Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thursday Birdblogging

This Ruby-Throated Hummingbird was humming around when V4VA and Paul Rebmann were camping and got itself a feature on his blog page:

The most common hummingbird in Florida, usually arriving in March after wintering from Mexico to South America. Some do stay in the southern part of the peninsula for the winter.


Pakistan Buddies

More comes out all the time about the forces we are supporting in the Pakistan border where the Afghanistan occupation is being lost. A book now out points out the pretense of pro-Western action is wearing tissue thin now.

Scott Horton of Harper's has interviewed Ahmed Rashid, whose book "Descent into Chaos" has just come out, on Pakistan and the Taliban:

The CIA, we learned in a report today, has compiled damning evidence of the Pakistani military’s complicity with the Taliban. But this is hardly news. Indeed, one analyst has repeatedly warned that Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf and his intelligence service have been taking America for a ride, pretending to support U.S. counter-terrorism operations while sheltering and supporting the Taliban and numerous other extremist organizations. That analyst is Ahmed Rashid, and he is the most articulate of the observers of the region between the Oxus and the shores of Karachi.
The NWFP (Pakhtunkhwa) government is in a quandary. It has to call in the army whenever armed lashkars threaten to overrun a district as the police force simply does not have the capacity to fight an ever-expanding insurgency.

After Swat the army has also been deployed in Hangu. In view of the militant sanctuaries situated nearby, the army cannot be withdrawn in the near future. Imagine if the story is repeated in other vulnerable districts. Will the army also have to be deployed in all these other districts? Will such measures not bring the existence of the civilian provincial government into question?

Is it not amazing that in spite of such high stakes the presidency that has a monopoly over governance in Fata seems to show no anxiety over the prevailing situation? It is continuing with the policy of keeping Fata a black hole where terrorist groups from across the globe run their bases.

There seems to be no bottom to the ignorance the U.S. displays in support for military action against our own interests. The cost of using political hacks to run our government is on display in every sector.

Ignorance is not bliss, and it can prove fatal. Some reaction has been forced out of the worst administration ever.

Pakistan says its intelligence agents have been accused by the US of alerting al-Qaeda linked militants before the US launches missile attacks against them.

Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar said members of Inter-Services Intelligence were accused of "tipping off" militants before strikes in the tribal areas.
The BBC's security correspondent Rob Watson says that relations between the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the ISI appear decidedly strained.

Our correspondent says that the stern message apparently being delivered to Islamabad was that Pakistan has to do more to tackle ties between the ISI and Islamic extremists based in the country's tribal areas.

It's awfully close to the End for the occupied White House. Looks like they may actually try to put a little into that pledge to find Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. Hopefully, they're not going to use the dismantled Justice Department to accomplish that.

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Through The Looking Glass, Again

The 'Lewis Carroll' pleadings showed the Department of Justice arguing that its findings were true because it repeated them three times. In the future, this same discredited Justice Department wants to keep any other pleadings off the table. As long as no argument is presented against its pleadings, it can finally prove something. Saying something three times isn't enough for the mad hatter department, it now has to have everyone else just shut up.

In a brief filed late yesterday with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the Bush administration asked that any review of the new warrantless surveillance law be kept secret and that the court refuse to accept legal briefs from anyone other than the Justice Department itself. The government is responding to a motion the American Civil Liberties Union filed earlier this month asking the FISC to ensure that any proceedings relating to the scope, meaning or constitutionality of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) be open to the public to the extent possible.

The following can be attributed to Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project:

“The government is proposing that the intelligence court should consider the constitutionality of the new surveillance law in proceedings that will be entirely secret. If the government’s request is granted, the court won’t hear arguments from anyone except the government and those arguments will be presented to the court in secret briefs. At the end of the process, the court will issue a ruling that is also secret. The process the government is proposing is completely unacceptable. Especially because the new surveillance law departs so significantly from the standards that have applied to government surveillance for the last 30 years, any proceedings relating to the new law’s constitutionality should be adversarial and as informed and transparent as possible.”

In a separate legal challenge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the ACLU seeks a court ruling declaring that the FAA is unconstitutional and ordering its immediate and permanent halt. Plaintiffs in the case include Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, the Nation and PEN American Center. (Emphasis added.)

This politicized group of second- and third-rate attorneys is certainly trying to cut the country off from any prospects of achieving the Justice this department was named for - back in the day. Its disreputable agents should be ordered out of the court, and a replacement with some degree of actual ability to represent its real client, the U.S. public, retained. The Republican National Committee should be ordered to pay the costs.

The Justice Department was set up to protect the Rule of Law, but the worst administration ever has much to fear from the law. Its power has been misused, and the effort made to keep the war criminals from justice. This has to be stopped, and the ACLU has never been needed so badly.

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Through The Back Door

Today's Washington Post has a rather lengthy article about a proposed new Department of Health and Human Services regulation. The regulation purports to be one that protects the rights of workers who object to providing services which run counter to their religious beliefs.

The Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing a draft regulation that would deny federal funding to any hospital, clinic, health plan or other entity that does not accommodate employees who want to opt out of participating in care that runs counter to their personal convictions, including providing birth-control pills, IUDs and the Plan B emergency contraceptive.

Conservative groups, abortion opponents and some members of Congress are welcoming the initiative as necessary to safeguard doctors, nurses and other health workers who, they say, are increasingly facing discrimination because of their beliefs or are being coerced into delivering services they find repugnant.

Now, my advice to these tender-hearted employees would be the same I gave to a friend (a Quaker) who had been offered a dream high-tech job with a defense contractor. "If you are appalled at the product offered by that company, don't work for them." That's a bit callous, I admit, but I think it an honest bit of advice.

The Religious Reich is obviously not satisfied by my call for personal integrity. Those people won't be happy until all women go back to the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. And the kicker in this proposed regulation proves my point. Buried within the regulation is this bit of non-science:

There is also deep concern that the rule could have far-reaching, but less obvious, implications. Because of its wide scope and because it would -- apparently for the first time -- define abortion in a federal regulation as anything that affects a fertilized egg, the regulation could raise questions about a broad spectrum of scientific research and care, critics say.

"The breadth of this is potentially immense," said Robyn S. Shapiro, a bioethicist and lawyer at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "Is this going to result in a kind of blessed censorship of a whole host of areas of medical care and research?"

Critics charge that the proposal is the latest example of the administration politicizing science to advance ideological goals. ...

"This is causing a lot of distress," said one NIH researcher who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. "It's a redefinition of abortion that does not match any of the current medical definitions. It's ideologically based and not based on science and could interfere with the development of many new therapies to treat diseases."

Since a copy of the document leaked earlier this month, outside advocates and scientists have voiced growing alarm that the regulation could inhibit research in areas including stem cells, infertility and even such unrelated fields as cancer....

The most controversial section defines abortion as "any of the various procedures -- including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action -- that results in the termination of life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation."
[Emphasis added]

And that's what this is all about: redefining abortion in such a wide fashion that almost any form of birth control is in jeopardy.


173 days.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

That Pesky War Ended

The Rand Corporation sent the memo yesterday. The GWOT is over. No word yet as to whether Victory was declared. Remember, this is how Vietnam ended. The U.S. declared the war over. But then we left. Now we are doing business with the Vietnamese.

"'Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors,' authors Seth Jones and Martin Libicki write in ' How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al-Qaeda,' a 200-page volume released yesterday. . . .

"The authors call for a strategy that includes a greater reliance on law enforcement and intelligence agencies in disrupting the group's networks and in arresting its leaders. They say that when military forces are needed, the emphasis should be on local troops, which understand the terrain and culture and tend to have greater legitimacy.

"In Muslim countries in particular, there should be a 'light U.S. military footprint or none at all,' the report contends.

"'The U.S. military can play a critical role in building indigenous capacity,' it said, 'but should generally resist being drawn into combat operations in Muslim societies, since its presence is likely to increase terrorist recruitment.'"

An excerpt from the report: "A key part of [a successful] strategy should include ending the notion of a war on terrorism and replacing it with such concepts as counterterrorism, which most governments with significant terrorist threats use. The British government, among others, has already taken this step and abjured the phrase war on terror. The phrase raises public expectations -- both in the United States and elsewhere -- that there is a battlefield solution to the problem of terrorism. It also encourages others abroad to respond by conducting a jihad (or holy war) against the United States and elevates them to the status of holy warriors. . . .

"Our analysis suggests that there is no battlefield solution to terrorism. Military force usually has the opposite effect from what is intended: It is often overused, alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and provides a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment." (Emphasis added.)

The idea of making war on a country that has not attacked us was always stupid. The results have been a disaster. Defining the 'war' out of existence is one way to get out. It was always an invasion, not a war. Time to slink away in disgrace, which is far, far better than staying in disgrace.

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One Trick Pony


Oil companies cut production this p.m. - and oil costs went back up - since demand is down. The law of supply and demand doesn't apply when it comes to public savings, evidently. It is the law oil companies aspire to use, through their monopoly powers, to extract the last penny from consumers who are helpless before that law, when it is used against them.

The Big Lie technique has been adopted wholeheartedly by the right wing, and you can be sure to hear it dunned on viewers under any pretext on the floor of congress.

The idea that oil companies should be given drilling leases on every inch of the continent that we can possibly lease, and that that will give the driving public lower prices, is patently absurd. That hasn't dampened the continual urge of the wingers to declare it the solution, and that those public-spirited oil companies would be drilling away on the leases they already have except that mean ol' environmentalists won't let them.

Hard to believe that the wingers themselves can continue on against the tide of facts, but it seems to be these ponies' one trick. Feed the hungry? Drill. Clothe the naked? Drill. End the recession? Drill. Give the pony its treat, now.

When I had a little pony farm I had a one trick pony. Interrupt it during its trick, and it panicked and started over from the beginning. Right wingers on the floor in congress remind me that it is learned behavior, and getting out of the groove means thinking for themselves. My pony couldn't do that either, he did his one trick and that's all he was capable of.

That drilling, and giving out unprecedented numbers of new leases, has not done anything to bring down prices just hasn't made a dint in the tin oilwell tree hat the party of oil seems all to have been fitted for.


The drilling mantra is the other arm of wingers' resolute obstruction of Congress, and as much aimed at a public lack of intelligence. What the right wing is doing is dishonest, dishonorable, and attacks the public interest they are supposed to serve. The only way they can believe in it and practice it is by seeing the public as incapable of understanding the truth, and their job as keeping their opponents from achieving anything valuable.

Presently the wingers are keeping the Senate from voting on alternative energy research. If the grants are kept from passage, solar and wind energy will be interrupted and in many cases stopped. The tactic for obstruction has been used 79 times so far, in this Senate session.

I listen to CSpan and watch congressional proceedings while I'm doing other things like blogging, so, for some time, I have seen this going on. For those of you who don't, I will post part of one among many of senators' discourses on the subject, this time Sen. Durbin's from April 15.

Why were we involved in a filibuster until last night by the Republicans on the bill before us today? This is a technical corrections bill. When we passed the highway bill, the Federal highway bill years ago, it was a huge bill affecting the entire United States of America. Then, as we combed through it, word for word, line for line, page for page, we found there were technicalities that needed to be changed: punctuation, references to a road instead of a trail. You find them in here. They go on for hundreds of pages.

But they are technical in nature; it is not a big policy debate. This kind of bill usually passes in the Congress by a voice vote late at night and no one notices. It is housekeeping. That is ordinarily what we do when we try to catch up and make sure everything is done just right.

Senator Boxer has worked long and hard to bring it out of her committee and bring it to the Senate floor, and the Republicans initiated a filibuster against the technical corrections bill. That is like having a resolution to salute motherhood and having them initiate a filibuster. Where is the controversy? There is no controversy in this bill. If they want to offer amendments, we said on this side: If they are germane amendments to the bill, have at it. That is what the Senate is all about, after all.

But the Republican strategy of filibusters, as indicated by this chart, in the history of Congress, the minority party has initiated no more than 57 filibusters in any 2-year period of time. That is the record, 57 in 2 years.

So far in this Congress, we are barely a few months into the second year. The minority party, the Republicans, has initiated 65 filibusters, and we are still counting.

You say to yourself: Well, they must have been some pretty controversial issues they had to filibuster. A technical corrections bill? So why do they filibuster? So that we burn the clock and eat up days so we cannot address the issues that are even more important to this country.

Would it not be great for us as a Senate to consider and debate a national energy policy to bring down the price of gasoline in the United States? No way. The republicans insist on filibustering a bill that focuses on punctuation. Would it not be timely for us to consider the cost of health insurance to businesses and families across America and find a way to make it more affordable and accessible? No way. The Republicans want to debate a bill which changes the word ``trail'' to ``road'' and filibuster it.

The disgust that the public has exhibited for the congress in polls is well deserved. As long as the right wing can keep the public from being served, it will deserve no more.

We have to bring this travesty to an end, and we need to vote in a new wave of public servants.

In the 4th District of Texas, I am working to elect Dr. Glenn Melancon and his Democratic running mates. You can get to work, too. We can't let the enemies of the country continue to keep us all from the benefits of good government.

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When Government Works

For the most part, yesterday's 5.4 earthquake here in Southern California provided residents with an inconvenience, not a tragedy. Located in an urban area, the moderate earthquake could have caused substantial damage, but it didn't. We can thank government for that. Here's what the Los Angeles Time pointed out:

As aftershocks continued to reverberate, officials inspected airports, freeways and buildings, and reported little damage from the quake, which occurred at 11:42 a.m. and was the first significant temblor in more than a decade to be centered in an urban area of California. The biggest strains were felt in phone and Internet systems, which buckled due to overwhelming demand in the minutes after the jolt.

The quake struck hardest in an area of San Bernardino County that has seen massive growth in population and housing in the last decade. That meant that the buildings shaken the hardest were mostly built under California's strictest building codes, updated in 1997 in response to the 6.7 Northridge quake of 1994. That kept damage to a minimum. ...

"It's the best possible location," said Lucy Jones, chief scientist for the Multi-Hazards Initiative of the U.S. Geological Survey. "If this had happened in San Bernardino [city], where there are over 200 unreinforced masonry buildings, we would have had a lot of downed buildings."

Jones said big earthquakes often lead to an upgrade in building codes. For instance, she said, unreinforced masonry was outlawed in California in a 1935 code, adopted in the aftermath of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. The 1997 code, adopted after Northridge, banned brittle steel and mandated that builders use a stronger welding material to join steel parts.
[Emphasis added]

Now, when the "big one" hits Southern California (the prediction is one with a magnitude 7.8 occurring along the San Andreas fault), we won't be so lucky, especially with respect to damage. Knowing that, local authorities hold regular emergency drills so that the human devastation can be minimized. One such drill is scheduled for this November and involves a consortium of cities and services.

All of this shows why Grover Norquist was wrong, deadly wrong, with his ideal of shrinking government until it fits in a bathtub and then drowning it. When government does what it is supposed to do, real security for citizens is enhanced.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chat With Seminal Posters

This from Jason Rosenbaum and Alex Thurston, fellow posters at The Seminal:

Tomorrow at 8 pm, Alex Thurston (back in the United States after a summer abroad) and myself will be talking politics as part of MyOooVoo Day.

Basically, Alex and I will be around from 8 pm to 9 pm EST, and anybody who downloads the free ooVoo software can call in and chat with us. We'll be broadcasting live, and then hopefully we'll have the entire chat recorded so we can post it up here when we're done.

The events are going on all week. Here's a list of the hosts:

* Adriana Maestas, Marisa Trevino & Edmundo Rocha/Latino Politics Blog, Latina Lista & XicanoPwr
* Albert Maruggi/Provident Partners
* Arlene Fenton/Black Women Vote
* Baratunde Thurston/goodCRIMETHINK
* Eric Roston/Carbon Nation
* Eileen Smith & Mike Chapman/In The Pink Texas & Every Dot Connects
* Erin Kotecki Vest/Queen of Spain
* Jason Rosenbaum/The Seminal
* Joanne Bamberger, Glennia Campbell & Stefania Pomponi Butler/PunditMom, The Silent I & City Mama
* L.N. Rock/African American Political Pundit
* Leslie Carbone
* Liza Sabater/Liza Sabater, culturekitchen, Daily Gotham
* Mary Katherine Ham/HamBlog
* Matt Parker/Political Buzz
* Morra Arons/Women and Work
* Nicco Mele/EchoDitto
* Robert Millis & Will Coghlan/Hudson Street Media
* Todd Zeigler/The Bivings Report

So call in tomorrow at 8, and come with a good question!


Narcotics Content

No, I still haven't gotten over staying at a Drury Motel and being refused access to cabdrollery because of its "drug and narcotics content". To be sure, I may have mentioned some few times that the drug war is losing, since for all the money the country has spent, there is no decline in use and sales of drugs. I may have mentioned that we lost support in Afghanistan by wiping out the crops that were supposed to support Afghan families, not processed for their own kids' use. Maybe I should tell you, though, that I'm not going to promote the use of drugs, and consider the legal ones much overused.

There has been a proposal that needs serious consideration, though, that Afghan farmers be allowed to grow poppies as they are already doing, but as a legal crop. The knee-jerk refusal of our government to take such a logical path is not a sign of purity, but of pure stupidity. One workable version of this proposal was posted yesterday at Informed Comment.

Globalization influences the relative profitability of different activities. In the US, globalization reduced profitability of steel production and increased it for software. In corrupt states, profitability soars in the production of goods and services that are internationally illegal: drugs, sex trafficking, contraband weapons or cigarettes, or counterfeit goods. . . .

Once organized crime and its supporters become the largest employers in the country, they play the same role that a more conventional business plays in other countries. They try to influence the political process. Moreover, they need to control the political arena - election of presidents and parliaments - even more tightly than "normal" business people because their very existence depends on having a government willing to tolerate violation of international rules as the country's main activity.

The government structure that emerges is "endogenous": It reflects domestic social and economic structure, which in turn is the outcome of greater international trade and economic incentives, much like other countries, except that the governance structure is, almost inevitably, more corrupt. The recent World Bank and International Monetary Fund's insistence on reforming governance in these countries is bound to fail because the cause is misdiagnosed.
A different approach is necessary: legalize the currently illegal activities like prostitution and drug use and modify the often draconian US and European immigration laws that stimulate human trafficking. If prostitution and drugs indeed became like haircuts and candies, their production would obey the same rules: Countries that export beauty services and confectionary products are not notably more corrupt than others. Some of the current entrepreneurs would remain in these activities, others would move to others. In either case, there would be a general "normalization" akin to what was observed after prohibition on alcohol sales was lifted in the US. Thousands of "bootleggers" became normal producers of alcohol, alcohol-linked criminality decreased, and only a minority of those with preference for high risk and crime moved to other illegal activities. . . .

Good sense is rejected by the worst administration ever because it has to court a base that cannot get beyond the concept of prohibition. The crime wave that was caused by the original prohibition doesn't convince the right wing. This time, they're sure they will get control by some magical mind meld that will turn everyone into a model citizen who is exactly like them. That is to say, when the right wing envisions a perfect world, lemonade is the beverage of choice, gays are reformed by proper churching, Sunday morning resounds with church bells of a conforming tone, and the demon that lives in them dominates you and me too.

Until such hell on earth comes, there will be differences, and working with them works but mindless opposition doesn't. A purification of other countries, like Afghanistan, turns the citizens of other parts of the world against us. Imposing our idea of order, as we have seen in our occupation of Iraq, only shows us for the insensitive barbarians that we have become under right wing leadership.

We can begin making ourselves part of the real world soon, when the occupied White House is regained. The damage the U.S. wingnuts have wreaked will begin to be replaced by reasonable, reality-based policies when the hirees of the right (Justice Department practices in that matter were detailed in Diane's post earlier) have been winnowed out. That can't come too soon.

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Teh Gaii

Another one of those Inspector General reports has come out: this one sheds more light on the politicizing of the Justice Department under President George Bush, and, once again, Monica Goodling, aide to then Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales, is at the center, according to this article in today's Los Angeles Times. It seems that Ms. Goodling was concerned not only about the political affiliations of people being hired or fired, but also their sexual orientation.

When Bush administration officials at the Justice Department dismissed nine U.S. attorneys in 2006, there were various theories as to why the prosecutors were being let go.

They were too soft on the death penalty. They did not prosecute enough illegal immigrants. They did not go after enough Democrats.

On Monday, the Justice Department's internal watchdog hinted at perhaps the most sensational justification yet -- perceived homosexuality.

In the second of a series of reports on the politically charged tenure of former Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, the department's inspector general found that two former Justice aides used sexual orientation as a litmus test in deciding whom they would hire or fire.

In one instance, a US Attorney (Margaret M. Chiara) was fired and a career prosecutor (Leslie Hagen) lost a prestigious position in Washington because of rumors that they were lesbians.

After working in Grand Rapids, Hagen was reassigned in 2005 to the Justice Department in Washington to work on Native American issues and was offered a customary extension by her supervisors after a year on the job.

Goodling intervened and blocked the extension. The report said that several witnesses told investigators that her opposition was based on the "alleged sexual orientation."

One official told investigators about a conversation in which he told Goodling that he had heard the rumors that the women were lesbians. He said Goodling responded to that news "by putting her head in her hands and asking why no one had told her about this information before."
[Emphasis added]

Um, maybe because it wasn't relevant?

But, wait: there's more.

Monday's report also said that Goodling used an Internet search that included the words "gay" and "homosexual" to screen candidates and their backgrounds.

Investigators found that Goodling used the same search parameters as Jan Williams, who served as White House liaison before Goodling. The report said that Williams had used the string in late 2005 and early 2006 to research candidates for positions on a national advisory commission on violence against women.

Heaven forfend we have gay prosecutors!

I'm just surprised it didn't occur to Ms. Goodling and her bosses to narrow the search string even further, you know, to include "gay" and "brown eyes" and "height under 5'3".

And for this she got paid a salary funded by tax dollars.

175 days.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Why Doesn't the U.S. Accept the International Criminal Court?

The case of José Medellin, who didn't get access to the Mexican consulate so had his execution sentence ruled against by the Supremes, still stews. Texas continues to push for the death of a convicted criminal, and depends on the brutality of the crime to whitewash the damage it does to treaties and those protected by them. Someday, I may be traveling abroad. If I am arrested I might want access to my country's representatives. The precedent this sets may keep me from having it.

Despite the horrific nature of the crime, defense attorney Donovan said it "would be fundamentally unjust" for Gov. Perry to not respect the commitment made under the treaty "by the American people as a whole."

"In Texas, like the rest of the United States, a deal is a deal," he said.

And, he added, Americans overseas could face consequences. "I think the people of Texas, just like the rest of the American people, would not want Texas to do anything that would jeopardize the safety of Americans living, traveling, and working abroad."

'Profoundly wrong'

Despite Mr. Perry's determination not to halt the execution, Mr. Donovan seems confident the lethal injection will be stopped. "For Texas to go forward would be profoundly wrong," he said. "And we believe if Texas insists on going forward with this execution that a Texas court or a federal court will step in, including the Supreme Court."

Others doubt the political pressure or legal maneuvers will have much effect at either the state or national level.

The status of a treaty in conflict with a state's findings may be a difficult decision, but with its history of wrongful convictions, Texas should be very, very careful how it proceeds. The very ugly head of racism has been obvious in the discussion of this case, and the references to illegals often contain mention of crime against U.S. citizens. Killing to satisfy anti-immigration feelings is a threat to all justice.

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The Cheneys and Jail From The Wrong End

The disgrace that the Hutto Jail in Texas became, emprisoning non-citizens who were awaiting hearings on their immigration status, seems to be a moneymaker. The professional jailers are showing up as a factor in the U.S. effort to keep immigrants in detention. As usual, a good hard look turned up occupiers of the White House finding a support system for family on your dollar.

In 1997, with the private prison business booming, the Corrections Corporation of America picked a 64-acre plot near Austin, Texas, for its newest lockup. A medium-security prison, it was named after the company's cofounder and designed for some 500 federal inmates. But the anticipated stream of prisoners never arrived: By the time the T. Don Hutto Correctional Center opened, a glut of private prison beds, along with cca's own poor track record, had left the company nearly bankrupt. Its stock, which once traded at around $45 a share, bottomed out at 18 cents. Several of its facilities were shuttered or sat empty for years, including the Hutto prison, which cca moved to close in 2004.

But Hutto, like cca itself, has risen from the ashes thanks to a sudden source of new business: the Bush administration's crackdown on immigrants. Historically, Mexicans caught illegally entering the country have been dumped back across the border, while immigrants and asylum seekers from other countries were processed and released to await their court dates. (Only those with criminal records were detained.) Most of those released, though, failed to appear for court hearings and removal proceedings, and the government didn't have the resources to go looking for them. So in 2006, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ice) agency ended its traditional "catch and release" policy and instead started incarcerating non-Mexican immigrants—anyone from a Salvadoran migrant to an Iraqi family seeking political asylum—pending their deportation or asylum hearings. Over the two years since, the agency has increased its use of detention facilities by more than half; it now holds some 30,000 people on any given day.

In this new population—and in ice's $1 billion-plus detention budget—cca saw opportunity. In 2004, when Congress passed legislation authorizing ice to triple the number of immigrant detention beds, CCA's lobbying expenditures reached $3 million; since then, it has spent an additional $7 million on lobbyists. Among them was Philip Perry, Vice President Dick Cheney's son-in-law, who later became general counsel at the Department of Homeland Security, ice's parent organization, which has awarded cca millions in contracts; one of them, in 2006, allowed the company to reopen the old Hutto prison, now christened a "residential facility" housing immigrant families, including small children.

The anti-immigrant sentiment that has sprung up as jobs went away has been used in several ways that are a detriment to this country's character. Emprisonment of children is another very black mark on our reputation. This executive branch appears to have no moral compass, and embodies the law of the jungle that has replaced our constitution.

Every time you think it can't sink any lower, it does.

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On, No! They Didn't!

Well, yes. They did.

The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times admitted that they lean center-left. In an editorial announcing the end of separate opinion and book review sections on Sundays, the editorial board produced an editorial justifying an opinion section, even if it would be part of the main news section (where it is located the rest of the week). In that editorial, they attempted to show just how editorials at the L.A. Times are produced.

Editorials are not what they once were; no longer do they memorialize the views of anyone who happened to lay his hands on a printing press. Today, at least at The Times, editorials reflect the considerations of a board, divergent in its members' politics, on the issues of the day. They are written after debate and disagreement, fashioned as part of a larger body of work that seeks intellectual honesty and consistency: We do not oppose the war in Iraq on Monday and support it on Tuesday; we do not support the death penalty one day and oppose it the next. And editorials are not blogs or columns; the views we publish in this space are not singular opinions but collective ones.

As such, editorials are a rare voice in our national culture and politics; they are the product of a Socratic enterprise, guided by the idea that debate produces wisdom.

Many of our readers disagree with us. Some accuse us of lock-step submission to orders sent by Democratic Party headquarters. We make no apologies for our center-left lean -- it is where our study of leading issues has drawn us -- but some of those criticisms are ridiculous, more revealing of our accusers than of our work. We like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a liberal Democrat, and supported his election, but we irritate him regularly with our skepticism about his fidelity to his promises. We also like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican, and supported his election too. Still, we do wish he'd give us a decent state budget. We don't think much of President Bush, but two-thirds of the nation, and even more of Los Angeles, is with us there.

We take a libertarian view of many issues -- we wish the government would snoop less, check its impulse to over-regulate, allow gay couples to marry, refuse to engage in state murder -- but we are not guided by ideological purity. We opposed the war in Iraq -- still do -- but backed the Bush administration's troop surge as a strategy for expediting withdrawal. Whether it's the construction of an Orange County toll road or the latest ruling by the Supreme Court, we analyze before we opine.

Now, the most remarkable part of the statement is the admission of a center-left slant on the editorial page. That admission should make the conservative leaders deliriously happy. After all, those leaders have long maintained that the main stream media is hopelessly liberal and now one of the major news outlets has just admitted it. Swell. Conservatives won't bother to carefully parse the statement and recognize that it reflects editorial page positions, not front page or news section positions.

Even so, the editorial's characterization of "center-left" is somewhat puzzling. Being against the war and for the surge hardly seems center-left, just a tad irrational. Backing Antonio Villaraigosa might have been a liberal choice, but backing Arnold Schwarzenegger, the man who has threatened to slash the pay of state workers to generate some badly needed cash rather than raise taxes on the wealthy? Equally as puzzling is the characterization of the editorial board's stance on the Fourth Amendment violations of the current administration and on the death penalty as "Libertarian."

The editorial makes sense only if one realizes how far to the right the GOP has moved the marker. That a major newspaper has bought into that movement is far more telling that its claim to be "center-left."

Nice try, but I ain't buying.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday Poetry: John Donne

No man is an island

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne

The Slimy Hand Of The Free Market

Now here's a job for a real go-getter: selling health insurance policies which provide less coverage than Medicare to Medicare beneficiaries who are poor and disabled. Yes, you read that right. And they did it using tactics usually ascribed to used-car salesmen. From the July 26, 2008 edition of The Boston Globe:

One of the nation's largest health insurers has stopped marketing an insurance plan to Massachusetts senior citizens with disabilities after state officials received dozens of complaints that the company was using abusive and misleading sales tactics.

UnitedHealth Group Inc. suspended marketing of a private Medicare plan, called the Evercare Special Needs Plan for People with Limited Income, earlier this week after meeting with officials from the state Medicaid and elder affairs offices. About 3,000 state residents receive coverage through the plan.

Senior citizen advocates said some sales representatives refused to leave people's homes without getting a signature on a policy. Others misrepresented the plan, they said, claiming it would pay for care that is actually not covered. In addition, the advocates said, some agents repeatedly called seniors, despite requests from younger family members that they stop.

"This is just out of control," said Al Norman, executive director of Massachusetts Home Care, an umbrella group for 30 nonprofit agencies that assist seniors. "It shouldn't be happening. These brokers are using high-pressure tactics, bait-and-switch, and intimidation. They were inappropriately pushing people into a product they didn't want and didn't understand."

And didn't need. The results were usually disastrous. Here's one example:

Carmen Pola, 69, of Roxbury, said an insurance agent selling the Evercare plan came to her house and persuaded her to sign up for the coverage even though she was satisfied with her Harvard Pilgrim Health Care insurance. As a result, Pola said, her copayments for doctor visits increased from $15 to $25, and instead of $5 copayments for prescription medications, she is now required to pay full price.

And that's a problem for Ms. Pola and her husband. He's a diabetic, and they couldn't afford to pay to have an insulin prescription filled. She found herself begging for the insulin.

Non-profits and, presumably, the state have been getting complaints about the UnitedHealth Group tactics for at least a year, but it wasn't until just recently that the state called the insurance company in. Apparently that meeting had the desired effect because the company called off the dogs. What is especially dispiriting about this story, however, is that it happened in Massachusetts, the one state that has shown remarkable attention to making certain its residents have health insurance.

Of course, one can't lay the blame solely on the state government. The Federal Government opened the door wide-open for such abuse in its attempt to privatise Medicare one step at a time, something which the article notes:

The Evercare plan is intended for seniors who have significant disabilities, such as long-term illnesses. It has been sold in Massachusetts since 2006. Most enrollees are so-called dual-eligibles - they qualify for benefits under both the federal Medicare plan for people over 65 and the joint federal-state Medicaid program for low-income and disabled people. It is one of a variety of private healthcare plans that have proliferated nationwide in recent years as the federal government has promoted private alternatives to traditional Medicare. Health insurers have responded by devising ever-more specialized plans targeting specific groups. [Emphasis added]

And that's what happens when you let the Republicans take control of the government.

177 days.

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There's just so much to be said for preventing crime. Let's see, if you make an economically viable system, where jobs are available to keep people from stealing to feed their families, that would help. If you make education adequate to enable our population to find jobs that are there, just think of the crime you'd prevent. That would be something that you'd think our great minds are working on, right?

Oh, sure. Prevention is a matter to WaPo editorialists of emprisoning people who might commit crimes. Forget making crime unattractive, because it is not needed, and will hurt you and your family.

Would I kid you? Yep, WaPo has this terrific position in the torture administration. It enables the ending of the rule of law - that was what made this country great.

But modern realities strongly argue against using the federal courts as the exclusive arena to hold or try all terrorism suspects. Most terrorism prosecutions, including the 1993 World Trade Center case, are brought after terrorists have struck. The first priority of a president must be to protect the country from attack. The president must have the legal flexibility to detain those against whom there is credible, actionable intelligence but not enough evidence to bring charges.

Traditional federal court proceedings also present security challenges. Although the most sensitive national security information could be shielded from public consumption through existing laws, the openness of federal court proceedings risks handing unclassified but valuable information to those who would harm this country. The protections afforded to defendants in federal court -- including the right against self-incrimination -- work against legitimate intelligence-gathering interests.
The next president must be held to a higher standard, but he should not be hamstrung in his ability to protect the country because of the profound lapses in judgment of the current administration.(Emphasis added.)

There you go, it wasn't right, what the war criminals did, but we have to make the world safe for continuing their crimes.

It makes me sick to see the wriggling around trying to make torture and denying rights to human beings okay. It isn't - not ever.

Preventing crime involves creating a society that has reasonable ways for its citizena to make it. It doesn't involve searching out those terraists, or DFH's, who may not accept that the economic and political means are not available to them. It involves justice, a concept that seems too much of a challenge to the morons who are supposed to be presenting the facts to us readers, thinkers, people here in the real world.

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Finally Free To Speak Out

Last May, federal authorities raided the Agriprocessors Inc. plant in Iowa and arrested nearly 400 illegal immigrants. The immigrants faced quick trials, at which most of them took plea bargains involving prison time and deportation. Once they had nothing more to lose, those workers began talking to investigators about the conditions under which they worked, and the pictures they painted are horrifying. From today's NY Times:

POSTVILLE, Iowa — When federal immigration agents raided the kosher meatpacking plant here in May and rounded up 389 illegal immigrants, they found more than 20 under-age workers, some as young as 13.

Now those young immigrants have begun to tell investigators about their jobs. Some said they worked shifts of 12 hours or more, wielding razor-edged knives and saws to slice freshly killed beef. Some worked through the night, sometimes six nights a week. ... the aftermath of the arrests, labor investigators have reaped a bounty of new evidence from the testimony of illegal immigrants, teenagers and adults, who were caught in the raid. In formal declarations, immigrants have described pervasive labor violations at the plant, testimony that could result in criminal charges for Agriprocessors executives, labor law experts said.

Out of work and facing deportation proceedings, many of the immigrants say they now have nothing to lose in speaking up about the conditions in the plant. They have told investigators that they were routinely put to work without safety training and were forced to work long shifts without overtime or rest time. Under-age workers said their bosses knew how young they were.

It's no wonder that employers have been working hard to frustrate any real immigration reform if this company is any kind of example. One young worker complained about the long hours and stated that he felt "like a slave." Women workers complained about sexual harassment throughout the plant. Several complained about physical abuse by supervisors complaining the workers were too slow, including one man who had a duct tape blindfold applied and was then struck with a sharp tool (fortunately, no serious injury was incurred). The workers were forced to work long hours at low wages and were never consistently paid the overtime they were due. The company knew they could get away with all of the state and federal labor violations because the workers were too frightened by the threats of immediate deportation made by the company.

One union official put it quite succinctly:

Mark Lauritsen, a vice president for the International Food and Commercial Workers Union, which has tried to organize the plant, said he remained skeptical. “They are the poster child for how a rogue company can exploit a broken immigration system,” Mr. Lauritsen said. [Emphasis added]



Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bonus Critter Blogging: Gray Wolf

(Photograph by Joel Sartore and published at National Geographic.)

What Rami Kouri Said

I made my weekly visit to Watching American, and I found pretty much what I expected: a line-up of world press articles on Barack Obama's Grand Tour. Several of the articles were quite enlightening, so I recommend clicking on over. One article, however, was not about Sen. Obama's trip. Instead, this article by Rami Kouri in Lebanon's Daily Star spoke to American public diplomacy and what has driven it for the last seven years. As usual, Mr. Kouri has provided some really insightful analysis.

The United States' public diplomacy program since 9/11 has been one of the great self-induced hoaxes of modern American public life, managed for the most part by a frightening combination of misguided lightweights and over-the-top ideological zealots. So when I heard the other day that a new man was put in charge - Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs James Glassman - I read a speech he made to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York outlining his plans and principles.

I sensed for the first time in recent years that perhaps a new rational element was intruding into the legacy of intemperate arrogance that had been the defining hallmark of Washington's public diplomacy program since 2002. To test this hypothesis, I visited Glassman for a chat in his State Department office, and my conclusion is that there is good news and bad news to report.

First, the good news, which Mr. Kouri finds in a shift in emphasis in public diplomacy:

Glassman importantly acknowledges the need to address the sense among many in the Arab-Islamic world and other lands that "the US does not respect and listen to others, or take them seriously." The aim is not to persuade foreign audiences to admire or love the US, but rather "to ensure that negative sentiments and day-to-day grievances toward the US and its allies do not manifest themselves in the form of violent extremism."

Glassman importantly acknowledges the need to address the sense among many in the Arab-Islamic world and other lands that "the US does not respect and listen to others, or take them seriously."

That certainly is a dramatic shift in public foreign policy under the current administration, which up to this point was more into telling people what to do, say, and think or else.

Here, however, is the bad news Mr. Kouri found:

The bad news is that major aspects of the US public diplomacy program remain very thin in relevance, credibility and efficacy. The biggest problem is the program's focus on the small number of Al-Qaeda-type terrorists and their potential impact on others in Arab-Islamic societies, especially youth. Washington sees itself as helping moderate Muslims avoid falling into the Al-Qaeda camp. ...

Such an approach perpetuates in milder form the dreamy, diversionary strategy of former public diplomacy chiefs. It excessively focuses on Al-Qaeda rather than fostering stronger ties with the masses of ordinary Middle Eastern men and women who already like and perhaps even covet American values and offerings. It leaves as irresolvable the fact that pro-Israel and pro-Arab-autocrats American policies in the Middle East are core drivers of Arab radicalism and terrorism; and it exaggerates and bolsters the terrorists who exploit Islamic rhetoric by saying that the battle with Islamic extremists is "the most important ideological contest of our time."

That is exaggeration that is factually wrong and politically counter-productive, and it shows how the trauma of 9/11 in the US continues to generate political and intellectual distortions.

Exactly so, Mr. Kouri. Allow me to add that "the trauma of 9/11" continues to generate political and intellectual distortions in our domestic policy as well, as evidenced by the manipulation by fear of the American public in order to successfully remove our civil liberties without much effort. The Bush administration promised to create a new reality, one that might not match the consensual reality of the rest of the world but that would control at least this country. To a large extent, they have done just that.

And that is why the next election is so very important, from the top of the ticket right on down. Many of us long for the situation with which Mr. Kouri so perceptively concludes his column: that the sensible folks prevail and the wild men and women are mercifully retired to their ranches.

From you lips, Rami Kouri...

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Criminal Conduct of Public Affairs

The past few weeks have been very rewarding for the aspect of hearing from some one who has made an in-depth study of the development of a pro-torture policy in what should have been a respectable, if rightward leaning, executive branch. Although the oil industry in Texas has been shown to have the robber baron character that had prevailed before the last depression, the brutality it has displayed never had come out prior to the war it has waged against Iraq.

The nation seems to be coming out of the shock it suffered from finding its representatives engaged in outright barbarism. It is being greatly helped by the findings Jane Mayer has been presenting to us, and her appearance last night on Bill Moyers' Journal was very valuable. So much was condensed into a few words, and I am posting here only a part of it, but what I found really necessary information.

BILL MOYERS: But there is also this fact that, which is that there was a briefing in which four top members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was present, were present, and they were told what was going on. Have they been compromised by their knowledge of what was happening?

JANE MAYER: Well they've been very defensive about it, the Democrats in particular, because they've said that in private they complained about this. They felt they were not allowed to speak out because they'd be accused of violating national security. I also think that, what I've talked to some of them, that say that while the CIA explained what it was doing, it didn't explain it thoroughly. So they used a lot of euphemisms as the kind of euphemisms that we've been hearing, which are intent, enhanced interrogation, or special interrogation.

BILL MOYERS: The other side of it was raised by Representative Trent Franks, a Republican on the committee. Let me play this for you.

REP. TRENT FRANKS:CIA Director Michael Hayden has confirmed that, despite the incessant hysteria in some quarters, the waterboarding technique has only been used on three high-level captured terrorists - the very worst of the worst of our terrorist enemies. Now, what are these people like, Mr. Chairman? When the terrorist Zubaydah, a logistics chief of al-Qaeda was captured, he and two other men were caught building a bomb. A soldering gun used to make the bomb was still hot on the table, along with the building plans for a school. CIA Director Hayden has said that Mohammed and Zubaydah provided roughly 25 percent of the information CIA had on al-Qaeda from all human sources.

BILL MOYERS: What he is saying is that torture works.

JANE MAYER: Right. That's been the argument.

BILL MOYERS: What is your conclusion after these many years of reporting is?

JANE MAYER: Well, there are a couple of things I want to say about this. One is to say that there's a special exception here: We won't torture except when we will torture, is a legal problem. The convention against torture, which the United States Senate ratified, has no exceptions. It's a major felony. There's no excuse for doing it for war. There's no excuse for national security. It doesn't have exceptions. So this is a serious legal problem.

JANE MAYER: Secondly, what did they get from, let's take his case of Abu Zubaydah. There was a soldering iron, as he says, and they were building a bomb. What led them to Abu Zubaydah? Was it torture? It wasn't actually. It was a bribe that they gave to the Pakistanis that got them to Abu Zubaydah. Bribing people does work, and that's, you can see again and again in the war on terror. Then, what did they get out of Abu Zubaydah when they brutalized him? It turns out and I've talked to, for instance, Dan Coleman, who's an FBI agent who knows a lot about Abu Zubaydah and this interrogation. He questioned, he thinks they got nothing out of him. First of all, he was mentally unstable. They you, they, he said all kinds of crazy things. He later said that he made up half of the things that he told them.

There's - the reason that people don't torture is not just because it's a moral issue. It's because when we moved to a system of law that was on the principles of the enlightenment, the effort was to get at the truth. And you don't torture because people say anything under torture. And, according to a very top CIA officer I spoke to who was very close with Tenet, he said 90 percent of what we-

BILL MOYERS: George Tenet.

JANE MAYER: George Tenet, the former director of the CIA. He said 90 percent of what we got was crap. And he said and that was true of every method we used: Torture, non-torture.

BILL MOYERS: There have been some suggestions recently that they may have begun to torture Abu Zubaydah before the Justice Department drew up this memo justifying it. Do you think-

JANE MAYER: But the torture memo, the famous torture memo that was written in August of 2002 by, mostly by John Yoo, was written to justify these harsh interrogations, whatever you want to call them. But when John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, testified recently, he was asked, "Well, you know, when did these interrogations on Zubaydah begin?" It turns out they'd been interrogating him since March, which is several months before they had legal approval to do so. That's an area where there seems to be super legal exposure for the people involved in this program, the interrogators, the people at the CIA who authorized it. And, in particular, there were a number of psychologists who were contracted psychologists who designed that program. (Emphases added.)

The hardened criminal nature of the occupied White House is something that perhaps should have been anticipated, since so many of its personnel had been there during the Nixon years. Criminal acts were committed then, although a clean slate was given them by presidential pardons from Gerald Ford.

The press was negligent, and should have been suspicious of these former criminals. Accepting lies and reporting them without searching out the truths they denied has brought this nation to the lowest point any of us have seen.

We can't count on anyone but ourselves to keep the country safe, and as we have kept trumpeting, along with many others in the blogosphere such as Avedon, Atrios, Digby and so many others, we who are blogging constantly, dedicatedly, strongly, will do whatever we can to return the rule of law, and decency, to government.

Bill Moyers and Jane Mayer, thanks, for your tremendous help in fighting back against the criminals in the executive branch

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No News Is ... No News

Last Saturday I posted on how carefully the Pentagon has managed the news of the Iraq War. This Saturday, I'm pleased to announce that the NY Times has noticed the same thing and finally published an article about the Pentagon practices and how they are enforced.

The case of a freelance photographer in Iraq who was barred from covering the Marines after he posted photos on the Internet of several of them dead has underscored what some journalists say is a growing effort by the American military to control graphic images from the war.

Zoriah Miller, the photographer who took images of marines killed in a June 26 suicide attack and posted them on his Web site, was subsequently forbidden to work in Marine Corps-controlled areas of the country. Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the Marine commander in Iraq, is now seeking to have Mr. Miller barred from all United States military facilities throughout the world. Mr. Miller has since left Iraq.

If the conflict in Vietnam was notable for open access given to journalists — too much, many critics said, as the war played out nightly in bloody newscasts — the Iraq war may mark an opposite extreme: after five years and more than 4,000 American combat deaths, searches and interviews turned up fewer than a half-dozen graphic photographs of dead American soldiers.

Two things about this article struck me, the first of which is that it took so long for the NY Times to display some outrage at how "the paper of record" has been manipulated in its coverage of the war. The second notable factor was that the article was accompanied by some of those "graphic images" that so disturbed Maj.Gen. Kelly that he wants to end Mr. Miller's career.

Now, I'm tempted to argue that this is too little and 4,000 deaths too late, because in a very real sense it is. The NY Times and all of its news media colleagues were only too happy to along with the embed rules, figuring that at least their reporters would have some access to the war. They also meekly acceded to the rule against publishing photos of flag-draped coffins, lest the Pentagon start pulling press credentials. As a result, the US public has been given a very sanitized view of war, one in which brains and intestines are not spattered on the ground and faces are not ripped apart by bullets and fragments from bombs. The war just never, ever got shown in all its brutal reality. As a result, the American public didn't see just why this war, and every other war, is the result of tragic mistakes, usually made intentionally.

Still, however, the article was published today. In some respects, it's never too late to inform the public and to rouse it from its 7+ year coma. For that, and for the spine to publish those "offensive" pictures, I am grateful.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging

Spike The Avenger Kitty occasionally sleeps.

Well, Duh

Who could have imagined? Pharmaceutical companies made huge profits under Medicare Part D. With no price controls allowed under the program, PHARMA's members made billions of dollars more than they would have if the same type of controls existed under this plan as exist under Medicaid, according to this article in today's Los Angeles Times.

U.S. drug manufacturers are reaping a windfall from taxpayers because Medicare's privately administered prescription drug benefit program pays more than other government programs for the same medicines, a House committee charged in a report Thursday.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found that taxpayers are paying up to 30% more for prescription drugs under Medicare's privatized Part D program for seniors and the disabled than under the government's Medicaid program for the poor. ...

"Medicare Part D has given the major drug companies a taxpayer-funded windfall worth billions of dollars," said committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills). ...

Under Medicaid, drug companies have to sell prescription drugs to the government at discounted prices. When Medicare Part D was enacted in January 2006, drug companies were no longer obliged to cut rates for their products.

In the two years Medicare Part D has been in effect, drug manufacturers have taken in $3.7 billion more than they would have through prices under the Medicaid program, committee investigators found.

"The drug companies are making the same drugs. They are being used by the same beneficiaries. Yet because the drugs are being bought through Medicare Part D instead of Medicaid, the prices paid by the taxpayers have ballooned by billions of dollars," Waxman said.
[Emphasis added]

How unsurprising. Equally as unsurprising has been the PHARMA response to this news:

Richard Smith, a vice president with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the leading drug industry group, warned in a statement to the committee against government interference in Medicare Part D.

"It is primarily the effective operation of the competitive market that has driven down Part D costs for beneficiaries and taxpayers compared to previous estimates," Smith said.

In other words, the pharmaceuticals aren't making as much as they thought they would when they lobbied successfully to foreclose any government negotiation on prices under the plan.

Congressman Waxman has promised to fix the pricing problem. While he's at it, he might want to look at the other flaws in this deeply flawed plan, like the donut hole that exists for elders on expensive medications after a certain threshold is reached.


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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thursday Birdblogging

This is one you will hear more than you will see, it's Whip-Poor-Will. Seems like whoever named this bird had an unfortunate turn of mind. Picture from John Cassady, Audubon Society

Cool Facts

* Chicks can move about during the nestling stage, and they often move a bit apart, perhaps to make it difficult for a predator to find them. The parent aids this process by forcibly shoving aside one of the young with its foot as it flushes from the nest. The nestling may be sent tumbling head over heels by the shove.

* The male Whip-poor-will often will investigate intruders near the nest by hovering in place with its body nearly vertical and its tail spread wide to show off the broad white tips of the tail feathers.

* The western populations of the Whip-poor-will differ slightly in plumage from the eastern form, and sometimes are considered a different species (the Mexican Whip-poor-will). Their songs are slower and lower pitched, and their eggs are whiter and less highly colored.

* The Whip-poor-will lays its eggs in phase with the lunar cycle, so that the eggs hatch on average 10 days before a full moon. When the moon is near full the adults can forage the entire night, and so best provide the nestlings with insects.


Which Security?

The federal government under the current administration has been busy pawing off federal responsibilities to state and local governments. Local police departments are especially subject to extra duties, including immigration enforcement and, as this NY Times article points out, terrorism investigations. The problem is that local police departments aren't being given the same level of support for their traditional responsibility of crime fighting.

Like most of the country’s more than 18,000 local law enforcement agencies, the Providence Police Department went to war against terror after Sept. 11, embracing a fundamental shift in its national security role. Police officers everywhere had been shaken by disclosures that the police in Oklahoma, Florida, Maryland and Virginia had stopped four of the Sept. 11 hijackers at various times for traffic violations, but had detected nothing amiss.

Over the years since, police officials in Providence joined with state and federal authorities in new information-sharing projects, met with local Muslim leaders and urged their officers to be alert for anything suspicious. Flush with federal domestic-security grants, the police department acquired millions of dollars’ worth of hardware and enrolled officers in training courses to detect and respond to a terrorist attack.

But much has changed. Now, police officials here express doubts about whether the imperative to protect domestic security has blinded federal authorities to other priorities. The department is battling homicides, robberies and gang shootings that the police in a number of cities say are as serious a threat as terrorism.

The Providence police chief, Col. Dean M. Esserman, said the federal government seemed unable to balance antiterror efforts and crime fighting. ...

From 2002 to this year, the department went from zero to more than $11.6 million in total domestic security grants, according to Police Department figures, while other criminal justice grants, like those from Justice Department programs used to pay overtime and hire more officers, dwindled to less than $4.5 million for the same period.

One Justice Department program, the Byrne Justice Action Grant, which helps the police fight violent crime by paying for overtime and other policing costs, has suffered heavy cutbacks. Providence’s Byrne grant was reduced to $118,000 this year, from $388,000 in 2007.

The Bush administration has proposed eliminating money for the program in its 2009 budget.
[Emphasis added]

Now, I suppose there is nothing wrong with providing money, equipment, and training to local police who will undoubtedly be first on the scene of any future attack, and I don't think there's any great harm in coordinating investigative efforts between local and federal officials. I do, however, object to doing so at the cost of the traditional crime fighting the police are supposed to be doing on our streets. So does the the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police recently issued a scathing analysis of federal spending, saying, “Unfortunately, funding federal homeland security efforts at the expense of state, tribal and local law enforcement agencies weakens rather than enhances our nation’s security.”

All of this assumes, of course, that the current administration is really interested in enhancing our nation's security, an assumption I think may be a dangerous one. It appears to me that the real goal of at least this administration has been to keep the populace in constant fear of another attack so that we will continue to allow our civil liberties to be stripped away. For that reason, I am somewhat cheered by the stance of the IACP, with whom I haven't always agreed.

180 days.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Do We Want That Kind of Friend

The occupied White House attracts the kind of friend that tortures, executes, and emprisons, must have something to do with their war criminal nature. We're paying off the Pakistan government even though they're not doing what the administration says we want them to do, ferret out the perpetrators of 9/11. What they are doing is really nasty.

The human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has called on Pakistan's new government to provide information about hundreds of disappeared people.

Most are said to be held by the country's security agencies.
Meanwhile, Amnesty says the Pakistani government continues to deny the undeniable.

They quote President Pervez Musharraf who has dismissed their claims as nonsense.

According to him, the "missing people" are under the control of militant organisations.

But when Pakistan's higher judiciary started to exercise its power and secure the release of a number of missing people, the judges behind the move were sacked by President Musharraf in late 2007.

He said they were interfering in executive matters.

Amnesty International has now called on Pakistan's new Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to act immediately to resolve all cases of enforced disappearance.

The government of Afghanistan maintains that the most part of the insurgency there is coming out of Pakistan, and we go on supporting the military action in that nation? Goons are just one of the failings of the administration's foreign policy.

It is past time to stop throwing money at enemies of their own people.

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More Unsurprising News

I don't know which is more unsurprising: that the White House overruled a tentative decision by the administrator of the EPA when it came to California's request for a waiver under the Clean Air Act or that the administrator lied about the White House pressure before Congress. From today's Washington Post:

A former Environmental Protection Agency official yesterday contradicted EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson's congressional testimony on one of the administration's key global warming decisions, saying the White House ordered Johnson to block California's bid to regulate vehicles' tailpipe emissions.

On Jan. 24, Johnson told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee under oath that he had made the decision on his own after determining there was no compelling evidence to justify California's plans. "The responsibility for making the decision for California rests with me and solely with me," Johnson said at the time. "I made the decision. It was my decision. It was the right decision."

Yesterday, however, former EPA deputy associate administrator Jason K. Burnett -- who resigned last month and has since divulged key details about how President Bush and his deputies have influenced the agency's decisions on climate policy -- testified before the committee that Johnson had concluded that California's request was legally justified -- until White House officials ordered him to reverse the decision. ...

Burnett told the panel that Johnson had concluded that California had met the legal requirement for a waiver by showing it faced "compelling and extraordinary circumstances" in light of the threat that climate change poses to the state.

"There was no reasonable defense of a denial," Burnett said, adding that Johnson had initially agreed to grant California a "partial waiver" lasting several years. ...

Johnson also testified about the waiver decision before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on May 20, making similar statements and refusing to discuss conversations he had on the matter with either Bush or his top aides on the grounds that it would violate executive privilege.
[Emphasis added]

The waiver requested by California, tailored to reduce tailpipe emissions, would have required required an increase in fuel efficiency standards. The White House knew that Congress was already talking about a new CAFE standard, and also knew that its buddies in the oil and auto making industries would get a better deal from Congress than they'd get in a state plagued by poor air quality. Using the excuse that a nationwide standard made more sense than a state-by-state crazy-quilt on the issue, the White House leaned on its own appointee, and the Bushie caved. And then the Bushie, under oath, lied to Congress about the White House role on two separate occasions.

Heckuva job, Mr. Johnson.

181 days.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

You Are So Served

Posting today at The Seminal, Jason Rosenbaum wants to make sure you know you're happy with health care in this country ... if you follow the wingers' beliefs.

Rep. Pete Stark: AHIP’s campaign for health reform is a sham:

This morning, Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) released this statement in response to America's Health Insurance Plans (an industry front group) campaign launch that Health Care for America Now will be crashing this morning:

"America's Health Insurance Plans' new 'Campaign for an American Solution' rings as true as the tobacco industry's efforts to end smoking. There is nothing grassroots about it. It is designed, financed, and coordinated through their Washington trade association with the singular goal of protecting their profits.

"I hope it is true that these companies intend to be a positive force in health reform efforts, but I tend to be cautious when the fox starts drawing up plans for a new henhouse."

We couldn't agree more. AHIP will try, against all the facts, to convince us that we are happy and well served by the private insurance industry. The reality is, we're not. Health industry profits continue to go up, while our benefits go down and our costs rise to debilitating levels. We need a solution. We need a public insurance plan, without the waste and excesses of the private insurance industry, to truly provide the affordable, comprehensive coverage we all desperately need.

AHIP's campaign may be one of the first industry astroturf campaigns to get off the ground, but it won't be the last. Health Care for America Now will be there fighting them every step of the way.

Stay tuned for pictures and video from our party crashing later this afternoon!

Check out The Seminal later for the pics.

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Negotiation Is In Order

The refusal of the occupied White House to negotiate with other nations has recently been winding down as the policy resulted in nothing but failure. With North Korea at last being allowed off the idiotic 'Axis of Evil' designation, some thawing is occurring in the U.S. relations with that country. Soon we may even be back to the state we were in when this worst administration ever came into office in 2000.

In returning to some degree of sanity in negotiating with Iran, this country may well be reacting to ongoing incidents of detention of those with good relationships with the U.S., as well as to the threat of nuclear capabilities.

A human rights group is calling on Iran to release immediately or charge two doctors renowned for their work on the prevention and treatment of HIV/Aids.

Human Rights Watch says the authorities have not disclosed why Arash Alaei and Kamyar Alaei were detained last month, or where they are being held.

The two brothers have travelled widely outside Iran, including to the US, to take part in conferences on HIV/Aids.

They were due to take part in a major meeting in Mexico next month.

Arash Alaei was scheduled to give a presentation on some of Iran's innovative HIV programmes, Human Rights Watch says.

The brothers are credited with getting the Iranian authorities to tackle the stigma of HIV infection and the disease Aids, in a country where sex, drug abuse and the disease itself are taboo subjects.
In recent years Iran has arrested a number of academics who have ties with the US, its main global enemy.

It will take more than the feeble gestures toward reconciliation with the nations it has treated as disposable for the administration to regain our place in the world. The adolescent bravado it mistakes for machismo has done so much damage, it is doubtful that the rest of the world would ever see this country as capable of leading the world.

In the recent talks concerning nuclear development, things came to a standstill when the administration's sticking point of giving up in the beginning wasn't accepted by Iran.

The failure of the Geneva meeting resurrected fears that the U.S. or Israel – a country Ahmadinejad has threatened repeatedly – would seek a military solution.

"The Iranians are playing a colossal game of chicken with us," says Ilan Berman, vice-president of the American Foreign Policy Council. "Does the international community have the will to take the short-term pain and disarm these guys, or accept the long-term pain of a region completely dominated by this regime? I think the world community has essentially come to grips with the fact that Iran is going to go nuclear. The talks are an implicit endorsement of Iranian nuclearization."

Escalating unease is a lack of certainty about how far Iran may be from creating a nuclear bomb.

There is too much time between now and the return of levelheaded service in the executive branch. That will take regime change.

Damage control can begin in 182 days.

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And So It Begins

Last week I posted on the imminence of the trial of Osama bin Laden's driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the first of the military commission's dog and pony shows. In that post I noted that the judge assigned to the trial seemed to have a grasp of the concepts of "fair trial" and "justice." According to this article in today's Los Angeles Times, Captain Keith Allred issued another ruling which seems to comport with those concepts, at least to some extent.

The military judge overseeing the first war crimes trial against a terrorism suspect at Guantanamo Bay agreed Monday to bar some evidence against Osama bin Laden's former driver because it was obtained in "highly coercive environments and conditions."

On the trial's opening day, Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred denied defense appeals to exclude other statements Salim Ahmed Hamdan made during interrogation by U.S. agents in Afghanistan as well as during his more than six years' imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The judge said he would withhold judgment on a May 2003 interrogation until the defense had time to review 600 pages of detention records, which the government did not turn over until Sunday -- the night before trial. ...

Aside from withholding judgment on the May 2003 interrogation pending the defense review, the judge said interrogation results would be allowed into evidence only if the interrogators who conducted the sessions were available for cross-examination. Much of the evidence the government wanted to introduce was drawn from interrogations in which the notes and records of those involved were destroyed.
[Emphasis added]

Excluding evidence obtained under "coercive environments and conditions" (yet another euphemism for torture) was a good ruling. Withholding a ruling on the other interrogations until the defense has an opportunity to review the detention records, all 600 pages of which were delivered the night before the trial: eh, not so good. The prosecution's hiding of the salami until the last minute is the kind of misconduct which should have been punished with automatic exclusion. Still, Capt. Allred included a proviso for the admission of those records: the interrogators must be available for cross-examination, which the government has steadily refused to do, insisting that such availability would compromise "sources and methods." The judge has effectively set up another clash, one that will probably have to go all the way up the appellate road to the US Supreme Court.

All that said, however, Capt. Allred isn't exactly a knight in shining armor:

Hamdan testified during pretrial hearings last week that he was subjected to sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and sexual humiliation during interrogations at Guantanamo. Allred largely rejected motions to dismiss statements made during interrogations there, saying the techniques employed by detention officials could be "rationally related to good order and discipline. [Emphasis added]

Say what?

I suspect that what the judge intends is to allow the jury to make the decision on whether the conduct during those interrogations was so outrageous and so coercive as to be worthless in evidentiary terms. One could almost agree with this approach, but this is not a trial in a civilian court where the jury is composed of the defendant's peers. This is a military commission trial and the jury is composed of six senior military officers and an alternate, also a senior officer.

While Capt. Allred's various decisions indicate that he is willing to at least nod in the general direction of fairness and justice, this is not a fair trial, nor did the government intend it to be.

I am not optimistic.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Secrets of Lieburying

While wording its criticism gently, the Dallas Morning News repeats a call for an end to keeping public records from the public.

In this instance, the basis of its request is that disreputable use has been put to library funding in the Stephen Payne affair. In that bit of sleaze, a high official of the party of the war criminals solicited a bribe in the form of a donation to the liebury in return for access to the occupied White House.

Stephen Payne was operating as a free agent. Let's be clear about that. But the Houston lobbyist's actions should get President Bush's attention. Mr. Bush needs to be sure no one will undercut his presidential library, which will open at Southern Methodist University after he leaves office.

What we're talking about is last week's story from The Sunday Times of London. According to the newspaper, Mr. Payne met with a man in London who claimed his Central Asian nation's exiled former leader wanted to meet with top U.S. officials and rehabilitate his image.

Mr. Payne, who raised more than $100,000 for Mr. Bush's two presidential bids, had some ideas. He suggested "the family, the children, whatever, should probably look at making a contribution to the Bush library."
Mr. Bush was ahead of the game back in 2000, when he voluntarily disclosed his campaign fundraisers. We see no reason he can't take the same approach now, leading the way for all presidential libraries to disclose their contributors.

A library/research institute can be a valuable and extremely advantageous institution. The way the cretin in chief is handling his similar institution belies any actual advantage it can be to the public, and in particular to SMU and the community.

Leaders of the Dallas community need to be sure that the city is not thoroughly dragged in the mud by the operations of a secretive and disreputable cabal of former members of this, the worst administration ever.

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U.S. Found Not Trustworthy

British officials are convinced of the same thing that the U.S. public has learned the hard way, that the occupants of the White House are not to be trusted. Their word is not good, and the British government can no longer act on it. The American government is not directed toward the good of its allies, any more than it is the good of the citizens it was elected to serve.

The British government should not rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, a report by MPs says.

The foreign affairs select committee said the UK and US differ on their definitions of what constitutes torture and it urged the UK to check US claims.

It recommended the government carry out an "exhaustive analysis of current US interrogation techniques."

The MPs also said the government should check claims that Britain is not used by the US for "rendition" flights.

The committee highlighted the technique of "water-boarding" - a practice which simulates drowning.

The US describes it as "a legal technique used in a specific set of circumstances" and President Bush has refused to ban it.

Given the clear differences in definition, the UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture
Foreign Affairs Select Committee

However, the UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said it is torture and "the UK unreservedly condemns the use of torture."

In its report, the committee said: "Given the clear differences in definition, the UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the government does not rely on such assurances in the future."
The MPs also urged the Foreign Office to investigate allegations that the UK "outsourced" interrogation of six terror suspects to Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency, where they were tortured and interrogated by British intelligence officers.
The committee's conclusions amount to saying that we can no longer rely on assurances from a US administration that purports to uphold the civil and political standards of behaviour, while in fact kidnapping people and taking them to places where they may be maltreated.

"Only by practising what we preach will we be able to win back the support of Muslim communities at home and abroad and build the strongest coalition around the world against terrorism."

The damage done by this executive branch filled with criminals is immense, internationally and at home. The infection is being excised by the British, has already been tossed by many other nations. Now we need to get serious about cutting it out, down to its hideous roots in criminality, here in our own country, while we can still call it our own.

Cngress last Wednesday passed a bill the White House threatens to veto, which would set up an inspector over intelligence, give Congress basis for cutting off funds when it has not been properly informed and require sharing of intelligence information with the Congress so that it can perform its oversight function.

As for the demand to up the flow of classified information to congressional oversight committees, the White House says it "goes beyond any legitimate oversight function" and simply encourages "micromanagement of [Intelligence Community] activities." If the bill makes it to the president's desk with any of these provisions attached, "senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."

This is not the first time that an intelligence authorization bill has run smack into White House instransigence. It's now been three years since Congress and the White House have been able to reach an accommodation. Why? "This administration wants maximum authority and maximum discretion," says Steve Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, who blogs at Secrecy News. "It lashes out at any semblance of checks and balances."

The Congress needs to take charge, it is obvious that we have an executive branch that is determined to end the rule of law. The mantra of war powers cannot continue to be allowed to take the reins from the constitutionally mandated controlling branch.

A beginning has been made, by the bare majority given to Democrats in Congress in 2006. It hasn't been enough. We need to elect progressives everywhere we can, and get the criminal element under control. It will take more than casual observation, it will take intense remedial action.

The Whole World Is Watching.

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More Whine, Please

The Department of Homeland Security doesn't like being subjected to Congressional oversight: it's too time consuming and apparently too confusing. At least that's the tenor of this op-ed piece authored by Stephen R. Heifetz, the deputy assistant secretary for policy development at the Department of Homeland Security published in today's NY Times.

IN a city known for paralyzing bureaucratic turf fights, one of the most debilitating and potentially disastrous has received scant attention: it’s the Congressional mess that produces tangled homeland security laws. This tangle obstructs our ability to prioritize risks at the Department of Homeland Security, where I work alongside more than 200,000 colleagues, almost all of us civil servants (not political appointees) who will remain in place after the election. ...

Roughly 80 committees and subcommittees oversee the Department of Homeland Security and its subcomponents. By way of comparison, the Department of Defense works primarily with four committees.
[Emphasis added]

While I tend to agree that Congress needs to revamp their committee system to accommodate the mish-mash known as Homeland Security, I don't think DHS deserves only four committees, or even a dozen. As it is presently constituted with everything from FEMA to TSA housed in that one department, it is in our interests to keep a sharp eye on people who insist on speaking in terms such as "prioritize."

Mr. Heifetz hardly does his argument any favors by pointing to 9/11, the sole reason for this massive reorganization:

To appreciate the challenge we face, it is important to remember that the Sept. 11 terrorist attack was a classic “low-probability, high-consequence” event. In the pre-9/11 era, if experts had generated a list of risks to our country — various terrorist attacks, hurricanes, contagious diseases and so on — they probably would have concluded that terrorists flying planes into skyscrapers and government buildings was unlikely, in light of the security and logistical obstacles the terrorists would have to overcome. While those experts would have acknowledged that such an attack would have grave results, before 9/11, relatively few people worried about such low-probability, high-consequence security events. After 9/11, however, many people began thinking about a broad range of such attacks.

Actually, a better date might have been selected. I'm thinking 8/6 might be the leading candidate. That was the date President Bush sloughed off the PDB which warned of an imminent terrorist attack by Al Qaeda. The CIA and other intelligence agencies, including the FBI knew something was afoot. Our president wasn't interested. Perhaps he should have asked a few questions, brought some pressure to bear on fleshing out that warning, but he just wasn't interested.

The whole point of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security was to facilitate information sharing among the various agencies involved in, well, actual homeland security. But, as often happens in Washington, people got carried away, with the result that little old ladies have to take their shoes off at the airport and over a million Americans who occasionally have to travel find that their names are on a 'no-fly' list for absolutely no good reason.

The DHS doesn't need less oversight, it needs more, even if that oversight is carried out by fewer committees.

Sorry, Mr. Heifetz. You'll have to do better. So will your colleagues.

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