Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Iraq Reconstruction Hits a Wall

The United States is weaseling out of rebuilding the infrastructure of Iraq which was destroyed in a ill-conceived war of choice.

The Iraqis are just going to have to get used to remaining in primitive conditions.

The U.S. official who oversees reconstruction spending in Iraq has called for money beyond $18.4 billion originally earmarked, saying postwar funds will be exhausted by the end of 2006 with many projects likely to be unfinished.

Iraq's water supply, electrical capacity and oil production -- three primary targets of reconstruction -- are functioning below prewar standards, said Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., the inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, in a quarterly report to Congress published Monday...

U.S. money allocated to reconstruction has been depleted by steeper-than-anticipated security costs. As a result, U.S. officials have said in recent months that the Iraqi government and foreign donors will have to bear more of the burden of rebuilding the war-ravaged nation. Reconstruction administrators have said there will be no further funding requests in the Bush administration's budget, which will be presented to Congress next month.

The wanker of the day supplies an odious comment:

"It was never our intention to completely rebuild Iraq," said Brig. Gen. William McCoy, the Army Corps of Engineers commander overseeing reconstruction, in a recent interview.
Why the fuck not?

The documents published Monday were the latest in a string of disclosures by Bowen of the myriad difficulties facing U.S. reconstruction in Iraq. Previous audits have shown efforts to be hundreds of projects behind schedule, hamstrung by unanticipated security costs and marred by occasional but egregious mismanagement and corruption.

The mismanagement and corruption was one of the reasons we invaded Iraq in the first place.

Ask Dick Cheney.

K Street, Continued

The lobbying scandal is really cramping some lawmakers' style.

It is happening on both sides of the aisle.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers are canceling their regularly scheduled meetings with lobbyists as the fallout from the Jack Abramoff scandal continues to roil Capitol Hill.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said it has ended its biweekly meeting between congressional chiefs of staff and lobbyists, and the Senate Republican Conference suspended one of its regular lobbyist cattle calls as well...

A Republican conference aide said that after a review of its programs the conference would no longer hold its biweekly, Tuesday morning meetings led by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), chairman of the Republican conference -- at least for now. It was unclear whether other gatherings with lobbyists hosted by the Republican group were also suspended.

Don't you think they would say so if that happened to be the case?

The party of Lyndon Johnson (insider joke) is modifying it's contacts as well:

Phil Singer, spokesman for the Democratic campaign committee, confirmed that the Monday Group was also ending its regular meetings, which often attracted as many as 50 lobbyists. That decision was first reported in the newspaper Roll Call.

"With the 2006 campaign in full swing, the DSCC is focusing its energies on winning races and picking up seats," Singer said. But he added: "We will continue to periodically update activists about our campaigns."

I somehow thought so.

Feingold Challenges A.G. on Eavesdropping

In a hopeful sign of things to come, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) is accusing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales of trying to put one over on the Senate during his confirmation hearings.

Feingold's staff, displaying foresight that borders on foreknowledge, prepared a question for Gonzales about warrantless surveillance.

In a letter to the attorney general yesterday, Feingold demanded to know why Gonzales dismissed the senator's question about warrantless eavesdropping as a "hypothetical situation" during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January 2005. At the hearing, Feingold asked Gonzales where the president's authority ends and whether Gonzales believed the president could, for example, act in contravention of existing criminal laws and spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant.

Gonzales said that it was impossible to answer such a hypothetical question but that it was "not the policy or the agenda of this president" to authorize actions that conflict with existing law. He added that he would hope to alert Congress if the president ever chose to authorize warrantless surveillance, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Sounds like Gonzales was "disassembling", to borrow a term from President Bush.

Gonzales was White House counsel at the time the program began and has since acknowledged his role in affirming the president's authority to launch the surveillance effort. Gonzales is scheduled to testify Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the program's legal rationale.

The Senate should ream him out for perjury.

The program, publicly revealed in media reports last month, was unknown to Feingold and his staff at the time Feingold questioned Gonzales, according to a staff member. Feingold's aides developed the 2005 questions based on privacy advocates' concerns about broad interpretations of executive power.

This is simply too convenient to be mere "coincidence." Something tells me that the illegal eavesdropping was more widely known than has been yet revealed.

Besides, there is no such thing as coincidence.

Jungian "synchronicity" definitely, but "coincidence"-- never.

An Argument Against Capital Punishment

Maybe this is one of the reasons that all civilized nations have banned capital punishment:

At least 10 percent of the first 1,000 people executed in the United States since 1977, were severely mentally ill, Amnesty International said. The London-based human rights organization, which opposes all forms of capital punishment, said the practice of putting to death people with serious mental illnesses offends standards of decency.

Bird Flu Makes It To Iraq

The (perhaps unnecessarily) dreaded bird flu has killed it's first victims in Iraq, a nation which is not currently ranked among the best for health care infrastructure.

Iraqi Health Minister Abdul Mutalib Ali Mohammed Salih said Monday that a 14-year-old girl who died almost two weeks ago in the northern city of Sulaymaniyah was found to have been infected with bird flu.

The girl, Tijan Abdel Qadr, died after experiencing severe respiratory symptoms consistent with those present in the disease that has killed more than 80 people, the vast majority in Asia, since it was first diagnosed in 2003. Medical scientists fear that if left unchecked, the disease could spread to broad swaths of the global population.

The security situation cannot be conducive to dealing with an Avian Flu outbreak.

Mohammed Khoshnaw, health minister for the Kurdistan regional government, said doctors suspected at least two more people currently in a local hospital could be infected. A doctor at the Ranya hospital, northwest of Sulaymaniyah, confirmed that two women there presented symptoms of the disease.

The WHO, which is sending a team to Iraq for further investigation, told Reuters it is also testing the infected girl's uncle, who died after experiencing the same symptoms.

Yet another consequence of an unnecessary war.

New Fed Rules Considered For Mine Safety

Since 2001, the Bush administration has leaned toward the interests of the mining companies over the safety of miners.

Now, with the recent mine accidents in the news, the government is considering implementing new regulations to improve the chances of miners' survival in future disasters.

After one of the deadliest months for coal mining in years, federal mine regulators last week began formally considering safety improvements to help miners survive underground fires and explosions. Among the proposals: mandatory caches of oxygen tanks and breathing masks inside every coal mine.

The idea may have struck some miners as familiar, because it was. A similar proposal was put forward by the same regulators six years ago, only to be scrapped by the Bush administration shortly after it took office. And the oxygen caches were not the only proposed safety improvement to be withdrawn.

In all, the Bush administration abandoned or delayed implementation of 18 proposed safety rules that were in the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration's regulatory pipeline in early 2001, a review of agency records shows. At least two of the dropped proposals have now been resurrected in the aftermath of deadly accidents at the Sago and Alma mines in West Virginia.

Catering to big business may win friends for Republicans, but it is rarely the right thing to do vis-a-vis the workers.

Monday, January 30, 2006

More On GOP Leadership Race

It's looking like if Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) does not win the position of House Majority Leader on the first ballot, Republican lawmakers will turn to the second or third man in the race for the job.

Favorite Blunt is optimistic on his prospects:

Blunt aides insist that their boss, running as the candidate of continuity and proven leadership, already has the race wrapped up, with more than enough committed supporters to hand him a swift victory on the first ballot. Blunt's chief deputy whip, Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), has said he also has the votes to move up to the whip's job, if Blunt vacates the post to become majority leader.

Everywhere it is the same. Not what you know, but who you know:

An internal leadership race is often won or lost not on big themes such as reform and continuity but on personal relationships and promises made to individual lawmakers. But this week's contest may be different, say strategists for all three candidates. It is taking shape before a backdrop of scandal and in an election year when Democrats see their best chance of regaining control of the House in years.

A Blunt victory probably would keep the year's legislative agenda focused on themes already voiced by the existing leadership team: immigration law changes, a restructuring of congressional lobbying rules and fiscal discipline. A victory by either Boehner or Shadegg could lead to a significant change of direction, fortifying conservative forces that want to radically curtail home-district pork-barrel spending, cut down the size of government and resume pushing power to state and local governments.

Here's the aforementioned strategy of going to the other contenders after the first round:

Boehner and Shadegg both say they can win the campaign outright, but an unspoken alliance between the two appears aimed at denying Blunt a majority vote in the first round of voting. The third-place finisher could then endorse the runner-up to defeat Blunt in the next round of voting.

We shall see how this all turns out. Thursday is the big day.

Government Ethics Office May Restrict Lobbying By Retired Senior Executive Service

In a move that is not expressly being linked to the lobbying scandals gripping Washington, a new proposal seeks to have all members of the government's Senior Executive Service be prohibited from contacting their old agencies (lobbying) for a one year period following retirement.

A story in GovExec.com details the widening of the number ex-government employees subject to the new recommendation.

The Office of Government Ethics proposal would widen the pool of top officials subject to a one-year "cooling-off" period limiting the contacts those officials can have with their agencies after leaving government. Currently, only executives above a certain salary level are subject to the restriction.

The proposal is included in a new OGE report commissioned by Congress, which also includes a series of other recommendations for modifying conflict of interest laws related to federal employment.

The 1978 Ethics in Government Act imposed the cooling-off period, which prohibits senior federal employees from communicating with their former agencies on behalf of another company or organization about matters under their general area of official responsibility while in government. (Federal employees at all levels permanently are barred from seeking to influence their former agencies about matters on which they personally worked.)

There will, however, be a loophole big enough to drive a limousine through:

OGE declined to recommend extending post-employment restrictions to contractors, although the report noted that contractor employees often work alongside their federal counterparts. But the report said "OGE believes it is appropriate to identify this as an emerging ethics issue for further consideration."

Well, that tells you where these retirees are likely to be spending their first year (or more) out of government.

Republican Voters More Likely To Be Racially Biased

In the "no kidding" department we must place the results of a conference held by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

The scholars at the conference presented papers which studied the psychological underpinnings behind voter preference.

Lo and behold, they discovered that people who were more distrustful of blacks tended to vote Republican.

(A) study presented at the conference, which was in Palm Springs, Calif., explored relationships between racial bias and political affiliation by analyzing self-reported beliefs, voting patterns and the results of psychological tests that measure implicit attitudes -- subtle stereotypes people hold about various groups.

That study found that supporters of President Bush and other conservatives had stronger self-admitted and implicit biases against blacks than liberals did.

Hell, they could have saved a lot of time and money simply by having a conversation with a typical Bush supporter.

For their study, Nosek, Banaji and social psychologist Erik Thompson culled self-acknowledged views about blacks from nearly 130,000 whites, who volunteered online to participate in a widely used test of racial bias that measures the speed of people's associations between black or white faces and positive or negative words. The researchers examined correlations between explicit and implicit attitudes and voting behavior in all 435 congressional districts.

The analysis found that substantial majorities of Americans, liberals and conservatives, found it more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces -- evidence of implicit bias. But districts that registered higher levels of bias systematically produced more votes for Bush.

The Republican party has known about this for many years. That's why they used to always campaign on the issue of "law and order."

Now, with their new winning strategy of "security", they appeal to several types of racial prejudice.

It provides more hate for their campaign dollar.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The "Challenged" President Bush

President Bush goes into the SOTU with his own unique blend of challenges.

All things considered, however, it is remarkable how relatively unscathed "our leader" has been by the plethora of scandals and general lack of policy successes that have come to define his second term.

President Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday night marks the opening of a midterm election year eagerly anticipated by Democrats and fraught with worries for Republicans, whose hopes in November may depend in large part on how successfully Bush can turn around his troubled presidency...

He will be standing in the House as a far less formidable politician than when he stood on the same podium a year ago. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Bush with a lower approval rating than any postwar president at the start of his sixth year in office -- with the exception of Richard M. Nixon, who was crippled by Watergate.

Bush's approval rating now stands at 42 percent, down from 46 percent at the beginning of the year, although still three percentage points higher than the low point of his presidency last November.

The poll also shows that the public prefers the direction Democrats in Congress would take the country as opposed to the path set by the president, that Americans trust Democrats over Republicans to address the country's biggest problems and that they strongly favor Democrats over Republicans in their vote for the House.

The political stakes this year are especially high. What happens will affect not only the final years of Bush's presidency, but also will shape what is likely to be an even bigger election for his successor in 2008. Republicans have been on the ascendancy throughout the Bush presidency, but they begin the year not only resigned to some losses in Congress but also fearful that, under a worst-case scenario, an eruption of voter dissatisfaction could cost them control of the House or Senate or both...

But Bush and his team believe they can change the equation. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove put Democrats on notice a week ago when he promised a campaign of sharp contrasts on national security, taxes and the economy, and judicial philosophy. That signaled a rerun of previous Bush campaigns, in which Republicans forced Democrats into a debate on national security and terrorism, polarized the electorate, and used those and other issues to mobilize and turn out rank-and-file Republicans in large numbers...

History appears to favor the Democrats. Midterm elections in the sixth year of a two-term presidency have proved particularly difficult for the party in the White House. Republicans suffered significant losses in the midterm elections of 1958, 1974 and 1986, the sixth year of presidency for Dwight Eisenhower, Nixon and Ronald Reagan, respectively. Democrats took a bath in 1966, the sixth year of the combined administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

But there was a notable anomaly. In 1998, aided by public backlash against Republican calls for impeachment, Democrats gained seats in the House and held even in the Senate in Bill Clinton's sixth year in office...

In the latest poll, Bush received negative marks for his handling of Iraq, the federal budget deficit, ethics in government, prescription drugs for the elderly, the economy, immigration, health care and taxes. Only on terrorism did the poll find that more than 50 percent of Americans approved of his performance.

When (and if) the frightened "more than 50 percent" realize that President Bush has actually made our country much less safe by his psychopathic policies, then the nation may dump the party of fear-mongers and try to regain the trust of the rest of the world.

Boehner's Role in the "Dumbing Down of America"

Rep. John A. Boehner has been playing a role in the institutionalizing of the Republican program of the "dumbing down of America."

Keeping the citizens stupid has proved to be a decisive factor in the popularity of many recent Republican projects such as: the Iraq war, the "war on terror", the extra-legal NSA warrantless eavesdropping, etc.

Two controversial industries -- for-profit colleges and trade schools, and private student lenders -- have been the major sources of financing for Rep. John A. Boehner's bid to become House majority leader. Boehner has been an outspoken advocate for each interest, and has used his chairmanship to push legislation that would boost profits by millions of dollars...

Boehner's ties to the two industries long had gone largely unnoticed, with coverage mostly limited to the Chronicle of Higher Education and some other education publications. Now that he is running for majority leader, his adversaries are seeking to discredit his bid and portray him as closely linked to Washington's special interest community.

"Any attempt to correlate political contributions to policy is just patently false," countered Kevin Smith, spokesman for the Education and the Workforce Committee, which Boehner chairs.

Boehner has played his part in the policy of placing recent college graduates into such debt that they are forced to work for years to get out of the financial ball and chain.

Boehner has sponsored legislation strongly supported by private student lenders to restrict the ability of the U.S. Department of Education to make government student loans less expensive by cutting fees. Student loans constitute a multibillion-dollar market in which the nonprofit government and for-profit private lenders compete.

During the current congressional session, Boehner's committee endorsed his legislation to allow the for-profit colleges and trade schools to gain millions of dollars in federal subsidies.

The measure would eliminate 1992 regulations designed to prevent the for-profits from signing up unqualified students and collecting student loans for tuition. Boehner would bar traditional colleges from denying credits earned at for-profits on the grounds that the for-profits are not accredited.

The Boehner proposals to deregulate the for-profit schools was strongly opposed by a coalition including the United States Student Association, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, the National Association for College Admission Counseling and the American Federation of Teachers. They cited a series of recent controversies and investigations involving the for-profit colleges.

This is yet another example of the haves (in this case, the Republicans) taking advantage of the have-nots (students who require financial assistance.)

Way to go.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Abramoff Tip Saved Tyco Government Contract

It really pays to have someone with inside info who is willing for whatever reason to tip you off to unpleasant developments, giving you an opportunity to save your ass.

When you are a big corporation, this maxim applies even more.

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff gave his client Tyco International an early warning in 2003 that the government was about to suspend Tyco's federal contracts -- inside information he received from a General Services Administration official now under indictment, federal prosecutors alleged yesterday.

David H. Safavian, who has been charged with obstructing the Abramoff corruption investigation, alerted Abramoff in November 2003 that the GSA was about to suspend the contracts of four Tyco subsidiaries, prosecutors said in court papers. Safavian provided "sensitive and confidential information" about internal GSA deliberations, as well as advice about how to get around the suspension, the prosecutors said...

George Terwilliger, Tyco's attorney, said yesterday that Abramoff's tip was of substantial benefit to Tyco but was unsolicited. Tyco's senior lawyer, Timothy Flanigan, contacted the GSA and "asked for an opportunity to address the suspension issue on the merits," Tyco said in a statement yesterday.

Tyco said it turned the matter over to its law firm, McKenna, Long and Aldridge, which persuaded the agency that the suspension was unwarranted.

Good move.

Not to mention exquisite timing.

Princess Diana Death Inquiry "Far More Complex" Says Lead Investigator

The conspiracy theories surrounding the untimely death of Princess Diana got an unexpected boost by an interview, to be broadcast Sunday, with the lead investigator in the case.

An inquiry into the death of Princess Diana is "far more complex than any of us thought," the official leading the investigation said Friday without commenting on the conspiracy theories that persist nearly nine years after her death.

Lord Stevens, the former head of London's Metropolitan Police, acknowledged that some of the issues raised by Mohammed al Fayed --whose son, Dodi, was killed in the 1997 car crash with Diana --were "right to be raised." He did not elaborate.

Mohammed al Fayed, the owner of London's famous Harrods store, has claimed Diana and his son were killed by British intelligence officials and their deaths resulted from a plot instigated by Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II and Diana's former father-in-law.

Stevens, speaking in a recorded interview to Britain's GMTV Sunday Program, did not reveal which of al Fayed's concerns he believed were correct.

"It is right to say that some of the issues that have been raised by Mr. Fayed have been right to be raised," he told the program, to be broadcast Sunday. "We are pursing those. It is a far more complex inquiry than any of us thought."

A French judge ruled in 1999 that the crash was an accident, and an investigation concluded that Paul had been drinking and was driving at high speed.

However, a British-led inquiry was ordered by the Royal Coroner, Michael Burgess, who raised concern about the number of conspiracy theories over the deaths.

Conspiracy theories. No longer the exclusive domain of the tinfoil crowd.

Rep. Waxman Suspects Skullduggery in New Medicare Drug Plan

Democratic Rep. Waxman of California suspects political skullduggery may have been involved in the Republican Medicare drug benefit plan.

A veteran Democratic lawmaker requested an investigation into how much profit drug companies are set to make from poorer patients covered under the new Medicare drug benefit.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.) asked the investigative arm of Congress to look into whether the transfer of low-income patients to the new program "will likely result in a multibillion-dollar windfall for drug manufacturers."

"This transfer is enriching the pharmaceutical industry because drug prices under the new Medicare drug benefit appear to be significantly higher than the prices previously paid by Medicaid," Waxman wrote the Government Accountability Office.

The Medicare drug plan's abuse of low-income Americans seems to me to be yet another example of the greediest stealing from the most vulnerable.

Hopefully Waxman manages to stick it to them. But we all know which party is currently calling the shots.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Lawmakers' Occupational Distractions

Today's main installment in our continuing coverage of the theft of the nation's riches by suit-wearing crooks--deals, as is too often the case, with lobbyists and earmark-related shenanigans.

At issue is a symbiotic relationship between lawmakers well positioned to slip special-interest projects into legislation, and wealthy lobbying groups that raise large sums of campaign funds or provide trips and other benefits to those lawmakers.

In the latest example of these backstage dealings, Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.) told The Washington Post that he helped steer defense funding, totaling $37 million, to a California company, whose officials and lobbyists helped raise at least $85,000 for Doolittle and his leadership political action committee from 2002 to 2005.

Brent Wilkes, a director of the company, PerfectWave Technologies LLC, and a major contributor to House Republican leaders, was identified as "Co-conspirator No. 1" in criminal charges brought against Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) late last year. Cunningham pleaded guilty in November and resigned from Congress after admitting he conspired to take $2.4 million in bribes in return for using his office to help Wilkes and another defense contractor, in part by placing earmarks in defense appropriations bills.

This Wilkes MoFo keeps popping up everywhere these days.

With so much money at stake, some strategy to maximize profits has to be implemented:

The link between special interests and members of Congress has grown so tight that nearly a dozen House and Senate members who control federal spending have retained lobbying veterans to raise campaign funds for them, and those lobbyists have secured lucrative favors in spending bills.

These relationships have coincided with the rapid growth in the volume of home-state pork-barrel projects, commonly called earmarks, that have swelled appropriations bills in recent years, according to congressional experts and watchdog groups.

"It's the currency of corruption," Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said of appropriations earmarks.

It's "hard work" being a lawmaker with the occupational hazards in a seductive environment:

Once a backwater for boutique lobbying shops, the House and Senate Appropriations committees are fueling a lobbying boom in Washington. The hunt for earmarks has become so consuming that lawmakers are neglecting other duties, said Scott Lilly, who recently retired as chief Democratic aide on the House Appropriations Committee. Last year, the committee received 10,000 requests for home-district projects on one spending bill alone -- 25.4 projects per lawmaker, said committee spokesman John Scofield.

"It has become an obsession of the Congress," Lilly said. "That's all they do."

It's kinda like when the first flush of success comes to a rock band.

All of a sudden, otherwise ordinary guys are surrounded by chicks and coke.

Sometimes the music gets neglected.

Abramoff Prosecutor Gets Well Timed Promotion

In a move that can only be a coincidence, the chief federal prosecutor handling Jack Abramoff's case and the related investigation of the lobbyist's contacts has been promoted by President Bush to a federal judgeship.

The prosecutor, Noel L. Hillman, is chief of the department's public integrity division, and the move ends his involvement in an inquiry that has reached into the administration as well as the top ranks of the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill.

The administration said that the appointment was routine and that it would not affect the investigation, but Democrats swiftly questioned the timing of the move and called for a special prosecutor...

Mr. Hillman's departure from the Justice Department creates a vacancy at the top of the Abramoff inquiry only three weeks after Mr. Abramoff, once one of the city's most powerful Republican lobbyists and a major fund-raiser for Mr. Bush, announced his guilty plea and agreed to testify against others, possibly including members of Congress...

Colleagues at the Justice Department say Mr. Hillman has been involved in day-to-day management of the Abramoff investigation since it began almost two year ago. The inquiry, which initially focused on accusations that Mr. Abramoff defrauded Indian tribes out of tens of millions of dollars in lobbying fees, is being described within the department as the most important federal corruption investigation in a generation.

If this is not obstruction of justice, nothing is.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

On The "K Street" Waterfront

Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill are handing off to the RNC a practice reminiscent of the days of open labor racketeering on the waterfronts of our major port cities.

It was not unheard of for the families that controlled the docks to present a list of prospective workers to be put on the longshoremen payroll in exchange for favorable treatment (or lack of unfavorable treatment) from the powers that be. The fact that these workers usually didn't exist is the biggest difference found between operations of this type and the "K Street Project."

Republican lawmakers yesterday ended their long practice of routinely summoning lobbyists to the Capitol to try to persuade them to hire their aides and colleagues, in the wake of the Jack Abramoff political corruption scandal.

GOP lawmakers for years have regularly presented lists of job openings on K Street to lobbyists to encourage them to hire Republicans over Democrats. The program is a remnant of the K Street Project once championed by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) as a way to coerce trade associations and companies to hire Republicans as their top lobbyists and to warn firms that hired Democrats that they would not be welcome.

Yesterday, the staff director of the Senate Republican Conference said that a K-Street-job-vacancies memo -- the heart of Congress's remaining involvement in the effort these days -- will no longer be distributed during high-level meetings hosted by the conference on Capitol Hill between lawmakers and lobbyists. Responsibility for the listings migrated from the House to the Senate several years ago, according to lobbyists.

"Meet the new boss, same as the ..."

Participants describe the meeting as an information exchange at which Santorum and other GOP senators discuss their priorities and collect intelligence from lobbyists. Toward the end of the meetings, which begin at 8:30 a.m. every other Tuesday, a representative of the Republican National Committee distributes the document that lists who in Congress is looking for work and what jobs are available. A discussion of jobs sometimes ensued.

Asked whether the document will continue to be passed out during those meetings, Mark D. Rodgers, the conference's staff director, said, "Since the RNC is already widely distributing the jobs list, we have decided it is duplicative to hand it out and will no longer do so." But Brian Jones, a spokesman for the RNC, said the data were not easily obtainable. "It's not public information," Jones said.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Texas Prosecutor Looking at DeLay/ Cunningham Ties

Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle, already the bane of Rep Tom DeLay's existence, is looking in a new direction in his examination of the former House Majority Leader's ethics.

According to the Associated Press, Earle has issued new subpoenas to a defense contractor who has been identified as being involved with convicted former Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham.

The subpoenas issued by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle's office zero in on transactions in 2002 involving PerfectWave Technologies LLC, a company controlled by Brent Wilkes, a businessman with ties to DeLay and Cunningham.

Wilkes' attorney has identified him as an unidentified co-conspirator of Cunningham, a California Republican who resigned from Congress after pleading guilty in November to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors.

DeLay, charged with conspiring to launder campaign money that was given in 2002 for legislative races in his home state of Texas, flew three times on a jet owned by another Wilkes company, according to campaign records.

According to the subpoenas, businessman William B. Adams wrote a $40,000 check to PerfectWave on Sept. 18, 2002. Two days later, PerfectWave sent $15,000 to TRMPAC, the state committee whose spending is at issue in DeLay's criminal case. On Oct. 3, PerfectWave gave $25,000 to "Tribute to Heroes," Cunningham's annual black-tie charity gala in San Diego.

Another name currently in the news is mentioned: Rep. Roy Blunt, a current front runner for DeLay's old position as House Majority Leader.

Subpoenas were issued last week to Adams and Max Gelwix, PerfectWave's president and CEO. The subpoenas sought records of any communications between DeLay, Cunningham, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri and Wilkes over federal legislation that may have benefited Adams and his businesses.

Shadegg Gets Two Endorsements in Majority Leader Race

Two GOP congressmen -- a moderate and a conservative -- joined forces Tuesday to endorse Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona as a candidate to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay as the powerful House majority leader.

Shadegg's backers, Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, and Charles Bass, R-New Hampshire, argue he would provide a "fresh face" in the House leadership. They spearheaded a petition drive this month for a new permanent majority leader...

A congressman since 1994, Shadegg faces an uphill race against Blunt and Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio. Blunt is said to be the front-runner, claiming to have more than the 117 votes in the GOP caucus needed to win the post.

Ninety House members publicly have supported Blunt's candidacy. Boehner's camp maintains the race isn't over, arguing he has 90 supporters, 47 of them public...

Bass, co-chair of the moderate House Tuesday Group, said all three candidates for majority leader are "philosophically more or less the same," but he singled Shadegg out as a "true reformer."

Another "Temporary" Renewal of PATRIOT Act Likely

The Senate Democrats (joined by a few Republicans) who refused to roll over and make permanent the USA PATRIOT Act are being pressured to drop their objections to some of the worst privacy abuses inherent in the current law.

To their credit, the Democrats are not yielding to the pressure.

This means that we are likely to see additional extension(s) of the original legislation while the arm-twisting can continue.

The negotiations over modifying the PATRIOT Act are being conducted under the auspices of House/Senate bargaining to bring both chambers' language together so that a workable bill can be passed.

The problem is being blamed on the House side:

The chief House negotiator -- Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) -- has said his chamber is finished with talks, dimming hopes for a breakthrough...

"I can tell you, after talking to Chairman Sensenbrenner, that the House feels that they've gone as far as they can go on compromises on the act," (Sen. Arlen) Specter told colleagues. "And I think the reality may be that we're looking at either the current act extended [beyond Feb. 3], or the conference report," which continues to draw opposition from most Senate Democrats and four Republicans...

The main disagreements center on provisions that allow FBI agents to obtain records on terrorism suspects, who have very limited options for challenging such searches. Specter has said the law allows adequate "judicial review" of proposed searches. But Sununu (one of the dissidents) and his allies say the law makes it virtually impossible for targeted people to prevail, even if they have no ties to terrorism.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

White House Trying To Keep Bush/Abramoff Photos Out of Public Eye

The White House is attempting to prevent publication of any of the dozen or so pictures that exist of President Bush together with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The administration knows that such images would become a powerful meme tying the Chief Executive to the Republican lobbying scandal.

Abramoff, who recently pleaded guilty in the growing bribery and corruption scandal, was with Bush about a dozen times when pictures were taken by the official White House photographer or other participants over the past five years, according to a source familiar with Abramoff's legal situation. Abramoff, this source said, displayed at least five of them on his office desk and has told people the president talked about his children's names as well as personal details about their schooling during one encounter.

Attempt to forestall a public relations nightmare:

But public photographs could damage Bush's efforts to insulate himself from a scandal that has scorched numerous other Republicans. A vivid image of Bush shaking hands and smiling with Abramoff would provide fuel for news coverage and commentary, even if such "grip-and-grin" shots are commonplace for most politicians.

Jennifer Palmieri, a former Clinton communications aide, said, "If TV is showing a picture of George Bush and Jack Abramoff, it immediately brings the poster boy for abuse into the Oval Office."

I have an idea.

If the Abramoff lobbying scandal is not solely a Republican affair, why don't the gooper apologists find a picture of Abramoff with former President Bill Clinton, or John Kerry, or any other prominent Democrat?

Monday, January 23, 2006

House Democrats Warn Bush, Officials That Statute of Limitations Allows Charges Past 2009

House Democrats have warned President Bush and top leaders of his administration that if the balance of power in Washington changes they could face criminal prosecution for ordering and carrying out warrantless domestic eavesdropping, according to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"These are clearly crimes and the statute of limitations extends beyond this president's term,'' which will end in January 2009, said Rep. Jerry Nadler D-N.Y., at an ad hoc hearing called by House Judiciary Committee's Democrats to assail Bush's contention that his order for warrantless domestic wiretaps on American citizens is legal.

Bush critics say the security agency activities ordered by the president are illegal. Some have called for appointment of a special counsel to look into the issue, but House Democrats suggested they would launch investigative hearings if they win control of the House in November's elections.

They would need a net gain of 15 seats to retake the House, which Republicans have controlled since the 1994 election.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has scheduled a Feb. 6 session to question Gonzales.

In preparation for that testimony, the White House has begun a campaign to woo public opinion.

On Wednesday, Bush will visit the top-secret National Security Agency headquarters at Ford Meade, Md., just outside Washington.

Gonzales is scheduled to give a speech about the program Tuesday. Deputy national intelligence director Mike Hayden, who headed the security agency when Bush started the program in October 2001, is scheduled to speak Monday at the National Press Club.

"We are stepping up our efforts to educate the American people," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

Propagandize in order to save their asses would be more accurate.

The Bush administration says that it informed congressional leaders of both parties about the program over the past four years and that no one objected.

Two of the Democrats who were briefed, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, said they raised objections, and they have produced declassified letters they wrote early on to back up their claims.

It all depends on the meaning of the word "objection."

Justice Dept. Voting Rights Section Politicized

The arm of the Justice Department that enforces the Voting Rights Act is accused of favoring Republican efforts.

Many current and former lawyers in the section charge that senior officials have exerted undue political influence in many of the sensitive voting-rights cases the unit handles. Most of the department's major voting-related actions over the past five years have been beneficial to the GOP, they say, including two in Georgia, one in Mississippi and a Texas redistricting plan orchestrated by Rep. Tom DeLay (R) in 2003...

The 2005 Georgia case has been particularly controversial within the section. Staff members complain that higher-ranking Justice officials ignored serious problems with data supplied by the state in approving the plan, which would have required voters to carry photo identification.

Georgia provided Justice with information on Aug. 26 suggesting that tens of thousands of voters may not have driver's licenses or other identification required to vote, according to officials and records. That added to the concerns of a team of voting-section employees who had concluded that the Georgia plan would hurt black voters.

But higher-ranking officials disagreed, and approved the plan later that day. They said that as many as 200,000 of those without ID cards were felons and illegal immigrants and that they would not be eligible to vote anyway.

One of the officials involved in the decision was Hans von Spakovsky, a former head of the Fulton County GOP in Atlanta, who had long advocated a voter-identification law for the state and oversaw many voting issues at Justice. Justice spokesman Eric W. Holland said von Spakovsky's previous activities did not require a recusal and had no impact on his actions in the Georgia case.


The Bush administration has also initiated relatively few cases under Section 2, the main anti-discrimination provision of the Voting Rights Act, filing seven lawsuits over the past five years -- including the department's first reverse-discrimination complaint on behalf of white voters. The only case involving black voters was begun under the previous administration and formally filed by transitional leadership in early 2001.

By comparison, department records show, 14 Section 2 lawsuits were filed during the last two years of Bill Clinton's presidency alone.


Is there any abuse of power that the shameless Bush administration is not willing to try?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Canada PM: Opponent "Clone of U.S. Extremists"

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, who is expected to lose Monday's election to his Conservative challenger Stephen Harper, has some choice words for the role-models of his opponent.

Martin accused Conservative leader Stephen Harper of being a clone of the U.S. extreme right on Saturday.

"We have a party (Conservatives) that basically draws its influences from the farthest right of the U.S. conservative movement," Martin, 67, told a rally in the Toronto suburb of Brampton.

Unfortunately, it is too late for Martin to make up for his slide in pre-election polling:

Martin started the election campaign at the end of November with a comfortable lead but polls now predict Harper will end 12 years of Liberal rule.

Polls show Harper leading by 7 to 12 percentage points, suffering no apparent effect from days of intense scrutiny in the media and Martin's attacks. A Strategic Counsel poll for CTV released late on Saturday showed the Conservatives ahead by 37 percent to 27 percent.

It is certainly a depressing thought that our saner neighbors appear to have fallen victim to the madness from this side of the border.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Rove Leads The Troops

With Dennis Rader indisposed, the Republicans are forced to fall back upon the political talents of Karl Rove.

Rove is instructing the faithful about what topics will float the Republican boat:

(D)rawing sharp distinctions with the Democrats over the campaign against terrorism, tax cuts and judicial philosophy, and describing the opposition party as backward-looking and bereft of ideas.

"At the core, we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views on national security," Rove said. "Republicans have a post-9/11 worldview and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview. That doesn't make them unpatriotic -- not at all. But it does make them wrong -- deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong."

What kind of cretin would make fearfulness a cornerstone of a political strategy? Oh yeah, the brains behind the Republican party. One cannot argue with success.

At a time when Democrats have staked their hopes in large part on the issue of corruption, Rove and Mehlman showed that Republicans plan to contest the elections on themes that have helped expand their majorities under President Bush. They see national security and the vigorous prosecution of the campaign against terrorism at the heart of the GOP appeal to voters.

What will be next? The Republican war against child molesters?

What about the rampant corruption of the Republicans?

Rove referred only indirectly to the corruption issue, warning Republicans against becoming complacent in power. "The GOP's progress during the last four decades is a stunning political achievement," he said. "But it is also a cautionary tale of what happens to a dominant party -- in this case the Democrat Party -- when its thinking becomes ossified, when its energy begins to drain, when an entitlement mentality takes over, and when political power becomes an end in itself rather than a means to achieve the common good."

Say what?

Mehlman and Rove accused the Democrats of trying to weaken the USA Patriot Act and of embracing calls for a premature exit from Iraq. They defended Bush's use of warrantless eavesdropping to gather intelligence about possible terrorist plots. "Do Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean really think that when the NSA is listening in on terrorists planning attacks on America, they need to hang up when those terrorists dial their sleeper cells in the United States?" Mehlman asked.

No, but the next time the Republican party calls for a contribution, people "need to hang up."

Friday, January 20, 2006

Chirac: French Nuclear Retaliation For Terrorism Possible

President Jacques Chirac of France said yesterday that France is ready and willing to launch a nuclear strike against any nation that sponsors or harbors terrorists involved in attacking his nation.

He said his country's nuclear arsenal had been reconfigured to include the ability to make a tactical strike in retaliation for terrorism.

"The leaders of states who would use terrorist means against us, as well as those who would envision using . . . weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would lay themselves open to a firm and fitting response on our part," Chirac said during a visit to a nuclear submarine base in Brittany. "This response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind."

This is actually a better strategy than the one currently utilized by the United States. The U.S. has an announced policy of "preventive war", a concept that is illegal under international law.

If the United States announced a mirror of France's policy it would save the world from pointless endeavors such as the Iraq war. Such a move would require that the U.S. be willing to absorb a first strike from terrorists. American politicians are too cowardly to embrace such a policy.

The cold war never turned hot with the help of the Mutual Assured Destruction doctrine, which used retaliation as it's hammer. We were talking about facing real nukes then, not the radiological bombs or primitive weapons likely to be employed by terrorists.

GOP Leadership Contest Ignored Outside Washington D.C.

According to House Republicans, who may have a vested interest in the matter, their constituents across the country are not paying attention to the GOP leadership woes.

In interviews, more than a dozen Republican lawmakers who are home for a long January break said constituents are talking a great deal about high gas prices and even a best-selling book about killing the Internal Revenue Service, but not much about the intrigue gripping Capitol Hill. Even many of those voters who are closely following the leadership contest or the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal reportedly tend to deride all lawmakers as money-grubbing operators, and express little faith that Congress can be cleaned up by any politician.

The natural common sense of the average American always shows through at times like this.

There is still hope that the oblivious folks, slumbering as usual through their busy lives, will take notice:

Analysts note that it can take months for an issue to resonate with voters -- and that as the November elections near, people might become more inclined to pay attention.

Blunt says he has the backing to win the House GOP leadership contest, but the secret ballots will not be cast until Feb. 2, leaving more than two weeks for the temperature back home to go up and for members to return to Washington in an anxious mood.

The way I see it, the average Republican voter already realizes that the "culture of corruption" will not be changed, no matter who gets the GOP majority leader position. They are comfortable with the status quo, and thus have other priorities.

Reid Issues Apology For Press Release

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) is apologizing for the action of his communications office which on Tuesday sent out a 27-page statement accusing Republican Senators of various ethical transgressions.

The release, titled, "Republicans cannot be trusted to end the culture of corruption," triggered sharp complaints from GOP officials, who said it violated Senate decorum and brought campaign-style mudslinging into the Capitol...

The document was largely devoted to linking GOP senators to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff through campaign donations or legislative activities. But some senators with no ties to Abramoff were attacked for allegedly being "out of touch" after years of Republican control of Congress. Some purported offenses, most of them culled from newspaper articles, are years old.

For example, the document reached back into GOP Sen. George Allen's days as Virginia governor to note that he once "kept a noose and a confederate flag in his office and home" (a controversy dating from the 1993 campaign) and in 1994 called the federal government a "beast of tyranny and oppression." It said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2000 included a proposed Mississippi River flood-control levee on his list of congressional "pork."

The document accused Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) of saying "global warming is a conspiracy and a hoax." After noting that Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) had received many thousands of dollars from Abramoff clients, the document raised other complaints, including: "Burns reportedly told a female flight attendant that she could just stay home with her kids if her job was outsourced."


Reid is known for making impolitic statements, including:

a 2002 quote in which Reid called President Bush "a liar."

Reid stood by that accusation, along with his labeling of then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan as "a political hack." He apologized last year for having called Bush "a loser."

Reid is apologizing to maintain a phony savoir-faire, but when a man is right, he is right.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Feds Seek Google Search Records

In an obscene case of government overreaching, the feds have issued a subpoena to Google for a wide range of company records, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

To it's credit the online search giant is refusing to comply with the Justice Department order:

In court papers filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Justice Department lawyers revealed that Google has refused to comply with a subpoena issued last year for the records, which include a request for 1 million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period.

A million random fucking web addresses?

And records of all Google searches for a one-week period?

This would mean a whole lot of people who had nothing to do with online pornography (the ostensible reason for the subpoena) would be snared in the government net.

The Mountain View-based search and advertising giant opposes releasing the information on a variety of grounds, saying it would violate the privacy rights of its users and reveal company trade secrets, according to court documents.

Nicole Wong, an associate general counsel for Google, said the company will fight the government's effort "vigorously.''...

The case worries privacy advocates, given the vast amount of information Google and other search engines know about their users.

"This is exactly the kind of case that privacy advocates have long feared,'' said Ray Everett-Church, a South Bay privacy consultant. "The idea that these massive databases are being thrown open to anyone with a court document is the worst-case scenario. If they lose this fight, consumers will think twice about letting Google deep into their lives.''

Everett-Church, who has consulted with Internet companies facing subpoenas, said Google could argue that releasing the information causes undue harm to its users' privacy.

"The government can't even claim that it's for national security,'' Everett-Church said. "They're just using it to get the search engines to do their research for them in a way that compromises the civil liberties of other people.''

This is a god damn outrage.

Other search engine owning companies haven't shown the balls of Google:

The government indicated that other, unspecified search engines have agreed to release the information, but not Google.

Those other companies are showing an all too typical American ass-kissing deference to authority these days.

Dems Join The Lobbying Curbs Festivities

House and Senate Democrats are joining in the "shocked, shocked" lobbying reform melodramatics begun earlier this week by the Republicans.

The Democrats plan differs only slightly from the Republican scheme. There is a sly touch or two:

Democrats also take direct aim at some of the legislative practices that have become established in the past 10 years of Republican rule in Congress. They vowed to end the K Street Project, under which Republicans in Congress pressure lobbying organizations to hire only Republican staff members and contribute only to Republican candidates.

Let me see if I understand correctly, lobbying would be restricted, but Dems want equal access to the largesse.

This next part will "disappear" from the final legislation. You can bet on it.

Lawmakers would have to publicly disclose negotiations over private-sector jobs, a proposal inspired by then-House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin's job talks in 2003 that led to his hiring as president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America in January 2005. Executive branch officials who are negotiating private-sector jobs would need approval from the independent Office of Governmental Ethics.

Lets keep the scandal focused where it belongs, on the Republicans:

"Mr. Abramoff and his associates will be held up as the beginning and end of our congressional crisis, but they are just the symptom of a larger problem," said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.). "Now is the time to realize that the Republican members of Congress who put America up for sale have neither the ability nor the credibility to lead us in a new direction."...

So far, the scandal has had a distinctly Republican focus. The GOP has received nearly two-thirds of the campaign donations from Abramoff's lobbying team and Indian tribal clients, and 100 percent of his personal donations. Federal prosecutors looking into the Abramoff case have so far implicated only a Republican lawmaker, a Bush administration procurement official and GOP aides in charging documents.

Still, Republicans have worked hard to convince voters that any corruption in the capital is bipartisan, alleging Democratic abuses to match the charges against Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), like House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), signed a letter in 2002 to Interior Secretary Gail A. Norton on behalf of an Abramoff client around the time he received a large campaign contribution from Abramoff's tribal clients. Edward P. Ayoob, a former Reid aide, was a member of Abramoff's lobbying team.

Maybe the Democrats should let the Republicans face the music alone, rather than offering to take some of the heat:

And as Democrats try to widen the focus of the corruption scandal, they risk bringing more scrutiny to party lawmakers. Yesterday, Democrats repeatedly mentioned the guilty plea of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) in a bribery scheme not connected to Abramoff.

But a Democrat, Rep. William J. Jefferson (La.), is under a similar cloud. Last week, Brett M. Pfeffer, a former Jefferson aide, pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe Jefferson, who, in exchange for his support, allegedly demanded a 5 to 7 percent stake in one of two West African Internet and cable television companies that Pfeffer's firm was investing in.

"When I hear Democratic Party leaders throwing around terms like 'culture of corruption,' I have to think, 'You oughta know,' " said Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), a candidate for the post of House majority leader.

Anyone expecting real change in the "culture of corruption" may not want to hold their breath too long. Money rules Washington. Always has. Always will.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Republicans For Restrictions On Lobbying, With One Big Loophole

Republican leaders are proposing a set of restrictions on lobbying in an attempt to take the high ground in this season of scandal surrounding the business of giving handouts to politicians in Washington.

The Republican plan includes:

(A) ban on privately funded travel for members, tight curbs on meals and other gifts from lobbyists, and an end to access to the House and Senate floors and congressional gyms for former lawmakers who register as lobbyists.

Some Republicans don't like the sound of this:

But Republicans are far from unified on how to proceed, with some even defending lobbyist-financed travel. Some lawmakers say GOP leaders are blaming lobbyists rather than examining the legislative processes that have invited corruption, such as the proliferation of home-district pork-barrel projects that have become prime ways to reward campaign supporters.

"Many trips are truly educational, and I believe a complete ban on all private travel would be an overreaction that doesn't get to the root of the problem," said Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), one of three candidates vying to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) as House majority leader.

Of course, the Republicans have designed their proposal with a loophole large enough to drive a limousine through.

According to lobbyists and ethics experts, even if Hastert's proposal is enacted, members of Congress and their staffs could still travel the world on an interest group's expense and eat steak on a lobbyist's account at the priciest restaurants in Washington.

The only requirement would be that whenever a lobbyist pays the bill, he or she must also hand the lawmaker a campaign contribution. Then the transaction would be perfectly okay.

Isn't that something. This is expected to do away with the culture of dodgy money in Washington? The goopers must think the American people are even dumber than they already give them credit for being.

Anything that members of Congress can now do in the pursuit of money for their reelections will still be permitted in the future -- including accepting lobbyist-paid travel and in-town meals -- unless campaign finance laws are altered.

Politicians have already been transformed into full-time fund-raisers. This is supposed to be an improvement?

"Political contributions are specifically exempted from the definition of what a gift is in House and Senate gift rules," said Kenneth A. Gross, an ethics lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. "So, unless the campaign finance laws are changed, if a lobbyist wants to sponsor an event at the MCI arena or on the slopes of Colorado, as long as it's a fundraiser it would still be fine."

The result, he added, "may well be more out-of-town fundraising events than there are at the moment."

Mr Gross may have just issued the understatement of the (still young) year.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

White House Attacks Gore Over NSA Spying Remarks

Former Vice-President Al Gore's description of the NSA warrantless spying program as "illegal" appears to have struck a nerve among the lawbreakers in the White House.

Gore, in a speech Monday, called for an independent investigation of the administration program that he says broke the law by listening in - without warrants - on Americans suspected of talking with terrorists abroad.

Gore called the program, authorized by President Bush, "a threat to the very structure of our government" and charged that the administration acted without congressional authority and made a "direct assault" on a federal court set up to authorize requests to eavesdrop on Americans.

Nothing objectionable here. Crooks always hate it when they are in the process of being brought to justice.

McClellan said the Clinton-Gore administration had engaged in warrantless physical searches, and he cited an FBI search of the home of CIA turncoat Aldrich Ames without permission from a judge. He said Clinton's deputy attorney general, Jamie Gorelick, had testified before Congress that the president had the inherent authority to engage in physical searches without warrants.

"I think his hypocrisy knows no bounds," McClellan said of Gore.

That's kind of like a captured bank robber telling the police that the same bank had been robbed 10 years before, so today's bank robbery should not be prosecuted.

No sale.

Gore said Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should name a special counsel to investigate the program, saying Gonzales had an "obvious conflict of interest" as a member of the Bush Cabinet as well as the nation's top law enforcement officer.

Gonzales, who has agreed to testify publicly at a Senate hearing on the program, defended the surveillance on cable news talk shows Monday night.

"This program has been reviewed carefully by lawyers at the Department of Justice and other agencies," Gonzales said on Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes." "We firmly believe that this program is perfectly lawful. The president has the legal authority to authorize these kinds of programs."

Just because a criminal suspect may have received bad advice from his dodgy mouthpiece, this in no way exculpates the suspect. Look it up.

I can't wait until some of the offenders start getting jumpy and become cooperating witnesses.

It will happen. This crew is made up of chickenshits. When the heat gets turned up, they will be flipping like the pancakes at IHOP.

Hastert Trying To Keep Low Profile

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is doing his best to stay out of the politically damaging spotlight of this season of lobbying scandals.

Although Hastert's job appears safe for now, there are rumblings among some lawmakers and aides that he waited too long to act -- and that his prior conduct has eluded close inspection, even when the speaker himself rubbed elbows with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his clients.

"I suppose that DeLay was simply a much more inviting target for the [Democrats], so Hastert is left alone," said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). "Maybe people will start focusing on Hastert now."...

DeLay's announcement this month that he had permanently withdrawn from the House GOP leadership after his indictment on political money-laundering charges has touched off a scramble among Republicans for practically every high-level leadership post except that of speaker. Hastert, an amiable onetime high school wrestling coach, enjoys tremendous personal loyalty from many in the House GOP conference, and he has been credited with holding together the sometimes warring factions within the party.

Hastert does not appear to have been given a clean bill of political health.

(S)ome watchdog organizations have said Hastert deserves scrutiny. After all, they note, Hastert signed a letter to the interior secretary in 2003 on behalf of one of Abramoff's Indian tribe clients days after a fundraiser for Hastert at Abramoff's posh Washington restaurant, Signatures...

Fred Wertheimer of (watchdog group) Democracy 21, in a Nov. 22 letter to House ethics committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), called for a prompt investigation into the events of June 2003, when Hastert held a fundraiser at Signatures, which brought in at least $21,500, much of it from Abramoff's tribal clients. A week later, the speaker signed a letter to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, urging her to reject a request from a rival tribe for a new casino...

Even those requesting the investigation have no expectation that it will happen, Wertheimer said. That is because for a year now, the ethics committee -- officially known as the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct -- has been crippled by rules changes muscled through with the speaker's help.

We shall see how long Hastert manages to avoid being entangled in the lobbying affair. He is quite powerful, and may escape altogether.

Monday, January 16, 2006

First Lady Approves of Extra-Legal Spying

First Lady Laura Bush thinks the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program is a good idea.

"I think the American people expect the United States government and the president to do what they can to make sure there's not an attack by foreign terrorists," Mrs. Bush said just before landing here to begin a four-day stay in West Africa.

President Bush is concerned that media disclosure of the program will cripple work to foil terrorists, she said. "I think he was worried that it would undermine our efforts by alerting terrorists to what our efforts are," Mrs. Bush said.

And she's supposed to be the smart one in the family.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

DeLay Faces Re-Election Difficulties in His Texas District

Embattled Rep. Tom DeLay is facing a tough re-election season, beginning with the Republican primary in early March, according to a poll published today by the Houston Chronicle.

According to the new poll, 38 percent have changed their opinion of DeLay in the past year. And of those, 91 percent view him less favorably.

Only about half of likely GOP primary voters now rate DeLay favorably, and only 39 percent are committed to voting for him in March.

When he last faced Republican primary opposition in 2002, he won 80 percent of the vote.

DeLay still benefits from a strong Republican voting base in his 22nd District.

Forty-two percent identify themselves as Republicans, 27 percent as Democrats and 23 percent as independents. Republican President Bush enjoys a 55 percent approval rating in the district.

Stein and Murray said DeLay is likely to win the Republican primary but not unscathed.

In the general election, he would face former U.S. Rep Nick Lampson, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary and polls highest among the probable November candidates. DeLay also may be challenged by former Republican Rep. Steve Stockman, who has filed as an independent. Stockman will need to petition for a place on the ballot.

If the general election were held today, DeLay would get 22 percent of the vote, Lampson 30 percent and Stockman 11 percent. The ballot also will include a Libertarian Party nominee.

The outcome of DeLay's trial will probably be the deciding factor in the fall election.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Race For Majority Leader Getting Crowded

Conservative Republican Rep. John Shadegg (Ariz) has entered the race to replace Tom DeLay as House majority leader.

Shadegg is running on traditional conservative principles, which have largely disappeared from today's Republican agenda in Washington.

Those principles include a smaller federal government, a ceding of power to the states and lower taxes, Shadegg said.

In an interview this week, Shadegg said he could not compete with the vote-winning operation of Blunt or Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. But Shadegg said he believes a bloc of House Republicans is not convinced either Blunt or Boehner represents true change in the face of a growing lobbying and bribery scandal...

If Shadegg does not win enough votes to propel him to the second-highest position in the House Republican Conference, he still may gain enough to deny Blunt or Boehner outright victory in the first round of voting. If he finishes third, Shadegg will not be able to run in the second round, but he could extract policy promises for his endorsement, advisers to Blunt and Boehner say.

The public interest group Public Citizen yesterday released information on Shadegg's rivals for the majority leader position:

Public Citizen also took a swipe at what it contends is the status quo, declaring Blunt "unfit for leadership." Its 48-page report cites nearly $429,000 in contributions Blunt received from lobbyists since 1999; $485,485 that Blunt's campaign committees paid between 1999 and 2002 to the Alexander Strategy Group, which was linked to lobbyist Jack Abramoff and is going out of business; and at least 140 subsidized flights on corporate jets that Blunt and Blunt-supported candidates have taken since 2001.

In related news, all is not looking rosy for a Congressman who has been tied to the Abramoff affair.

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is pressuring Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) to relinquish the chairmanship of the House Administration Committee in the wake of a guilty plea from lobbyist Jack Abramoff that tied Ney to a far-reaching conspiracy to bribe public officials, leadership aides said...

Ney was not named in Abramoff's plea agreement, but his staff has said he is the lawmaker identified in the court documents as "Representative #1." Abramoff acknowledged that he and former partner Michael Scanlon gave the lawmaker gifts including expense-paid trips to the Super Bowl, golf outings in Scotland, concerts and campaign contributions.

Ney allegedly advanced the prospects of a number of Abramoff's clients. Ney has denied any wrongdoing.

It must suck being "Representative #1."

Friday, January 13, 2006

Pentagon's CITF Opposed Interrogation Tactics at Guantanamo

Some of the Pentagon's experts on interrogation were ordered not to participate in detainee questioning at Guantanamo which were deemed by supervisors to use unlawful techniques.

"The aggressive techniques, approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in late 2002, led to at least one high-value detainee being placed in women's underwear, led around by a dog leash and stripped in front of female interrogators. Similar tactics later emerged in Iraq and were highlighted in photographs of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison.

"Members of the Pentagon's Criminal Investigation Task Force worked with FBI agents to investigate possible crimes that the men may have committed before they were captured -- crimes that could be prosecuted in court. Declassified e-mail messages and orders show that their commanders were concerned about the tactics almost immediately after they were implemented and joined FBI officials in reporting allegations of abuse.

"The memos indicate that even military units at Guantanamo Bay pushed back against the department's efforts to use new, aggressive tactics against detainees during the facility's first year. The military's top lawyers also warned that the approval of such tactics could lead to abuse and unlawful conduct."

Rumsfeld, of course, continues to cover his exposed ass:

Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday that there is no evidence to suggest that high-level policies authorized or condoned the abuse of detainees.

"What took place at Guantanamo is a matter of public record today, and the investigations turned up nothing that suggested that there was any policy in the department other than humane treatment," Rumsfeld said. "And it is also clear, by the very fact that some 250 people have been punished in one way or another, that there was behavior that was inappropriate."

The experts knew better:

"All deployed CITF personnel are instructed to disengage, stand clear, and report any questionable interrogation techniques," a legal adviser to the task force wrote in a Jan. 15, 2003, memo. "CITF maintains that its personnel will not utilize non-law enforcement techniques or participate, support, advise, or observe aggressive interrogation techniques or strategies."

The legal adviser, whose name was blacked out in the documents, said in the memo that he wrote it "to preserve critical correspondence concerning development of interagency policies involving aggressive interrogation techniques."

It is pathetic that the apologists for the administration continue to blame detainee abuse at Guantanamo and in Iraq on low level enlistees when they have long known better.

No High Tech Planes For Hugo, Says U.S.

The Bush administration's policy of supporting free trade does not apply to our Latin American bogeyman.

"The United States has refused Spain permission to sell 12 planes with U.S. technology to Venezuela, the U.S. Embassy said. The aircraft are part of a $2 billion Spanish deal, signed in November, to supply ships and planes to the government of President Hugo Chavez, a vocal U.S. critic."

Update: Spain is vowing to use substitute technology and go forward with the sale.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Rise Of The Lobbyist Culture

An interesting article in today's Washington Post gives a history of how lobbying came to dominate the process of lawmaking in the past 20 years.

The culture of kleptocracy has largely bloomed in the DeLay era, but the article traces the stretching of ethical boundaries back to early 1980's efforts by both parties.

In 1981, then-Rep. Tony Coelho (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, began to "marry" businesses seeking legislation with Democratic lobbyists, especially former staffers. The maneuver gave the businesses better access and turned many into contributors to the DCCC.

That same year, the Republican firm Black, Manafort and Stone became the first in which partners served both as political consultants to candidates for federal office and lobbyists on behalf of corporations and trade associations...

Since 1998, lobbyists have served as treasurers of 79 lawmakers' campaign committees and leadership PACs, according to the Center for Public Integrity. These committees often pay for senators and House members to enjoy such fundraising events as golfing in Palm Springs, Calif., and fishing tournaments off the Florida Keys -- outings at which the lobbyists will also be prominently in attendance.

Major trade associations have bought Capitol Hill townhouses for fundraisers so that lawmakers can quickly go back to cast votes and then return to the event.

At election time, many lobbyists put on a new hat and become political consultants, guiding incumbents to reelection. Afterward these lobbyists return to their traditional roles, being able now to ask for votes from those they helped put in office...

The pivotal point in Washington's changing culture, according to lobbyists and congressional ethics analysts, came in 1995, shortly after Newt Gingrich and his "Republican Revolutionaries" roared to power in the 1994 midterm elections. Tom DeLay, the new majority whip, and his allies began the "K Street Project" -- the pressuring of trade associations and lobbying firms to hire Republican, and to contribute to Republican campaigns if they wanted access to key leaders and committee chairmen in the House.

We all know how that episode is turning out.

The new blood moving up in the Republican party may provide a breath of fresh air:

One lawmaker hoping to move up in the GOP leadership is Rep. John A. Boehner (Ohio), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. He maintains the lobbyist-financed Freedom Project, with a lobbyist as treasurer and an all-lobbyist executive board. It has raised $5.94 million over 10 years and has contributed $3.26 million to fellow Republicans.

Maybe not.

It seems that lobbyists actually do some work, after all:

Lobbyists also have unprecedented sway with the national party organizations. They held all the top positions at the 2004 GOP convention in New York.

The House GOP leadership has also brought them directly into the legislating process, institutionalizing the practice of using large networks of lobbyists to help "whip" bills by keeping vote counts and finding ways to persuade wavering members to vote with the caucus.

As President Bush would put it, "it's hard work."