause consumers and businesses to behave differently in ways that affect the overall economy's growth.

For example, a tax break to encourage business investment might lower some individual companies' tax bills -- looking like a hit to Treasury revenue under a static analysis. But if that tax cut caused businesses to buy more equipment, hire more workers and increase profits, that might contribute to stronger overall economic growth -- causing the employees and companies to pay more in income, sales and other taxes over time.

The flaw in that reasoning is twofold. Festus keeps lowering taxes to the point where stronger economic growth simply will not generate enough tax revenue to make up for the shortfall. The other flaw is that the spending side of the federal budget is ignored.

Whatta guy

"My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this week," Whittington said.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Free gas and oil!

But not for you.

Reeling under the weight of massive amounts of profits the domestic Oil and Gas industry will have to absorb more billions courtesy of obscure Federal government regulations allowing them to take all the gas and oil they want off of federal land for absolutely nothing.

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

Based on the administration figures, the government will give up more than $7 billion in payments between now and 2011. The companies are expected to get the largess, known as royalty relief, even though the administration assumes that oil prices will remain above $50 a barrel throughout that period.

Administration officials say that the benefits are dictated by laws and regulations that date back to 1996, when energy prices were relatively low and Congress wanted to encourage more exploration and drilling in the high-cost, high-risk deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

"We need to remember the primary reason that incentives are given," said Johnnie M. Burton, director of the federal Minerals Management Service. "It's not to make more money, necessarily. It's to make more oil, more gas, because production of fuel for our nation is essential to our economy and essential to our people."

Director Burton has a real gift for words doesn't he? The "royalty relief" isn't just a free give away to a business sector that hardly needs one, but a way to encourage more production. As if record high oil and gas prices weren't incentive enough. . .

Monday, February 13, 2006

Take your best shot

Your Muslim religion doesn't give you the right to kill and declare jihad every time you get your feelings hurt or some infidel trods on sacred soil.

So here is one of the cartoons you feel is worth killing people over. Come get me.

This is the 21st Century, jackasses, I suggest you get used to it. . .

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The 24 Hours

No, I'm not referencing the tv show nor the Eddie Murphey movie, but the 24 hours that elapsed between the time VP Cheney shot a fellow hunter and when the news was released to the media.

Boyo, the liberal web logs are going to go nuts over this one. Imagine the scheming that went on in those 24 hours, the frantic phone calls arcing between Texas and Rove's cell. My best guess is that Cheney was sh*tfaced at the time he plastered his host with buckshot mistaking him for Cindy Sheehan.

It would be nice if Cheny's mental competence was somehow put into question as perhaps not being fit enough to be a heartbeat away from Festus's gig.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Contract on America

The chart sez it all. Let's see, the Republican have controlled the House and Senate since 1996, right?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A few charts

This is gonna be just a quick hit and run, but this is some stuff I've been peeved about for some time, it's just the right graphic hadn't come around yet to expound on it. The above chart is Festus's 2007 budget showing what's changed from last year.

Notice the fifth largest category is the interest paid on the federal deficit. $247 billion is a substantial piece of change and would probably pay for half of what a Universal heath care program would cost if we had one. The thing to underscore here is that this is exactly like credit card interest. The thing you bought with the money you spent is long gone and used up, but you have to pay the vig on it for years after. That makes every thing you bought that much more expensive. It's a stupid way to spend tax dollars.

The Third highest expense that oddly exceeds the rate of inflation is the increase in unemployment benefits. The unemployment rate has been trending down for the last few years so this number should be a lot lower. One more factoid that suggests the unemployment numbers are as concrete as Festus's Iraqi WMDs.

I won't even go into the categories on the bottom of the list that are going in the negative direction such as environment, housing, education and social services. It's a Republican government after all.

Next up is Receipts and Outlays. I remain aghast that corporate income taxes account for barely 10% of the 2.4 trillion the Feds take in. That number just feels wrong to me and it seems likely that it should probably be double that percentage.

Note again what a large portion of outlays the interest on the debt is. There are grown sane men with doctorates in economics that actually argue that the size of the federal deficit is irrelevant because taxpayers only owe themselves that money which makes it a wash. The men are morons. Note that the increase in interest is 12% over last year, far larger than the annual increase in GDP of 4%.

Hmmm, that can't be good. How can you grow the economy out of debt with tax cuts when the increase in debt service exceeds the growth of the economy?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

First day at home

In his first day at home since stepping down from his post as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan made a series of cryptic, inscrutable pronouncements that left his wife, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, totally baffled.

The former Fed chief was renowned for his confusing, often incomprehensible statements about the markets and the economy while testifying to Congress, but according to Ms. Mitchell, those remarks were “a piece of cake” to understand compared to the mixed messages he has been sending at home.

The trouble began at the breakfast table, Ms. Mitchell said, when she asked the former Fed chief what he wanted to eat, a question which led to a serpentine 45-minute response.

“To order ham and eggs at this time is tempting, but may not be warranted given my desire to keep my cholesterol below a reasonable ceiling,” Mr. Greenspan reportedly said.

According to Ms. Mitchell, Mr. Greenspan spent the rest of the day holding the TV remote control, moving the remote up five channels and then down five channels for no apparent reason.

“I kind of feel sorry for him,” Ms. Mitchell said. “I think he really misses moving interest rates.”

Friday, February 03, 2006

It's deja vue all over again

If you'll recall, the Festus White House makes it a policy to highball the expense of a program or deficit so that later they can come under it and brag that they did. Guess what?

The Department of Health and Human Services says the Medicare prescription plan is coming in under budget!

When the program was being developed, before we had any actual experience with the cost of drug coverage, it was estimated that the Part D benefit would cost about $700 billion in its first ten years. But as plans compete for seniors’ business, they are driving the costs of prescriptions down. According to our latest estimates, the costs of the Medicare prescription drug benefit are significantly less than expected.

The federal government now projects the cost to be about 20 percent less per person in 2006. Over the next five years, payments are now projected to be more than 10 percent lower than first estimated. That is a significant savings for taxpayers.

Kevin Drum says it so much better than I could:
You see, back when the program was being developed, HHS actually estimated it would cost $400 billion, not $700 billion. As we later learned, this was just a flat out lie, designed to fool Congress into voting for it. Shortly after the bill passed, HHS admitted that its chief actuary had actually estimated a cost of $500-600 billion but had been forbidden from revealing this to anyone. Then, last year, they upped the estimate again to $720 billion. So assuming that the 10% "savings" applies to the entire 10-year budgeting period, it means HHS is now estimating a cost of $650 billion, which is actually far higher than either of the estimates from two years ago.

It's also worth noting that HHS has come up with this alleged 10% savings after a grand total of one month of experience with the program. In fact, it comes from a document called "The Secretary's One Month Progress Report on the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit." So take this news with a great big shaker of salt.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

2245 Dead. How many more?

Isn't it amazing? Cindy Sheehan is an official enemy of the state? She can simply be removed and arrested for fear of embarrassing or otherwise offending The President of the United States! Without any legal justification whatsoever she can be removed from the State of the Union Address for which she had an actual valid invitation because she was wearing a tastefully black tee-shirt with the words "2245 Dead. How many more?" printed on it.

Even thought the Capitol Police dropped charges and apologised, Cindy was still deprived of being able to attend the speach that she was lawfully enabled to attend. Cindy plans to file a civil suit. . .

He just says shit!

The most recent count was that there were 20 rought drafts of the SOTU address before Festus read if off the teleprompter so is the following evil, stupid or both?

One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.

What the president meant, they said in a conference call with reporters, was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025.

But America still would import oil from the Middle East, because that's where the greatest oil supplies are. Asked why the president used the words "the Middle East" when he didn't really mean them, one administration official said Bush wanted to dramatize the issue in a way that "every American sitting out there listening to the speech understands."

The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he feared that his remarks might get him in trouble.

It's just so insulting to be lied to so casually. Isn't Festus aware that his term ends in 2008? How was he planning to cut imports by 2025?

What does it say about a televised Presidential address on all three networks to the entire nation that has to have clariying press conferences to explain what the president really meant?

Bye. Stop.

For those of you who were born post-1850, the telegram was a method of communication (before telephones) that required writing down your message and bringing it to the telegraph office, where someone would dot-dot-dash it off to another telegraph office near the intended receipient for transcription and delivery- a process not nearly as efficient as the email or IM. Well Western Union, which has oddly continued to offer this product for over a hundred years, has finally gotten wind of all this newfangled tech and abandoned its Telegram and Commercial Messaging services as of January 27th.

What I want to know is what took them so long to shut it down?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Festus lies . . . again

In a speech in Buffalo, NY on April 20, 2004, Bush states that "a wiretap requires a court order." He goes on, "When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important to our fellow citizens to understand when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution.

The Washington Note goes on:
Mr. President, square that with the nation now. You are implying that constitutional law requires you -- as President of the United States -- to secure a court order before wiretapping.

You said it. Plain as day.

How do we know when you are telling the truth to Americans -- on sacred matters dealing with the Constitution, presidential authority and its limits, and the system of checks and balances in this country?

How do we know?