Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Big Pharma and Medicaid

Because of the burgeoning of health care costs in Medicaid, governors have been screaming at Congress for help. The House of Representatives has responded with a new cost-cutting plan that puts the onus on the poor to come up with more money in the form of copay for each bit of healthcare, thereby completely overlooking the fact that the poor are on Medicaid because they don't have the money to pay for a private insurance policy. Included in the plan was an additional provision that allowed states to steer Medicaid recipients to less expensive medications or face paying for the prescription themselves.

But, wait: there's more. Shortly before the Thanksgiving recess, a new provision was passed that excluded mental health medications from the 'preferred' medications lists in states. As today's Washington Post points out, this provision is a good example of both the power of pharmaceutical companies and the problems in addressing mental health issues in this country.

As part of a House budget bill that reduces spending on Medicaid prescription drugs, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. and other businesses secured a provision ensuring that their mental health drugs continue to fetch top price at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to the states.

The provision -- inserted by Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), whose district flanks Lilly's Indianapolis headquarters -- would largely exempt antipsychotic and antidepressant medications from a larger measure designed to steer Medicaid patients to the least expensive treatment options. The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved Buyer's amendment this month over the strenuous objections of Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and the National Governors Association. It survived unchallenged in the $50 billion budget-cutting bill that narrowly passed the House just before Congress left for Thanksgiving recess.

As part of a House budget bill that reduces spending on Medicaid prescription drugs, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. and other businesses secured a provision ensuring that their mental health drugs continue to fetch top price at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to the states.

The provision -- inserted by Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), whose district flanks Lilly's Indianapolis headquarters -- would largely exempt antipsychotic and antidepressant medications from a larger measure designed to steer Medicaid patients to the least expensive treatment options. The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved Buyer's amendment this month over the strenuous objections of Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and the National Governors Association. It survived unchallenged in the $50 billion budget-cutting bill that narrowly passed the House just before Congress left for Thanksgiving recess.

...To opponents, however, Buyer's measure underscores the excessive power that corporate interests wield on Capitol Hill. Critics say the measure also violates the purpose of the budget-cutting bill, which was drafted to give state governments the flexibility to cut program costs in ways that minimize the harm done to beneficiaries.

"This is obviously an attempt to prevent state Medicaid offices from getting cheaper, just-as-beneficial drugs to patients, and it's really going to stick it to the taxpayers," said Steve Ellis, a vice president and Medicaid analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Under the budget-cutting bill's Medicaid provisions, states would be allowed to create lists of preferred medications. Then, for the first time, they could charge higher co-payments -- even to poor children and pregnant women -- for medicines not on those lists. The bipartisan National Governors Association, which promoted the changes, maintains that states will save billions of dollars by guiding patients away from newer drugs that may be far more expensive -- but no more effective -- than older alternatives.

Mental health medicines need special attention because the complex human brain responds very differently to different drugs and different dosages, advocates of the amendment say.

The governors group warned that the cost differential between an older, established drug such as Prozac and a new entrant can be staggering, while the difference in utility is often marginal.

Moreover, no state could meet the requirement of proving that one drug is equivalent to another, because drugmakers' clinical trials compare their products with placebos, and scant evidence is available comparing one drug with another, said Stan Rosenstein, deputy director of California's Department of Health Services
[Emphasis added]

This is one of those situations where there appears to be a conflict between two equally justified interests. Advocates for those with mental illnesses want them to receive the most effective treatment available, whether they are poor or wealthy. Newly developed medications are frequently more effective because of research discoveries. Why should those discoveries benefit only those wealthy enough to pay for them? That's one side of the argument.

The other side is that the improvement in the efficacy of the drug is often so slight that it hardly outweighs the increased cost to the entity responsible for paying for the drug. The governors want to be in the position of forcing pharmaceutical companies to lower the prices in order to get on the preferred list, with the promise that volume in sales will offset the initial cost.

The underlying concern of Big Pharma, of course, is that the governors' approach will result in a back-door approach to shortening the life of the exclusive patent on news medications. Big Pharma doesn't want any cap on their pricing and their profits, and these companies have never been shy about investing in politicians who will help them out in this respect.

...Lilly has been the biggest corporate contributor to Buyer's campaigns. Since 1989, the drug company has donated $46,500 to Buyer's congressional campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Buyer? Perhaps a better name for the Gentleman from Indiana is Seller.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Well, Duh!

The Justice Department has been very busy this past year. The most publicized cases involve politicians, in state houses and legislatures, the White House and Congress. The latest episode occurred yesterday when California Representative Randall "Duke" Cunningham pleaded guilty to bribery and promptly resigned from his House seat. Although most of the targets of the Justice Department have been Republicans, both parties know that the public pretty much thinks that they are all crooks, on the take and easily bought.

In an analysis piece in the Washington Post, Jeffrey H. Birnbaum examines the current rash of investigations and indictments.

For several years now, corporations and other wealthy interests have made ever-larger campaign contributions, gifts and sponsored trips part of the culture of Capitol Hill. But now, with fresh guilty pleas by a lawmaker and a public relations executive, federal prosecutors -- and perhaps average voters -- may be concluding that the commingling of money and politics has gone too far.

After years in which big-dollar dealings have come to dominate the interaction between lobbyists and lawmakers, both sides are now facing what could be a wave of prosecutions in the courts and an uprising at the ballot box. Extreme examples of the new business-as-usual are no longer tolerated.

Republicans, who control the White House and Congress, are most vulnerable to this wave. But pollsters say that voters think less of both political parties the more prominent the issue of corruption in Washington becomes, and that incumbents generally could feel the heat of citizen outrage if the two latest guilty pleas multiply in coming months.

No fewer than seven lawmakers, including a Democrat, have been indicted, have pleaded guilty or are under investigation for improper conduct such as conspiracy, securities fraud and improper campaign donations. Congress's approval ratings have fallen off the table, in some measure because of headlines about these scandals

...As the Scanlon case demonstrates, the extent of this favor-buying has gone so far that the Justice Department is no longer deterred from bringing charges even if the gifts fall within Congress's gift-giving limits or are below campaign finance maximums. "It doesn't matter," Brand said. Charges could come, he said, if "anything of value is given to a public official that can be linked to an official act."

In addition, for the first time in its 15-year history, the Wall Street Journal-NBC poll this year showed that the public's negative feelings exceeded its positive feelings about both political parties at the same time. "These are cautionary notes that are affecting both parties' political standing," McInturff said.
[Emphasis added]

Unfortunately, the results of such a public view is an increase in the already pervasive cynicism when it comes to government and an increase in the equally pervasive apathy when it comes to voting. Why vote if whoever is sent to Washington or state capitals is going to capitulate to the highest bidder?

It still may be possible to rouse the electorate, but only if something can be done to restrain the influence of K Street. The party that can make positive moves in promoting that restraint might just succeed in the next elections.


Monday, November 28, 2005

The Battle to Cut Medicaid

Congressional Democrats are finding an usual foe in the battle over Medicaid cuts: Democratic governors. As the Washington Post points out, governors of both parties face the daunting task of working within their budgets when Medicaid's state costs keep rising so dramatically.

Controversial House legislation designed to gain control of Medicaid growth has split Democrats, with lawmakers in Washington united in their opposition while Democratic governors are quietly supporting the provisions and questioning the party's reflexive denunciations.

The Medicaid provisions have become a flashpoint for the opposition of Democrats -- and some moderate Republicans -- to the $50 billion budget-cutting bill that narrowly passed the House last week. The provisions would reduce Medicaid spending by $12 billion through 2010 and $48 billion over the next decade, in part by making it difficult for more affluent seniors to transfer their assets to relatives, then plead poverty to get Medicaid to pay for them to stay in nursing homes.

But the measures would also save $2.4 billion over five years by allowing state governments to impose higher health insurance deductibles, co-payments and premiums on poor Medicaid recipients, including, for the first time, impoverished children and pregnant women. An additional $3.9 billion would be saved by relaxing mandated preventive health care and screening of children and pregnant women.

..."As the number of people without health insurance has increased for four years in a row, Republicans are charging ahead with $45 billion in cuts to Medicaid -- the health insurance program that provides medical care to America's poorest children and many of the survivors of Hurricane Katrina," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) thundered Nov. 18, just before the pre-dawn passage of the bill. "Republicans give new meaning to the words 'suffer little children.' "

What she did not say is that those changes were proposed over the summer by a bipartisan task force of governors, led by Virginia's Mark R. Warner, whose popularity in a Republican state has made him a rising star in the Democratic Party.

In fact, the most controversial provisions in the House bill were adapted almost word for word from a document drafted by Govs. Warner, Tom Vilsack (D-Iowa), Haley Barbour (R-Miss.), Janet Napolitano (D-Ariz.), Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.), Jennifer M. Granholm (D-Mich.), Dirk Kempthorne (R-Idaho), Jim Doyle (D-Wis.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), and Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa.), said Ray Scheppach, executive director of the National Governors Association.

...For governors, the soaring costs of Medicaid threaten to swamp state financing. Already, tens of thousands of people have been thrown off the Medicaid rolls in states such as Tennessee and Missouri, and governors have warned that those cuts will grow deeper if they do not have the flexibility to trim benefits more rationally.

The division stems in part from long-standing fears that if Washington gives states too much latitude over federal programs, some governors will go too far. Under the House bill, the $3 co-payment for Medicaid recipients below the poverty level would be allowed to rise annually with the medical inflation rate. For the first time, states would be allowed to refuse care for patients who refuse to pay.

States would also be allowed to charge co-payments, premiums or deductibles for visits to hospital emergency rooms for non-emergency care and for expensive prescription drugs not on a list of preferred medications.

What really worries liberal policy groups is a measure allowing states to impose any co-payment they want on Medicaid recipients who are above the poverty line, typically the working poor. Those fees are supposed to remain below 5 percent of beneficiaries' total incomes, but policy experts say that cap will be impossible to enforce. Most working poor will not be able to track their annual medical expenses to that degree of specificity.
[Emphasis added]

Of course, a substantial savings will come from those recipients who won't seek medical treatment because they can't afford the co-payment. Routine health care will be gone without until a condition becomes so serious that a visit to the local ER is the only course available.

With fewer employers providing health care benefits, more Americans are going uninsured or under-insured because they cannot afford private policies. Until this country finally comes to grips with its failed health care system and develops a new single payer system akin to Medicare, medical costs will continue to soar and states will continue to plan the rest of their budgets around Medicaid.

The answer is not less Medicaid, but more. This nation needs to start developing a better health care system and stop cutting taxes for those who don't need them.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Duel of the Acronyms


It's hard to imagine a more unlikely fight than the one brewing between Voice of America and National Public Radio, yet here we have it. From Spiegel Online.

The Berlin frequency 87.9 FM has been in American government hands since the end of World War II. But the frequency is now up for renewal and venerated US public broadcaster National Public Radio is mounting serious competition for the government propaganda channel. The battle has exposed the ugly underbelly of the Bush Administration's public relations strategy.

At first glance, the cause of the controversy seems pedestrian enough. The radio frequency 87.9 is up for grabs in Berlin and there are a number of aspirants hoping to take it over. Radio business as usual. Yawn.

But what would normally be a boring procedural matter become a struggle for the image of the United States abroad. The 87.9 FM frequency in Berlin is currently in the hands of Voice of America (VOA), the US government sponsored station that broadcasts in dozens of countries around the world.

With VOA's license coming up for renewal, a new hat has been thrown into the ring. National Public Radio (NPR), the respected US public news and entertainment broadcaster, is hoping to take over the slot on the Berlin FM dial. But VOA isn't letting go without a fight -- and it has powerful supporters.

"The frequency 87.9 was always the American station," said Ingeborg Zahrnt of the Medienanstalt Berlin-Brandenburg, the organization that has the final say in the matter and will likely announce its decision in early December. "Of course the US government wants Voice of America to be awarded the frequency. It's their radio station. It's a question of how you present yourself as a country."

In recent years, the US has allowed its 87.9 FM outpost on the Berlin airwaves to languish. Today, it's a skeleton of the station that once brought jazz, American literature and daily news to a divided city. On Aug. 4, 1945, just months after Soviet forces marched into the city on behalf of the Allied forces, Washington began broadcasting the American Forces Network (AFN) in the German capital. The station -- of which many Berliners still have fond memories -- provided an important democratic voice that could be heard on both sides of the Berlin Wall.

But the fall of the Wall in 1989 led to a waning US military presence in Europe and diminished interest on the part of the US government in sponsoring radio in Europe. Since 1997, the 87.9 frequency has been used to provide a dwindling number of listeners a few minutes of VOA news every hour with the rest of the 60 minutes taken up by rock-music station Star FM.

VOA's neglect has apparently not limited US zeal to hang on to the frequency, though. Critics say the US government acts as if it owns the 87.9 slot and, while Zahrnt insists that official pressure on her organization has been kept to a minimum ("It's not like Bush has called up or anything!") she does admit, "there are those in the government who we talk with, of course."

But the pressure is there -- not only on officials here in Berlin, but also on NPR. In addition to emphasizing the US government's decades-long presence on the Berlin airwaves, the Bush administration -- or at least its political appointees heading up the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in Washington -- has been on the war path against National Public Radio. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funnels tax dollars into public television and radio broadcasters in the US, has significantly cut the amount allocated to NPR. Earlier this year the corporation's board also told staff it should consider redirecting money away from NPR news programs and toward music programs.
[Emphasis added]

Keep in mind that one Mr. Tomlinson, who recently resigned as CEO of the Coporation for Public Broadcasting under pressure because of an investigation into his illegal moves to make the public airwaves more conservative, did not resign from his post as Chairman of the Board of CPB. He still has the clout, shored up by the other conservative Bush appointees, to run the CPB into the ground.

That said, I find it ludicrous that the VOA, now a mere shell of what it was during its anti-communism days, wants to fight over this piece of turf. After all, three minutes of VOA propaganda and fifty-seven minutes of canned rock music is hardly worth the effort or the expense. I think a better way to show Berliners that Americans are basically decent folks with a sense of humor would be to air regular episodes of "Car Talk," along with "A Prairie Home Companion," "This American Life," "Fresh Air," and "The Splendid Table."

Those shows would sure beat the heck out of speechifying by the likes of Condi Rice and Dick Cheney if we really wanted to improve our image.

Now if the Berliners will just call the appropriate agency and suggest that NPR replace VOA...

Venal Sins

One of the biggest stories of 2005 (excluding the Iraqi war and all its subsets) has been the Fitzgerald investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame and the subsequent indictment of the Vice President's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby. That investigation continues, and another indictment may issue this year.

There is another story brewing, however, one that may surpass the Plame story in both ink and importance: the investigation into bribery and corruption involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff and members of Congress. The Washington Post had a story yesterday that provides a nice summary of that investigation.

The Justice Department's wide-ranging investigation of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff has entered a highly active phase as prosecutors are beginning to move on evidence pointing to possible corruption in Congress and executive branch agencies, lawyers involved in the case said.

Prosecutors have already told one lawmaker, Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), and his former chief of staff that they are preparing a possible bribery case against them, according to two sources knowledgeable about the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The 35 to 40 investigators and prosecutors on the Abramoff case are focused on at least half a dozen members of Congress, lawyers and others close to the probe said. The investigators are looking at payments made by Abramoff and his colleagues to the wives of some lawmakers and at actions taken by senior Capitol Hill aides, some of whom went to work for Abramoff at the law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, lawyers and others familiar with the probe said.

Former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R), now facing separate campaign finance charges in his home state of Texas, is one of the members under scrutiny, the sources said. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.) and other members of Congress involved with Indian affairs, one of Abramoff's key areas of interest, are also said to be among them.

The Justice Department investigation is also looking into Abramoff's influence among executive branch officials. Sources said prosecutors are continuing to seek information about Abramoff's dealings with then-Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, including a job offer from the lobbyist at a time when he was seeking department actions on behalf of his tribal clients.

The former top procurement official in the Bush administration, David H. Safavian, has already been charged with lying and obstruction of justice in connection with the Abramoff investigation. Safavian, who traveled to Scotland with Ney on a golf outing arranged by Abramoff, is accused of concealing from federal investigators that Abramoff was seeking to do business with the General Services Administration at the time of the golf trip. Safavian was then GSA chief of staff.
[Emphasis added]

That the scandal has reached into both Congress and the Administration is depressing, if not surprising. Money for access is apparently the most important element in governance these days, and apparently officials in Washington are even willing to involve their spouses in the subterfuge that accompanies the wheeling and dealing.


Saturday, November 26, 2005

Now Even the Dutch...

...are pissed off.

The problem is with the US treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. An editorial in NRC Handlelsblad finds the US behavior inexcuseable.

The American Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is an absolute disgrace for President George W. Bush. The heinous treatment of al-Qaeda suspects held at Guantanamo is well documented. The American torture practices - no secret but still shocking and disgusting all the same - are well documented. Human rights organizations, the Red Cross and - yes - even the FBI, have all reported on torture by American troops at Guantanamo and Iraq. Internationally, the Americans are being pressured to immediately halt the illegal treatment of prisoners. It is the subject of ongoing debate in politics and society as a whole. However in the end, nothing is being done about it. Guatanamo Bay is a place where the Americans demonstratively ignore international human rights.

Torture is an international offense. It goes against the Geneva Convention. It is a criminal offense in and of itself. Militarily, it is not very productive because the results are untrustworthy. The driving force behind criminals that practice torture is usually intimidation. And still, per the United Nations, across the globe the ban on torture is blatantly ignored. Torture is as old as armed conflict. But that does not make it any less reprehensible. No matter how compelling the evidence might be that (alleged) al-Qaeda fighters are terrorists and murderers, this must first be proven in a court of law. The designation by the American Government of the Guantanamo detainees as “illegal fighters” or “enemy combatants” - and therefore that they have no rights under the Geneva Convention - is a subterfuge and completely misses the point. There is a law that says that anyone held at an American naval base has the right to a day in an American court - in order to prove guilt or innocence. This is a right that Guantanamo detainees are deprived off.

It is these proven deplorable practices that give extra power to rumors of American detainees on secret bases in Europe. A rumor is not yet a fact. But Guantanamo Bay and the abuses at Abu Ghraib - under the command of American military personnel - prove that there's no smoke without fire. In other words: given the facts, it is not at all inconceivable that the CIA is running detention centers in Europe. It is laudable that the current chairman of the European Union, Great Britain - America’s most trusted ally - is demonstrating deep concern about these rumors and plans to demand clarification from Washington. This unified initiative does not absolve the E.U. member states - like The Netherlands - of their responsibility in this matter. They must investigate these unsubstantiated rumors individually to find out whether there is ground for concern.

Bush Administration officials do not seem to incur political consequences from either Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib. On the contrary: lower ranked soldiers are made to pay for the atrocities that have been committed. The responsible Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, indefensibly, does not resign. Torture issues and possible CIA camps are clearly judicial issues; however they are mostly political in nature and all go back to the highest levels of government.
[Emphasis added]

What is so interesting about this editorial is that the Netherlands are among the handful of countries that still have troops in Iraq. The Dutch have threatened to pull those troops out if the US doesn't come clean about the torture issue and the suspected 'black' interrogation centers in Europe.

More telling, however, is the insistence in the editorial that the US is engaging in criminal behavior which contravenes the Geneva Convention. It is speaking of war crimes.

Startling language from an ally? Yes, but very refreshing.

Gallic Cynicism/French Acumen

The US regime has been testing the waters in odd sorts of way. The Resident has given several speeches recently stating that we need to stay the course in Iraq. The Vice-Resident has given several speeches which imply that anyone critical of the Iraqi war is giving aid and comfort to the terrorists in Iraq and that this is no time to be pulling out troops. Then, within a day or two of these speeches came the quiet, almost sotto voce news that the US plans to pull out several brigades after the December elections in Iraq, with plans to pull out more troops by Spring, 2006. What is going on?

The French have a pretty good idea, and it was expressed nicely in a November 25 editorial in Le Figaro.

In Iraq, the Americans are preparing to withdraw their troops in a much more organized fashion than the invasion. Every day, generals and diplomats are ever-more precise about the number of troops to be brought back in three, six or twelve months.

...This is because the front has moved. It is no longer in Baghdad, Falluja or Mosul, but in the heart of the Washington microcosm, in a fever over the fall in popularity of George Bush and with opinion surveys showing that the public has had enough of a war that has killed 2,108 soldiers to date. After Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha, a hero of Vietnam, created an uproar in Congress by calling for a withdrawal within six months of the 159,000 soldiers currently in Iraq, the White House must show that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

...The strength of the Sunni insurrection poses an obvious problem. But, even if it has taken far too long for them to be convinced of it, and even if they still refuse to say so publicly, the United States has given up overcoming the insurgency militarily.

...With a year to go before the mid-term elections in the United States, time is short. By then, George Bush will have to answer the wishes of the electorate to disengage, without giving the Arab world the impression that America has given up Iraq and its project to democratize the region. That will require a sense of nuance that this American president is not accustomed to showing.
[Emphasis added]

The logic of the argument is impeccable, if cynical. Mr. Bush has lost the trust of the American people on most issues, but nowhere more significantly than on the Iraq invasion. If he loses Congress in 2006, his term as President is effectively over. The days of his wishes becoming law will end, and he will indeed be a lame duck and a defanged wolf. Apparently the Republicans in Congress, many of whom are facing re-election in November 2006, have finally gotten through to him.

While using the soldiers as pawns in an election year is beyond disgusting, getting them home is a desired result. The Democrats shouldn't worry too much about losing this "issue" in the next election. There are plenty of other issues to run on, including the lies that got us into the war, and the budget cuts that will make the soldiers' homecoming unpleasant, to say the least.

Let's just get the men and women out of that dangerous morass.

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Catastrophe Continues

FEMA continues its apparent mission to screw things up as badly as possible. A few weeks ago it announced to the Katrina refugees currently being housed in hotels that as of December 1, they would have to find their own accomodations. That managed to raise such a howl of outrage that the federal agency backtracked a little and extended the deadline a month. Unfortunately, that extension is not particularly helpful because there is nowhere for the bulk of these people to go and no money for them to get there.

While most of the emphasis in news coverage has been focussed on New Orleans (as well it should have, given that a major US city had been wiped out), the entire Gulf Coast region was devastated by the hurricane and the federal government's response. As the Washington Post pointed out in a lengthy article today, Mississippi's coast is still just rubble with no evidence of reconstruction.

PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss. -- Three months ago, Katrina all but scoured this old beach town of 8,000 off the face of the Earth. To walk its streets today is to see acres of wreckage almost as untouched as the day the hurricane passed.

No new houses are framed out. No lots cleared. There is just devastation and a lingering stench and a tent city in which hundreds of residents huddle against the first chill of winter and wonder where they'll find the money to rebuild their lives.

...This is the other land laid low by Katrina's fury. Like New Orleans to the west, hundreds of square miles of Mississippi coastland look little better than they did in early September, and many people here harbor anger that the federal government has fallen short and that the nation's attention has turned away. At least 200,000 Mississippians remain displaced, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is short at least 13,000 trailers to house them.

"FEMA continues to be able to mess up a one-car funeral -- we don't begin to have enough money for major reconstruction," said Rep. Gene Taylor (D), who lost his own home in Bay St. Louis. "We're going to have a lot of defaults and bankruptcies.

"The federal response, from highways to housing to trailers, is completely unacceptable."

Roy Necaise, chief operating officer of a regional Mississippi housing authority, said: "We have no federal funds, absolutely none, to rebuild. There's absolutely nothing standing on the coast right now, and it's going to be a long time before we're able to bring folks home.

"Washington has totally let us down, and it's a disgrace."
[Emphasis added]

One of the problems, of course, is that many of the homeowners did not have federal flood insurance, although having it certainly would not have made much of a difference, since the agency that administers that program doesn't have the the funding that would have been required to meet its obligations in this disaster. Flood insurance certainly wouldn't have been feasible for the poor, many of whom lived in apartments or rented homes.

The real problem is that no one at FEMA or Homeland Security was prepared for a real emergency of this magnitude. The failure of imagination right at the start meant that from the initial response to the present, there have been no plans in place to deal with the obvious aftermath of such a storm. What is being made clear each day is that there still is no overarching plan developed for reconstruction, no temporary housing for the workers who are needed to rebuild, no infrastructure to support the return of those who fled and those who stayed, no vision for what a rebuilt and renewed Gulf Coast should be.

All we have are no-bid contracts for rubble removal, a fraction of which has been accomplished. And no one in Congress beyond the Gulf Coast members seems to be following up.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Global Trade

OK, so we are now in the age of the "Global Economy." I'm never sure what that means, but what it seems to mean these days is that multinational corporations currently rule the planet. The bottom line is the line we get in assessing how homo sapiens are progressing, but I get kind of confused how the whole things fit together.

Moonbootica, one of the early morning Eschatonions served up the following news story from Azerbaijan.

RIMORSK, Azerbaijan, Nov 22 (AFP) - More than 1,000 local workers employed by a leading US oil services company in Azerbaijan went on strike Tuesday protesting low wages, discrimination and poor working conditions.

The workers briefly took control of the McDermott oil services company's seaside facility some 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Baku, bypassing a security cordon and escorting reporters inside.

They later dispersed, but promised to continue their job action to press their demands for higher pay, health coverage, better treatment and unionization.

"They've never changed anything. All they give us are promises," said Emin Abdullayev, a McDermott employee.

The workers were demanding that compensation be brought in line with payment packages earned by foreign laborers from India, the Philippines and elsewhere. They said they also wanted health coverage, unionization and overall better treatment.

...A number of Azerbaijani employees told AFP they earned between 300 and 350 dollars (256 and 300 euros) per month and said they would continue their strike until wages were increased.

Azerbaijan is becoming an increasingly important energy exporter, but projects appear to be under threat because of tensions between local staff and expatriate workers.

"Why do they need to bring welders from abroad and pay for their travel expenses and housing? There are plenty of welders in Azerbaijan who are out of a job," said one striker, Rovshan Ahmadov.
[Emphasis added]

The odd part of the story is that Indian workers are being paid up to $100 per month more. That confused me for a bit until I realized that foreign workers would be less likely to complain about wages and living conditions than would locals. It's worth it to the multinationals to add a few pence to foreign workers in the long run.

Yes, global trade is now a reality and something with which we have to deal. Here in the US, especially in places like Detroit and other rust belt areas, jobs are going over seas because the pay is more than the locals are used to, even if it is less than a living wage.

What's the answer?

Maybe our unions need to go back to their roots as an international movement. After all, workers are workers.

Two Views

On November 12, I blogged on the potential role of the Arab League in calming things down in Iraq enough that the US could withdraw its military. Unbeknownst to me, the Arab League was already contemplating such a role and had already set up a meeting with the three factions in Iraq to help those factions hammer out some of the internecine problems so that a more secure Iraq could allow for the end of the US occupation. The one agreement that came from this first meeting was that the US needed to leave.

Interestingly, two US newspapers posted editorials on that meeting, and their respective analyses emphasize different sides of the coin.

Yesterday the Seattle Post-Intelligencer focussed on what the results of that meeting meant for the US.

At last, Iraq's disparate factions have found something on which they can agree: They want us out of their country. The closing memorandum of a meeting of 100 Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders Monday "demands a withdrawal of foreign troops on a specified timetable, dependent on an immediate national program for rebuilding the security forces."

To those who took up arms to end the occupation," Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said at the Arab League-sponsored conference in Cairo, "we say that the solution will not come through weapons but through political dialogue and democratic means."

... we must accept that Iraqis of all stripes view us not as liberators but occupiers.
[Emphasis added]

This administration must finally do what Congress has been urging for the past four to six weeks: develop a time-frame with guidelines which will enable US forces to leave Iraq. Bush must finally face the fact that most Iraqis, whether Sunni, Shia, or Kurd, want us out of their country.

The second editorial is from today's NY Times and points to what the Iraqis will have to do to get the US out.

This page has not supported a precipitous United States troop withdrawal from Iraq based on an arbitrary American timetable. We have encouraged Iraqis to recognize the need for speedy, measurable progress in taking control of their own security, and for a spirit of constructive compromise in agreeing on constitutional amendments to guarantee democracy, human rights and national inclusiveness.

At least some Iraqi leaders now seem to be moving in that direction.
[Emphasis added]

Clearly the NY Times has added a new twist to the comment made by Colin Powell when he tried to dissuade the President from starting this misbegotten war. We broke it so we own it. The Iraqis have to solve all the problems we caused before we'll let them have their country back. This hardly seems fair, although it is clear that the Iraqis themselves are going to have to heal some of their internal divisions if the broken country is to heal. That's why the Arab League's role as honest broker is so important.

Hopefully at the next meeting, this time in Baghdad, more specific agreements and time frames can be set up. It's time, and the US is going to have to live with the fact that it has to leave because the Iraqis want us to.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Semantics of Evil

That words can be twisted to hide a multitude of sins is not a new idea. In fact, tyrants have long used the language to hide or justify the horrific. Soviet "Re-education Camps" could have been conceived by George Orwell or any of the other dystopian novelists. It shouldn't shock us that a regime which lives by spin could engage in the technique, but when that regime operates out of Washington, DC, it is hard to get over. Perhaps the most egregious and the most horrifying misuse of language this way has to do with torture, and the Washington Post took on the issue in an editorial today.

CIA DIRECTOR Porter J. Goss insists that his agency is innocent of torturing the prisoners it is holding in secret detention centers around the world. "This agency does not torture," he said in an interview this week with USA Today. "We use lawful capabilities to collect vital information, and we do it in a variety of unique and innovative ways, all of which are legal and none of which are torture." Mr. Goss didn't describe any of those "innovative" interrogation techniques, nor has his agency allowed its secret prisons to be visited by the International Red Cross or any other monitor.

Are these techniques "not torture," as Mr. Goss claims? In fact, several of them have been practiced by repressive regimes around the world, and they once were routinely condemned by the State Department in its annual human rights reports. By insisting that they are not torture, Mr. Goss sets a new standard -- both for the treatment of detainees by other governments and for the handling of captive Americans. If an American pilot is captured in the Middle East, then beaten, held naked in a cold cell and subjected to simulated drowning, will Mr. Goss say that he has not been tortured?

Are the techniques "legal"? In 1994 the Senate ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment; in doing so, it defined "cruel, inhuman or degrading" as anything that would violate the Fifth, Eighth, or 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The Bush administration has never been clear about whether it considers the CIA's techniques legal by that standard. If it does -- as Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has suggested -- then it has opened the way for the FBI to use cold cells and waterboarding on Americans. But the administration also claims a technical loophole: Since the Constitution doesn't apply to foreigners outside the United States, the administration argues that by the Senate's standard, the CIA can use cruel and inhuman methods on foreign detainees held abroad.

Few legal experts outside the administration agree that this loophole exists.

...senators led by Republican John McCain of Arizona are fighting, by means of amendments to the current defense authorization and appropriations bills, to bar the use of "cruel, inhuman and degrading" methods. But Mr. Goss's statements suggest a deeper problem. Even if the legislation passes -- and Mr. Bush has threatened a veto -- the CIA will be led by an administration that has redefined standard torture techniques as "unique and innovative ways" of collecting information. No one beyond Mr. Goss and a handful of senior officials accepts that spin: not the agencies' professionals, or 90 members of the Senate, or the rest of the democratic world. Yet now that the Bush administration has so loosened and degraded the torture standard, the abuse of detainees will become far harder to prevent -- not only in the CIA's clandestine cells but around the world.
[Emphasis added]

To use the techniques of torture is bad enough in that it presupposes a kind of amoral pragmatism. What we have here, however, is far worse: the use of language to hide the fact that what we are doing really is torture. This suggests not amorality but rather a knowing and intentional immorality.

To paraphrase Walt Kelly: "We have met the evildoers and they are us."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

All Saints Redux

On November 8, I blogged on the IRS letter my church received for Preaching Peace just before the November,2004 election. Here it is, over two weeks after the current rector announced the receipt of the IRS letter threatening to lift the church's tax exempt status, and the news is still percolating across the nation. This may constitute a record for media attention span not involving missing white women.

Today, the NY Times printed an editorial which points out some facts I had failed to mention in my earlier post.

Shortly before the last election, a former rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., gave a fiery antipoverty and antiwar sermon. He did not endorse a presidential candidate, but he criticized President Bush's policies in Iraq and at home. Now the Internal Revenue Service has challenged the church's tax-exempt status. It's important to know just how the tax police have chosen this church - and other congregations - to pursue after an election that energized churchgoers of most denominations.

I.R.S. officials have said about 20 churches are being investigated for activities across the political spectrum that could jeopardize their tax status. The agency is barred by law from revealing which churches, but officials have said these targets were chosen by a team of civil servants, not political appointees, at the Treasury Department. The I.R.S. argues that freedom of religion does not grant freedom from taxes if churches engage in politics.

That should mean that the 2004 presidential campaign would be an extremely fertile field. While some churches allowed Democrats to speak from the pulpit, the conservative Christians last year mounted an especially intense - and successful - drive to keep President Bush in office. Some issued voter guides that pointedly showed how their own religion was allied with Mr. Bush's views. Several Roman Catholic bishops even suggested that a vote for John Kerry would be a mortal sin. Since the election, Republicans have held two openly political nationally televised revival meetings at churches to support Mr. Bush's judicial nominations.

... With the feverish courting of religious voters these days, the I.R.S. does have the daunting task of separating politics from church policy. Still, it would seem to be hard to justify picking on a church that has a long record of opposition to wars waged by leaders from both parties.
[Emphasis added]

I think what bothers the IRS and other governmental agencies is that there are some churches that go beyond Sunday morning with their messages and calls to action. I also think that the IRS and other governmental entities confuse prophetic critiques with partisan politics. Whatever.

What I want to know is how many of the twenty churches currently under investigation overtly came out in favor of George Bush. I want to know whether the churches that hosted the two "revival meetings" in support of Bush's judicial nominations are among those twenty churches. All Saints openly announced the news. How many of those twenty churches did so? All Saints refused to settle with the IRS by admitting wrong-doing. How many of those twenty churches also did so?

I don't imagine I will get much in the way of answers to my questions.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Stirrings In Congress

I believe that one of the biggest mistakes Congress made during Bush's regime was voting to give him authority to go to war in Iraq if he thought it necessary. Not only did that give an air of legitimacy to the invasion, it gave up an enormous amount of power to the Administration. Since then, Congress has been nothing more than a rubber stamp for the Resident's ideas. Apparently that is beginning to change, and the irony is that the change is coming from the Resident's own party, according to the New York Times.

On a July evening in the Capitol, Vice President Dick Cheney summoned three Republican senators to his ornate office just off the Senate chamber. The Republicans - John W. Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - were making trouble for the Bush administration, and Mr. Cheney let them know it.

The three were pushing for regulations on the treatment of American military prisoners, including a contentious ban on "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." The vice president wanted the provision pulled from a huge military spending bill. The senators would not budge.

"We agreed to disagree," Mr. Graham said in an interview last week.

...the three are firm in their conviction that Congress, having ceded authority on military matters to the executive branch, must flex its muscles. In addition to sticking together on the so-called torture ban - despite a White House veto threat - they joined last week in backing a bipartisan compromise, sponsored by Senator Graham, giving "enemy combatants" in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, limited rights of appeal in federal court.

...For Democrats, who have spent months trying to put the public spotlight on the issues of detainee treatment and the war in Iraq, the three Republicans are like some kind of gift from the political gods. After the Senate overwhelmingly adopted Mr. Warner's measure on the war, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, stood slack-jawed.

"It's gigantic," Mr. Biden said.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Biden was correct in his assessment. For whatever reasons the three Republicans may have, including future shots at the nomination for President, the three are in effect reminding the White House that Congress is a co-equal branch of government, not simply water carriers for the Resident. It is hard to see how the White House would benefit by using the power of the veto (which has not yet been used by Bush) on any bill passed by a Republican led Congress, especially one which deals with progress in Iraq or one which deals with the issue of torture.

And if this recent exercise in muscle flexing benefits the Democrats in some way, well, so be it.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

An Iraqi's Eye View

Amidst all the claims of progress being made in Iraq, of wonderful building and rebuilding projects going to completion, of improvements in the quality of life, someone had the gall to point out a naked emperor. In this case, it was some disgusted Iraqis who are trying to live in the chaos visited upon them by the good old US of A. Iraq's Azzaman tells the story.

The engineering corps from the U.S. occupation troops in Iraq say they have spent $14.5 million to improve education, electricity supply and sewage facilities in the southern city of Diwaniya.

A statement by the body organizing U.S. civil projects in the country said the sum was spent on 500 projects which were all implemented by Iraqi contractors.

These projects have contributed to improving educational, electrical and sewage systems,” the statement written in Arabic said.

Diwaniya is the capital city of al-Qadisiya province with an estimated population of nearly half a million people.

A later statement said the troops have allocated an additional sum of $500,000 to furnish 10 schools with modern supplies.

However, residents from Diwaniya disputed U.S. and Iraqi government reports of a tangible improvement in the standard of municipal services.

...Another resident, Hayder Abedali said he believed the U.S. and Iraqi government were allocating money for reconstruction. “But that is only as far as figures go.”

He said most of the allocations were wasted due to rampant corruption.

Residents from towns other than the provincial center of al-Qadisiya had a darker picture of conditions.

“These statements are false and contrary to the situation on the ground,” said Qassem Mansour from al-Hamza town.

“There is large-scale deterioration of an already collapsing infrastructure. All those in charge of the situation in the country are to blame,” said Mansour.

Shamkhi al-Hussein said official statements on reconstruction were making him “sick.”

“There is no transparency, no accountability. For this reason the province is descending into chaos as far as provision of utilities is concerned,” he said.
[Emphasis added]

Fraud and corruption seem to be the primary reasons for the chaos, and since the American contractors are in charge, the blame can hardly be laid solely at the feet of insurgents. Those no-bid contracts don't look so hot anymore.

Here is the truly wrenching part:

Mounds of garbage dot city center with untreated water inundating the streets.

Way to go, George.

Still Drinking the Kool-aid

Just when I think the mainstream media is finally getting the picture, they go and produce something like the editorial in today's Washington Post. Apparently the op-ed page doesn't have access to any staff fact-checkers.

A SERIOUS congressional debate about Iraq is essential at a time when public support for the mission is falling and the danger of failure seems great. Aggressive challenges to the Bush administration's military and political strategy -- even calls for an immediate withdrawal of troops, such as that made by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) on Thursday -- must be part of that democratic discussion. Yet what we've mainly seen during the past two weeks is a shameful exercise in demagoguery and name-calling.
[Emphasis added]

WRONG! Congressman Murtha did not call for an immediate withdrawal of troops. He called for withdrawal as soon as practicable, and then only to nearby garrisons from which they could re-enter Iraq if necessary. He suggested an "over the horizon" approach to help maintain some stability in the country.

Mr. Bush indulges in his own surreal rhetoric, insistently describing Iraq as a Manichaean battle between foreign terrorists and Iraqi democrats, rather than the multi-sided power struggle that it is. In so doing, he hamstrings his own diplomats and generals, who are trying to forge a political accord among the various Iraqi communities and isolate the foreign and Sunni extremists through a conventional counterinsurgency campaign. Many Democrats have no better alternative strategy, which may be why their leaders spend most of their time making charges about what was said, or not, about weapons of mass destruction in 2002. [Emphasis added]

WRONG, again! Besides Congressman Murtha's plan, General Wesley Clark has spoken about and published his ideas for cleaning up the mess that resulted from this invasion. He emphasised diplomacy and Middle Eastern assistance as an integral part of any troop withdrawal. Many Democrats in Congress have called for the Administration to produce a time line which would show just what the White House deems acceptable progress, a request that has been greeted with howls of derision and then silence.

If there is to be any chance of that war being won, the United States will have to commit its own forces to the fight for years, though perhaps not at current levels. The alternative is to risk a defeat that would be devastating to U.S. security. That's a hard truth to face: It can't be done amid a partisan free-for-all. [Emphasis added]

WRONG, strike three! Apparently the editorial writer hasn't been reading the news section. The connection between Iraq and 9/11 has been thoroughly debunked. Before we invaded Iraq, that country did not actually pose a security threat to the US. It is highly unlikely that Iraq poses a security threat to us now. In fact, pulling out of Iraq may actually improve our security, because our mere presence there has given rise to a new reason for radicals in the Middle East to hate us.

I think the editorialist would be better off listening to some of the actual reporters on the issue, rather than to just Bob Woodward.


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Plan? We've Got a Plan... fact, we've got lots of 'em.

Finally. FINALLY. The Democrats have finally begun talking about the six hundred pound gorilla in the room, the war in Iraq. I have to admit I'm somewhat amazed at who the most forceful speaker has been, however. That would be Congressman Jack Murtha of Ohio, whose speech on Thursday (full text here)set off a firestorm even as his last syllables died. The Vice President, the President's Press Secretary, even the most junior member of the House have all exploded in vitriol of the most hateful kind in response.

And just what did this conservative, hawkish Democrat say that so upset the regime? Here's a sample:

The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion.

Well, obviously that is not going to sit well with the junta.

Still, the response was amazingly over the top. Apparently BushCo is not ready to face the fact of a failed policy leading to the deaths of nearly 2,100 America soldiers and thousands (who knows how many) of Iraqi civilians, the loss of credibility in the world community, and an economy that is staggering toward bankruptcy as a result of the invasion. I suspect what really upsets the administration is the fact that this highly respected congressman has actually proposed a way out, something that the administration isn't ready to do.

Here's a brief summary of Murtha's proposal (taken from his speech):

"My plan calls:

To immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces.

To create a quick reaction force in the region.

To create an over-the-horizon presence of Marines.

To diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq."

Nowhere does the gentleman from Ohio suggest a cut-and-run move. The idea is to withdraw into garrisons in the region with a force close enough to immediately re-deploy as necessary. Since the Iraqis have made it clear that there will be no peace and no security while our forces are present, this move makes a lot of sense, especially the last point, the use of diplomacy in the region to establish the stability necessary.

For this he has been called a coward and a collaborator. There have been rumblings of an ethics committee investigation into his relationship with his brother's lobbying outfit. I half-expect calls that he return his Bronze Star and Navy Distinguished Service Medal. This time, however, the Swift Boat Smear won't stick, and not just because the Democrats have (amazingly) stood behind him. Too many Americans want this war over, and Congressman Murtha has proposed a way to do just that.

While I don't generally like cliches, there is one that seems particularly apropos: tipping point. Yes, I think Mr. Murtha has just provided us with one.

Some Surprising Support

As I noted earlier in the week (scroll down for "Crunch Time..."), this year's version of the Patriot Act is by no means a done deal. Today, in the Washington Post reports that it is unlikely that the Senate will vote on the conference compromise bill this month. The article also contains some rather pleasant surprises.

Efforts to extend a modified version of the USA Patriot Act reached an impasse yesterday when House and Senate negotiators could not agree on whether to renew its key provisions for four years or for seven. Some lawmakers predicted the differences will be resolved next month, before the act expires Dec. 31, but others raised concerns about the delay.

The measure, enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, expands law enforcement agencies' ability to secretly gather information on suspects through wiretaps, subpoenas and other means. Some House and Senate members said they fear that the delay will give the bill's critics -- most notably civil liberties groups -- time to mount opposition during the two-week congressional recess that starts Monday.

...more than a dozen senators and House members from both parties announced yesterday that they will oppose the version offered by a House-Senate conference committee, employing a Senate filibuster if necessary.

They received a major boost when they were joined by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill. "The key sticking point, as I see it, is the sunset provision," Specter said. "The House wanted 10 years; the Senate bill provided for four." A seven-year extension would split the difference, he said, but "there ought to be a four-year sunset so we can review it again in a reasonably timely fashion."

...The revised bill also would make changes to national security letters, which investigators have used to demand records from suspects while ordering them to notify no one. The new measure would allow the recipient to contact a lawyer and seek a judicial review. Specter called it "an enormous improvement on the national security letters."

But some civil liberties groups, including one headed by former representative Bob Barr, a conservative from Georgia, disagreed. The new version "gives the appearance of compromise without actually doing anything meaningful to safeguard ordinary Americans' Fourth Amendment right to privacy," Barr said. "Some of these cosmetic changes simply make explicit what the law already requires and other changes in fact represent a setback for civil liberties."

Most troubling, Barr said, "the government would still not be required to provide any evidence connecting an individual to a suspected foreign terrorist before going on a fishing expedition through that individual's sensitive personal records."
[Emphasis added]

A couple of things struck me by the article. The first is obviously the surprise I felt upon learning that not just 'liberals' are concerned about citizens' civil rights. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by Arlen Specter's position. He has, on occasion, been the kind of maverick Republican who can actually see the problems that such legislation will provoke. Still, I am still a little stunned that Bob Barr, whom I have always believed to be slightly to the right of Attila the Hun, has expressed such strong feelings on the issue. Apparently civil libertarians come in all flavors. What a welcome discovery that is.

The second bit of information is that the Republican supporters of the compromised bill are steamed that the votes won't take place before the Thanksgiving break, thereby giving those silly people who care about the Bill of Rights and the other rights guaranteed in the Constitution time to get the word out to the public on just what this act is taking away from them. I hope their fears are confirmed. I also hope that Americans of every political persuasion take that information to their congressional representatives in both Houses and insist on a better bill.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Even a Broken Clock... right twice a day. In this case, it's the Washington Post media critic, Howard Kurtz. Although Mr. Kurtz still doesn't quite get it completely, he at least notices that yesterday's speech by a conservative and hawkish Democrat is significant.

John Murtha is now off the reservation.

If I had to pick one of the least likely candidates to demand an immediate pullout from Iraq, the Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania would be right up there. Vietnam veteran, big Pentagon supporter, rarely makes waves on the Hill. We're not talking Ted Kennedy here. He supported the Gulf war and the Iraq war. And yet the guy holds a press conference yesterday and says it's time to go because "our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency."

The Murtha Moment follows Bill Clinton saying the war was a mistake, John Edwards saying his vote was a mistake, the Nation saying it won't support any pro-war Dems, Senate Republicans saying the White House should fill out quarterly report cards on how it's getting us the heck out, and a few things I'm sure I've forgotten.

The point is not that an irresistible groundswell for withdrawal is sweeping the country. The point is that the landscape is changing as politicians scramble to catch up with polls showing a majority see the war as a blunder. We seem to have moved beyond the administration's things-are-improving-in-Iraq argument to a more narrow focus on how to extricate American troops. (Anyone old enough to remember "Vietnamization" knows what I'm talking about.)
[Emphasis added]

Whether Congressman Murtha's comments are viewed simply as crafty pre-election posturing or as impassioned comments by a decent man disgusted by what this disasterous and horrific war has done to America and Americans, the speech was timely and the delivery effective. It will be hard for the White House to accuse Mr. Murtha as being complicit with the 'terrorists'in Iraq and make it stick. Kurtz apparently got that, which is terrific.

It's also nice to see the mainstream media "scramble to catch up with polls showing a majority see the war as a blunder." I just wish they had done so in late 2002.

Some Cautious Optimism

Twenty-four hours ago, it looked like the Patriot Act was another done deal. Now, however, it looks like some Senators are digging in for a fight. The New York Times has a couple of pieces suggesting that all may not be lost.

The first is found in the news section of the paper and contains some rather startling information.

A tentative deal to extend the government's antiterrorism powers under the law known as the USA Patriot Act appeared in some jeopardy Thursday, as Senate Democrats threatened to mount a filibuster in an effort to block the legislation.

"This is worth the fight," Senator Russell D. Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who serves on the Judiciary Committee, said in an interview.

"I've cleared my schedule right up to Thanksgiving," Mr. Feingold said, adding that he was making plans to read aloud from the Bill of Rights as part of a filibuster if necessary. the eleventh-hour negotiations to complete the deal, Congressional leaders discussed changing some crucial elements of the agreement in response to concerns from lawmakers, officials said. One proposal would have lowered the "sunset" on the three investigative provisions from seven years to something closer to the four years approved by the Senate in its version of the bill earlier this year.

In a letter Thursday, a bipartisan group of six senators said the tentative deal had caused them "deep concern" because it did not go far enough in "making reasonable changes to the original law to protect innocent people from unnecessary and intrusive government surveillance."

Reflecting the political breadth of concerns about the law, the letter was signed by three Republicans - Senators Larry E. Craig, John E. Sununu and Lisa Murkowksi - and three Democrats - Senators Richard J. Durbin and Ken Salazar and Mr. Feingold.

The group called for tighter restrictions on the government's ability to demand records and its use of so-called "sneak and peak" warrants to conduct secret searches without immediately informing the target, among other measures.
[Emphasis added]

Frankly, the article points to a couple of bits of good news. The first is that Democrats are willing to use that Senate tool known as the filibuster to draw attention to the flaws and egregious intrustions into the rights of Americans that the new and improved version of the Patriot Act contains. That Democrats would actually stand up instead of bending over bespeaks not only an improved and healthier posture, but also an understanding of how serious the issue is.

The second bit of good news is that even Republicans don't like the smell of the bill that came out of conference. While I'm no fan of the likes of Lisa Murkowski, John Sununu, or Larry Craig,I have to admit that I'm impressed that all three are willing to stand with the Democrats in the fight against the bill and against the administration and its lackeys in Congress.

The second piece in the New York Times is an editorial which nails it beautifully.

With key parts of the Patriot Act due to expire shortly, Congress has an opportunity to improve the law. Instead, it seems poised to renew many of the provisions that infringe most directly on civil liberties - and to add some new ones. There is nothing "patriotic" about letting the F.B.I. seize the records of ordinary Americans without a judge's approval, or taking away the federal judiciary's historical role in ensuring that the death penalty is imposed fairly. ...

There are many things Congress should be doing to protect the nation from terrorism. None of them involve dismantling the freedoms of ordinary Americans. There is still time to fix the many problems with the Patriot Act.
[Emphasis added]

It appears from the news article that the compromise bill won't reach the Senate floor for a vote this week. That gives us a brief window of opportunity to swamp the offices of senators with emails, telephone calls, and letters urging them to vote against the bill. I urge you to engage in a little political action over the next couple of days, even if you assume that your senators are a lost cause. After all, at least a third of the Senate is up for re-election in 2006. You might want to remind them of that.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Crunch Time for Real Patriots

You know that refreshing stance taken by moderate Congressional Republicans, the one that stood up to the Administration? Well, it's over. In the conference between the House and Senate versions of the Patriot Act, the regime won and the Bill of Rights lost. According to the Washinton Post, the final bill will be voted on by both houses as early as this week.

House and Senate negotiators reached a tentative agreement yesterday on revisions to the USA Patriot Act that would limit some of the government's powers while requiring the Justice Department to provide a better accounting of its secret requests for information on ordinary citizens.

But the agreement would leave intact some of the most controversial provisions of the anti-terrorism law, such as government access to library and bookstore records in terrorism probes, and would extend only limited new rights to the targets of such searches.

The deal would make permanent 14 Patriot Act provisions that were set to expire at the end of the year. Three other measures -- including one allowing law enforcement agents access to bookstore and public library records -- would be extended for seven years, or three years longer than the Senate had agreed to. The House initially extended the provisions for 10 years but later voted to accept the Senate's four-year extension.

Also extended for seven years is a provision allowing roving wiretaps that follow an individual who may use multiple means of communication, rather than targeting a single phone line. The agreement also extends for seven years a provision of a separate intelligence law passed last year that allows federal investigators to track an individual not connected to a foreign government but suspected of operating as a "lone wolf" terrorist.

The compromise would weaken a block of House-approved death penalty provisions that had elicited concern in the Senate and in legal circles. In the event that a jury could not agree to impose the death penalty on a convicted terrorist, House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) had hoped to empower prosecutors to impanel a new jury. The deal also excludes a House proposal to allow a death penalty for terrorist offenses that "create grave risk of death."
[Emphasis added]

Once again, the Congress has decided that the Great War on Terrorism trumps civil liberties. Apparently keeping the sheeple scared is more important than keeping the people free.

I hope a lot of folks realize that this isn't just some abstract variation on the "if you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about" argument. I also hope a lot of folks let their congress critters know that these "compromises" are unacceptable and that if this bill passes, it will be hung around the necks of everyone who votes for it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bert and Ernie's Revenge

The regime that couldn't shoot straight has just had another anvil tied around its neck. Its attempt to place a strangle hold on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting by inserting a politically motivated hack into the organization that has provided Americans with stunning dramas and award winning children's shows without the distractions of advertising has just been exposed by the corporation's Inspector General, according to the NY Times.

Investigators at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting said on Tuesday that they had uncovered evidence that its former chairman had repeatedly broken federal law and the organization's own regulations in a campaign to combat what he saw as liberal bias.

A report by the corporation's inspector general, sent to Congress on Tuesday, described a dysfunctional organization that appeared to have violated the Public Broadcasting Act, which created the corporation and was written to insulate programming decisions from politics.

The report said investigators found evidence that Mr. Tomlinson had violated federal law by being heavily involved in getting more than $4 million for a program featuring writers of the conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal.

It said he had imposed a "political test" to recruit a new president of the corporation. And it said his decision to hire Republican consultants to defeat legislation violated contracting rules.

The report said Mr. Tomlinson appeared to have violated federal law by promoting "The Journal Editorial Report" and said he had "admonished C.P.B. senior executive staff not to interfere with his deal to bring a balancing program" to public broadcasting.

The board is prohibited from becoming involved in programming decisions, but the investigators found that Mr. Tomlinson had pushed hard for the program, even as some staff officials at the corporation had raised concerns about its cost.

E-mail messages from around the same time show that he threatened to withhold money from public broadcasting "in a New York minute" if public broadcasting did not balance its lineup.

The investigators found evidence that "political tests" were a major criterion used by Mr. Tomlinson in recruiting the corporation's new president, Patricia Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee and a former senior State Department official.

According to the report, Ms. Harrison was given the job after being promoted for it by an unidentified White House official. Investigators said they had found e-mail correspondence between Mr. Tomlinson and the White House that while "cryptic" in nature "gives the appearance that the former chairman was strongly motivated by political considerations in filling the president/C.E.O. position."
[Emphasis added]

Many of us PBS and NPR fans have noticed the hard shift to the right in both programming and reporting. As a result, many of us have also stopped contributing to the pledge drives which raise the bulk of the funds needed to finance both the local and national parts of public broadcasting. The federal government contributes roughly 15% to the budgets; the rest come from the private sector.

Back in July I posted on some of the suspicious behavior by Mr. Tomlinson, and also noted the news that an investigation into his clearly partisan activities has been launched. It's now clear that those activities were not only partisan but also illegal.

So why does he still have his job with CPB? He needs to be fired, as some in Congress have demanded of the Resident. The response?


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

They Still Don't Get It

And neither does the Washington Post.

It's bad enough that the US Senate (including several DINOs) voted to suspend Habeus Corpus for detainees held in American custody, but it's even worse when a major US newspaper seems to think that it can be justifiable in some circumstances. Today's Washington Post seems to be saying just that, although the editorial purports to be chastising the Administration and Congress.

Last week the Senate voted, 49 to 42, in favor of Mr.[Lindsay] Graham's proposal to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges by inmates at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to their confinement or to the administration's plans to try some of them in a kind of military court. Senators announced a bipartisan compromise last night in the form of a plan that would allow limited appeals rights when military commissions convict someone or when they are designated enemy combatants. Assuming it is adopted tomorrow, that would be a significant improvement over the original language, although important problems would remain. As senators continue to work toward a final version, they should think hard about what they are doing and how their action will be perceived in the world.

Mr. Graham's underlying point isn't crazy; he's saying that foreigners held abroad should not enjoy the right of habeas corpus -- that is, the right to challenge their detention in a U.S. court. The problem is that his response comes after four years of Congress's abdication of its duty to set rules for handling detainees. If the removal of habeas rights followed the establishment and testing of a fair system of hearings and appeals, he could make a persuasive argument. As the first response of a Congress rousing itself from a four-year stupor, it is outlandish.

Blame for the current mess begins with President Bush, who insisted from the beginning of the war that he had all the legal authority he needed and could make up his own rules. The administration took forever to formulate rules; when it did, those rules came without congressional backing and, not surprisingly, sparked legal challenges.

Four years later and thousands of miles from Afghanistan, not a single suspect has been tried. Only nine are facing charges. The commissions suffer from basic problems of fairness and of being a system built on the fly. They have, in all significant respects, failed.

Preventing the justices from considering the commissions' legality will do nothing to address these problems; it will only sweep them under the rug. Congress needs to be making policy concerning Guantanamo, not shielding weak administration policy from judicial scrutiny.
[Emphasis added]

What the Washington Post, Congress, and most especially the Administration seem to overlook is that wherever prisoners are held, whether on US soil or abroad in secret prisons, they are entitled to basic human rights, including access to the Red Cross and knowing what they are being charged with. If US law doesn't apply because prisoners are held outside the confines of the US, then some other law does. If the US is unwilling to extend the right to Habeus Corpus or any other legal rights peculiar to US law, then perhaps international law should apply. Is the US willing to abide by the treaties it is signatory to?

The problem isn't merely that President Bush made up the rules as he went along, although that certainly is part of it. The problem is also that for some reason the Washington Post, Congress, and the Administration believe that because these prisoners are from the Great War on Terror, they are not entitled to any rights. Such an attitude smacks of the old Soviet system of "justice" and (dare I say it?) the Third Reich's approach to those it imprisoned for being 'the other.'

The Washington Post doesn't even have it half-right.

Monday, November 14, 2005

George and His Road Trips

The Resident heads for China this week, with a stop in Mongolia on the way. The press has touted this as an important trip, probably because China is a major trading partner as well as the primary holder of American debt.

I hope Mr. Bush is more successful on this trip than he was on his last one. He got nothing accomplished in Latin America beyond giving our hemispheric neighbors a chance to show just how much they dislike him, and with good reason. The Netherlands' newspaper NRC Handelsblad offers some reasons for the failures in that trip.

Unilateralism in foreign policy is a bad idea if you want to clinch a multilateral deal. Unilateralism is the reason that last weekend, the leaders of most North and South American countries could not reach an agreement on a free trade deal for the whole of the American continent. Bush could have spared himself this latest embarrassing political defeat if he had only shown a keener interest in the shifting balance of power in the southern portion of the Americas. The United States is rapidly loosing its global stature.

In dealing with Latin America, Washington has traditionally acted in the explicitly selfish pursuit of its own interests. But the unilateralism that this behavior is based upon presumes that other countries simply don't possess the power to meaningfully challenge America's interests. Clearly, this is no longer the case.

In the Argentine resort town of Mar del Plata, President Bush was challenged by five leftist political leaders. For the time being, those five leaders oppose an American Free Trade Agreement. Bush's noisiest opponent is the populist Hugo Chavez, president of oil-rich Venezuela. In another part of town, Chavez was rallying anti-American protesters against the free trade plan [the FTAA: The Free Trade Area for the Americas]. It will be exceedingly difficult for Bush to ignore Chavez, because a quarter of U.S. petroleum imports come from Venezuela. Meanwhile, Chavez is actively pursuing other customers for his oil.

Brazil, South America's agricultural powerhouse, has fundamental problems with Washington's free trade plans. Before discussing regional trade deals, President Lula wants to see major progress in negotiating global agricultural trade issues. If the United States maintains its system of farm subsidies, any free trade deal will be a disadvantage to Brazil. But America will only lower its farm subsidies if the European Union does the same. But the European Union has shown little eagerness to implement substantial reductions, and because of stiff opposition from France, global agricultural trade talks are at an impasse.

...It would be advisable for Bush to do away with his unilateralism and form a coalition with his Latin American neighbors to pressure several foot-dragging European countries into making concessions regarding agricultural subsidies. Because these European "foot-draggers" are also practicing unilateralism.
[Emphasis added]

There is a delicious irony in having the United States lumped in with that part of the world Donald Rumsfeld and other members of this regime disparagingly called "Old Europe." The fact is that the US, like most of Europe, has indeed long considered the Southern Hemisphere (including Latin America and Africa) as puppet remnants of Nineteenth Century Colonialism. Unfortunately, the Southern Hemisphere contains much of the minerals and markets that the US and Europe need for the continued health of their economies, and these southern neighbors are not so willing to give them up as they once were.

Until the US and European Union recognize that Free Trade implies a multilateralism of interests, not merely the unilateral imposition of demands, debacles such as Mr. Bush endured in Argentina and Brazil will be the norm, not the exception. Agricultural subsidies are a symbol of that northern arrogance, but an important one.

As for China? Well, we will see if Mr. Bush has learned any lessons the past five years.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Silly Vigilantes

Minutemen, the wannabe protectors of our sacred national borders, have gotten loopier as time has gone on. Now they patrol city intersections, snapping photographs of day laborers and the people who hire them. The photos are then shipped to the Internal Revenue Service, not the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Smart folks, these. The Washington Post noticed this peculiar phenomenon and wrote an editorial suggesting these intrepid patriots might be better off getting a life.

Unwittingly, the leader of a local group whose self-appointed mission is to photograph, spy on and bother undocumented day laborers in the town of Herndon, put his finger on the dilemma of illegal immigration the other day. "What we want, bottom line in Herndon, is for the illegal aliens to leave," said George Taplin, leader of the town chapter of the Minuteman Project, a national organization bitterly opposed to illegal immigrants. "And if there is no work, they will."

Ah, but there you have the problem: There is work -- enormous amounts of work, particularly in the Northern Virginia suburbs. In fact, in an area with virtually no unemployment, the market is desperate for immigrant labor, documented, undocumented or falsely documented. It helps keep the economy growing, and immigrants come here because they know they are needed and there will be plenty of work. Anti-immigrant crusaders such as Mr. Taplin may not like it, but unless they have discovered a magic formula for shrinking the regional economy in boom-'burbs such as Fairfax County, no amount of spying on, photographing or hassling undocumented day laborers and their employers will eliminate this irrepressible demand for labor.

Of course, anti-immigration cranks such as the Minutemen know that, so what they are really up to is simple harassment. They train their still and video cameras on day laborers with families to feed and rents to pay and on the employers that pick them up for work. They jot down license-plate numbers and talk to each other with walkie-talkies. They convey the information they collect to the Internal Revenue Service, which, to put it mildly, has bigger fish to fry.
[Emphasis added]

Migrant farm workers, gardeners, housekeepers and nannies, dishwashers, day laborers: frankly, our nation's economy depends on cheap and instantly available labor for jobs too hard or too tedious for Americans to perform. More than one farmer in central California had a rough time of it this year because there weren't enough migrant workers to pick his apple crop when it was time to harvest.

The "anti-immigration cranks" focus only on the alleged drain on the country these workers are, such as their use of municipal emergency rooms for basic health needs because they have no health insurance (along with 45 million Americans, who do the same thing). What is forgotten is the money these immigrants put back into the economy by purchasing food, clothing, and housing, and for those working with false documents, the money they put into social security and payroll taxes.

I think what it comes down to with folks such as the Minutemen is not the fact that these immigrants are here illegally and working, but that that they are "the other," they speak a different language, they are a different color. How sad is that in a country which from its inception was a nation of immigrants?

My father's family were immigrants. They didn't speak English when they came to America. Yet in my immediate family, two of the three of us went to college and the third served in the US Navy for twenty-five years. We are a prime example of how this country works, or at least ought to.

The Washington Post is right. The Minutemen do need to get a life.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Another Possible Plan

On October 7, 2005 I suggested a plan for the US to exit Iraq in such a fashion as to avoid a civil war. In today's NY Times, Milton Viorst suggests another way to accomplish this.

COULD the answer be the Arab League?

The question, of course, is how do we get out of Iraq? President Bush is increasingly isolated in claiming we are on our way to victory or democracy or human rights or even the restoration of Baghdad's electric grid. Even before Iraqi violence began spilling over into Jordan, American forces have clearly failed at maintaining order. It is time for a different approach, one that may lie with the Arab League.

In Lebanon 16 years ago, the Arab League ended a seemingly intractable civil war. The Lebanese - Christians, Druzes, Shiites, Sunnis, even Palestinians - had been killing one another since 1975. Interventions by Syria, Israel and the United States made matters only worse. ...Exhausted as the Lebanese were by the fighting, the vision of a unified nation remained intact. That is when the Arab League stepped in.

The Arab League was always known as a weakling. But the fractious Arab states agreed at last that Lebanon's civil war and the prospect of partition threatened them all. Pulling Lebanon together was an incentive that superseded their divisions.

In January 1989, the Arab foreign ministers met and set up a Committee of Six - Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Sudan, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates - to devise a peace proposal. At a subsequent Arab League summit, a troika of the Saudi and Moroccan kings and the Algerian president was given six months to come up with an agreement. Lakhdar Ibrahimi, then a highly regarded adviser to Algeria's president, was named the project's chief diplomat. Though Mr. Ibrahimi had no army behind him, he spoke as an Arab to Arabs, with the full moral authority of the Arab community. The Lebanese listened.

In September of that year, after Mr. Ibrahimi had negotiated a cease-fire in Lebanon, the troika invited Lebanon's Parliament to meet in Taif, a mountain town in Saudi Arabia, to discuss an Arab League draft of a new charter. After three weeks of bargaining, the parliamentarians signed an accord based on the draft, with all the Lebanese factions conceding more than they ever imagined they would. To be sure, the time was right: Lebanon was fed up with war. But crucial to Taif was the absence of foreign involvement. It was an Arab triumph.

Is there a lesson for President Bush? Even more than Lebanon's combatants, Iraq's factions agree on one thing: they want no more Western intrusions. Although Iraqis recently ratified a new constitution, the insurgency goes on. In contrast to the Arab League in Lebanon, the United States has a huge army in Iraq - and no moral force to stop the killing.

Since failing to head off the invasion of Iraq, the Arab League has been waiting in the wings. It has made clear that it considers the regional autonomy contained in the constitution a bad precedent, divided as many Arab countries are by sectarianism. And with insurgents attacking their diplomats, Arab nations have been slow to send representatives to Baghdad.

But given the chance, the Arab League might well pull together, as it did in Lebanon, to settle what looks increasingly like a hopeless war.
[Emphasis added]

What the US regime has not taken into consideration is that any Western style imposition of democracy or even order is simply not going to work. I think it doubtful that even the presence of United Nations troops would succeed, unless those troops were entirely made up of Middle East soldiers, and even then, there would be problems with a UN presence that will be perceived as dominated by the US and its allies. This problem requires the assistance of Iraq's neighbors, those with shared cultural and religious values.

With the release of information on 'black' prisons in Europe and the use of white phosphorus as a weapon in Fallujah, we've lost what little moral authority we had in the Middle East. Secretary of State Rice needs to stop using her Middle East trips to bash Syria and Iran and to start contacting their leaders to generate a Middle Eastern solution to this horrific situation.

We can't wait for January, 2009 or even January, 2007 for this. It needs to be done now.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Campaign Issue That Worked

One of the GOP talking points has been that the Democrats don't stand for anything, they just criticise whatever the GOP does. The meme is half accurate. The Democrats have been critical of what the Republicans have been doing, finally, because the Republican plans in reforming Social Security, in balancing the budget on the backs of the poor, in lying the country into war and then misprosecuting it, and in denying basic human rights to detainees being held in Guantanamo Bay and other prisons deserve criticism. Furthermore, even when Democrats announce proposals, the press doesn't deem the proposals important enough to cover. Still, as we now ease into the election season for 2006, it's important for Democratic candidates to start formulating and articulating proposals which show the difference between the Republicans and which show the electorate the possibilities.

I recently received an emailed "Press Release" from StemPAC (a group supporting stem cell research) on the successful use of stem cell research as in issue in a campaign. Jon Corzine was elected Governor of New Jersey last Tuesday by openly supporting such research during his campaign.

StemPAC cited the following points showing that stem cell research was key to this victory:

- The single most notable TV ad the Corzine campaign ran was on the subject of stem cell research (featuring Carl Riccio, a paralyzed young man who urged support for Corzine and stem cell research).

- Corzine’s poll numbers went up during the time that that ad ran and dominated the news cycle (October 25-31). A Quinnipac poll released on October 19th showed Corzine with a 7 point lead. The same poll released on November 2nd showed Corzine with a 12-point lead.

StemPAC is clearly blowing its own horn on the matter, but they have every right to. As the group noted in their release, stem cell research is something the American public is interested in.

- According to a July, 2005 study by the Pew Research Center:

-90% of Americans had heard either "a lot" or "a little" about stem cell research;

- The 48% who said "a lot" was nearly double number in May, 2002 (27%);

- When asked whether it was more important to "conduct research" or "not destroy embryos," the split in favor of research was 57% to 30% (as opposed to 43/38 in May, 2002)

- Among those who had heard "a lot" about stem cell research, the split was 68% to 25% in favor of "conduct research."

- Among critical swing voters who self identify as "independents," the percentage favoring "conduct research" has grown from 49% to 66% in that same period.

What Democrats should begin doing more forcefully is to promote such issues as stem cell research for many reasons, not the least of which is that such issues appeal to the better parts of the American psyche, not the worst parts. Governor-elect Corzine just showed that it works.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Well, Duh...

Republican leaders have been getting their knickers in a frist a lot lately over investigations over leaks of 'classified' information, especially information of governmental misbehavior. Either they downplay the need for and importance of such investigations (the Plame Affair, the regime's misuse of the intelligence leading up to the invasion of Iraq), or they squeal with righteous indignation when the source of the leak appears to be a whistleblower from across the aisle.

The latest kerfuffle has to do with a Washington Post article that reports the existence of 'ghost' prisons outside the US which the CIA maintains to interrogate people with less than legal methods. An editorial in today's NY Times makes a rather obvious, but too often unstated point about the Republican reaction.

In the last couple of days, the Republican leaders of Congress have been piously demanding a full investigation into the sources of a Washington Post article about the Central Intelligence Agency's chain of secret prison camps. These same leaders have spent 18 months crushing any serious look at the actual abuse of prisoners at those camps, and at camps run by the American military. And for more than two years, they have expressed no interest in whether the White House leaked the name of a covert C.I.A. operative to punish a critic of the Iraq war.

So why did they jump on last week's article in The Post before you could say "double standard"? The answer is painfully obvious: G.O.P. leaders, doing the White House's bidding, are trying to shut down discussion of the policies that led to the horrors of Abu Ghraib and the C.I.A.'s "black site" prisons. They are also delivering an oblique warning to the Democrats who want the Senate to say more than the White House wants to be said about another sensitive intelligence matter: whether President Bush and his team hyped Iraq's weapons programs.

...The current talk of leaks is utterly different. The Post article provided powerful details that expand what we know about the camps and the abhorrent practices there. The administration and its allies in Congress want to suppress this information merely because they don't want a full accounting of how American soldiers and intelligence agents have been turned into torturers, and because the administration wants to go on abusing prisoners.

...The truth is that the damage is caused by the administration's underlying acts and policies, not by the news media's disclosures, which serve only to hold officials accountable for their actions. It is the secret camps themselves and the abuse and torture of prisoners that smear America's image and jeopardize Americans serving their country, not newspaper articles.
[Emphasis added]

While the editorial writer unnecessarily put in some self-justifying for their backing of Judith Miller's refusal to name her sources when it was clear that her primary source was not a whistleblower but an administration official anxious to slime a critic in the meanest way possible, at least the editorial itself pointed out what the role of a free press is.

Now if the media would just start exercising that role a little more robustly, we might be able to turn this regime out and turn this nation around.