Saturday, December 31, 2005
Fun and Games With DeLay and Abramoff
An outfit called the U.S. Family Network has come into the news as a conduit of dirty money to Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay.
"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."
"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."
You have to love the name "the U.S. Family Network." Any group with "family" or "children" in the title comes under my immediate suspicion. In my opinion, this category of sociopaths ranks second only to groups with "drug-free" type names or agendas as being possible cover organizations for pedophiles or worse.
The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail
In more Jack Abramoff news, there is a report that our favorite lobbyist must accept a plea bargain by this Tuesday or face the music in front of a jury.
Lobbyist is Given Deadline to Take Deal or Go to Trial
Friday, December 30, 2005
Justice Dept. Investigating Leak of NSA Program to New York Times
Witness intimidation is supposed to be against the law.
That's what the Justice Department is trying to do by investigating the whistle-blower(s) who exposed the illegal NSA eavesdropping program.
This is blatant abuse of power. The wingnuts will say "we have to investigate all leaks of classified information." Funny, that's not what Rove and Libby's defenders say in the Plamegate case.
The exposure of government wrongdoing is essential to the effort to preserve the remaining freedoms that Americans possess.
It was inevitable that the investigation would happen, but it shows the attitude of the administration towards the Constitutional rights of Americans.
It's another bad sign.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
The Illustrious Career of Jack Abramoff
Parents throughout the country should hold Jack Abramoff up as a role model.
More than sports champions, rock stars, and assorted other public figures, Abramoff represents the real values that typify America these days. He is all about the money. Power also holds it's fascination for this type, but it is power for the sake of the money.
Lobbyists are the new American heroes. The short-lived era of federal air marshals as the embodiment of all that is right about this country appears to be waning.
Today's Washington Post features a long piece narrating the inspirational story of Jack Abramoff. From College Republican leader to well-heeled lobbyist to tragic downfall, it is all here.
There are wonderful anecdotes in the piece:
Even in those early days, there were hints of the troubles to come. "If anyone is not surprised at the rise and fall of Jack Abramoff, it is me," said Rich Bond, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Abramoff and his crew busted the College Republicans' budget with a 1982 national direct-mail fundraising campaign that ended up "a colossal flop," said Bond, then deputy director of the party's national committee. He said he banished the three from GOP headquarters, telling Abramoff: "You can't be trusted."
Abramoff started right where many self made men do, at the top:
Abramoff also counted on his father, who had a wealth of connections from his days as president of the Diners Club credit card company. Frank Abramoff had once looked into operating a casino in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. territory that includes Saipan. He introduced his son around, and the Marianas became one of the first important clients of the new lobbyist.
Soon the younger Abramoff developed a key alliance with Rep. Tom DeLay, a conservative Republican from Texas who was working his way up in the House leadership.
As shown above, Abramoff always associated himself with the highest caliber people:
Another Abramoff financial vehicle was the nonprofit American International Center, a Rehoboth Beach, Del., "think tank" set up by Scanlon, who staffed it with beach friends from his summer job as a lifeguard. The center became a means for Abramoff and Scanlon to take money from foreign clients that they did not want to officially represent. Some of the funds came from the government of Malaysia. Banks and oil companies there were making deals in Sudan, where U.S. companies were barred on human rights grounds.
This is a very long piece, but it is essential reading for anyone looking to make his life's work in lobbying.
Justice Dept. Asks Supreme Court To Intervene In Padilla Case
After a rare rebuke by the national security-minded 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to allow the prosecution of "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla to go forward.
"In its ruling last week, the 4th Circuit questioned the government's changing rationale for Padilla's detention since the September decision, because the criminal charges do not mention a dirty bomb plot or any attack inside the United States. The court said prosecutors had left the appearance that they were trying to avoid Supreme Court review of Padilla's case and suggested that Padilla might have been "held for these years, even if justifiably, by mistake."
"Yesterday, prosecutors denied any attempt to avoid the Supreme Court and said they had narrowed the charges against Padilla because elaborating on the original allegations would compromise intelligence "sources or methods."
After holding Padilla incommunicado for over three years in a Navy brig, Justice is now eager to bring this case to trial.
I (and others) wonder whether any of the illegally obtained NSA evidence forms any of the basis of Padilla's case. If it does, we can rely on this fact not being admitted by the government.
U.S. Defends Conduct in Padilla Case
Iraq Vote "Do-Over" Unlikely
The top United Nations elections official in Iraq has endorsed the conduct of the Dec. 15 parliamentary election.
This will disappoint the Sunnis, who are clamoring for a new election, alleging widespread fraud. Some elements of the Sunni insurgency are threatening increased violence if no new balloting is conducted.
"In Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad, a few thousand demonstrators gathered to condemn the elections. Some carried photos of Sunni leaders or of Hussein carrying a rifle, and they waved banners that read: "Forgery in the election is treason."
"If they don't respond to our demands, we shall show them things they have never seen before," Ahmad Mahdi Dhaye, a cleric and member of the Association of Muslim Scholars, a leading Sunni religious group, told the crowd."
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Ignatius Strikes Again
The extra-legal NSA spying program is the topic of his piece.
Ignatius' thesis is that the NSA has developed new tools so fantastically advanced that new laws must be enacted to permit their legal use.
This tool of a writer obscures the fact that most, if not all, of these "advances" are only modifications of techniques that have been around for many years. The legal concepts in play are fully accounted for by existing provisions (and restrictions) of law.
A hint of Ignatius' strategy is glimpsed in the following:
We know only the barest outlines of what the NSA has been doing. The most reliable accounts have appeared in the New York Times, the newspaper that broke the story. Although the headline has been "warrantless wiretapping," the Times accounts suggest the program actually was something closer to a data-mining system that collected and analyzed vast amounts of digitized data in an effort to find patterns that might identify potential terrorists.
Later he admits in writing that "in addition to eavesdropping on those numbers and reading e-mail messages..."
That ain't data mining, and he knows it. It gets worse:
The legal problems, as Arkin suggests, involve the dots -- what digital information can the government legitimately collect and save for later analysis, and under what legal safeguards? As it trolls the ocean of data, how can the government satisfy legal requirements for warrants that specify at the outset what may only be clear at the end of the search -- namely, specific links to terrorist groups? These and other questions will vex lawyers and politicians in the coming debate, but they aren't a reason for jettisoning these techniques.
The specific reason why the fourth amendment of the Constitution exists is to prevent the kind of wholesale intrusion (such as data mining and questionable eavesdropping) that Ignatius thinks is so peachy.
As Ignatius writes:
America's best intelligence asset is technology. The truth is that America has never been especially good at running spies or plotting covert actions. Our special talent has been the application of technology to complex problems of surveillance.
So, in the opinion of Mr. Ignatius, U.S. ineptitude in HUMINT is good enough reason to throw out important qualities that make (or made) America a free country.
Post Finally Gets Around To Reporting Move Of Burma's Capital
In early November of this year, the repressive Burmese (Myanmar) government abruptly packed up and began moving their capital from Rangoon (Yangon) to the isolated city of Pyinmana, 200 miles to the north.
The Washington Post is a little tardy reporting on this story. Today the WaPo places on the front page of the paper this news, which had been first reported in the United States by the blog Effwit (see Myanmar Abruptly Moves Government) shortly after the move began.
The intrepid Effwit, working from diplomatic sources, got the story correct to the actual minute the move began, and the possible reasons for the move.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Defense Contractors Warned of Budgetary Cuts in Weapons Systems
It was left to Ryan Henry (pictured), principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, to give hints of a policy change to some leading defense contractors.
The Quadrennial Defense Review, the infamous examination of our nation's defense priorities is due to be released in February. Rumsfeld, as he is wont, is taking aim at obsolete weapons systems designed for a Cold War environment.
The spending on unnecessary weapons systems has nearly brought the nation to bankruptcy, and something needs to be done about the profligate military spending.
(T)here is now greater attention in Washington, both in Congress and at the Pentagon, on out-of-control spending on some weapons. The Pentagon currently has $1.3 trillion of weapons program in its portfolio - with $800 billion of the bills for them still to be paid. The Pentagon has commissioned a major study to make recommendations on curbing these runaway costs.
There will still be excessive outlays on "intelligence" related systems "needed" to fight the "war on terror."
This would mean the Pentagon would want to buy more of the highly agile and high-technology weapons that they need. Specialized skills like language, intelligence and communication are also becoming top priorities.
But already there are signs of trouble ahead. In the last few years, Mr. Rumsfeld has tried to kill some weapons systems he saw as Cold War anachronisms and to push a military modernization plan. But his efforts were thwarted by what Washington calls the Iron Triangle of Congress, the uniformed military command and military contractors.
Many military experts said the same fate could be in store for this review, although Mr. Henry, and some military analysts, argued that this round could be different.
Still, some military analysts remain skeptical. "Congress equates weapon systems with jobs and votes," Mr. Thompson said. "It's hard to convince them of anything that will lead to less jobs and fewer votes."
Chalabi Big Loser In Iraq Election
It has been a series of ups and downs for Chalabi, who has been credited with having an influential role in persuading the United States into it's ill-fated endeavor in Iraq.
Before the dust of the U.S. invasion had even cleared, the Pentagon flew Chalabi into occupied Iraq over the objections of the State Department. Later, before the "transfer of authority" to the Iraqi people, Chalabi's headquarters was raided by American forces on suspicion of spying for Iran. More recently, he has somehow returned to the good graces of the American powers in Iraq.
Chalabi, a convicted fraudster in Lebanon, was hoping to obtain a position dealing with banking in the new Iraqi government. It now looks as if this hope will be dashed due to his poor electoral showing.
Chalabi Lacks Votes Needed to Win Spot in Iraqi Assembly
Update: My pessimism about Chalabi's job prospects in the new Iraqi government appear to have been unfounded. On Dec 30, Chalabi was awarded the position of Oil Minister. No opportunities for graft there. Ho ho ho.
Clinton Impeachment Scandal Now Featured In H.S. History Books
The more salacious details of Mr. Clinton's encounter with Monica Lewinsky are not expressly spelled out for the students. They will have to use their imaginations.
With any luck, students will soon be forced to study the details of the impeachment of President George W. Bush.
Clinton Impeachment Makes History Books
Sunnis Not Pleased With Election Results
Unrest is building to the point of near riotous demonstrations among the Sunni Arab population in Iraq. The former ruling sect under Saddam Hussein is alleging vote fraud and is demanding a "do-over" election. Washington is claiming that the Sunnis do not realize that they make up only 20 percent of the population of Iraq.
Jeffrey White, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Sunnis need to come to terms with their minority status, something they never had to confront under fellow Sunni Saddam Hussein and his predecessors.
"Some Sunnis will never accept it," White said.
This does not appear to be the Bush administration's best case scenario playing out after the "successful" national elections in occupied Iraq.
Cunningham's Woes Could Mean Gains For Dems In Repub Area of SoCal
The San Diego County race for the seat of disgraced former congressman Randy "Duke"Cunningham may be competitive for the first time in many years, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.
However, the prospect of Democratic gains is by no means a sure thing:
"The bipartisan gerrymander of the state's congressional districts after the 2000 census all but wiped out competition between the two parties. As a result, none of the state's 33 Democrats in the House faces any viable threat next year from the GOP, strategists say, and only two of the 20 Republican incumbents seem to stand even a slim chance of trouble in November: Reps. Richard W. Pombo of Tracy and, to a lesser extent, David Dreier of San Dimas.
"Nationally, independent analysts say that plausible Democratic scenarios for taking over the House assume the party will capture not a single Republican seat in California, or perhaps just one: Cunningham's."
By next November, the fortunes of the Republicans may look quite different than they currently appear. The NSA scandal, the Abramoff scandal, the DeLay scandal, the Iraq war, etc may exact a heavy toll on the GOP.
A Battle Looms To Succeed Duke
Monday, December 26, 2005
Colin Powell Makes Impolitic Statements About NSA Scandal
Colin Powell has delivered a big blow to his Presidential aspirations by seeing "nothing wrong" with the Bush administration's refusal to obtain FISA warrants in the NSA scandal.
"I see absolutely nothing wrong with the president authorizing these kinds of actions," he said.
Asked if such eavesdropping should continue, Mr. Powell said, "Yes, of course it should continue."
He doesn't hesitate to try to cover his ass legally:
Mr. Powell said he had not been told about the eavesdropping activity when he served as secretary of state.