Saturday, December 31, 2005


Here's an interesting collage of pictures on how the world is celebrating the new year. Let's hope 2006 will be a better year than 2005!

Revellers celebrate the New Year on the Champs Elysees in Paris early Sunday Jan. 1, 2006. (AP PHOTO/Remy de la Mauviniere)

Fireworks flash above Sydney Harbour bridge and Opera House during New Year celebrations in Australia's largest city, Sydney, early Sunday, Jan. 1, 2006. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Girls party in Sydney during the annual fireworks display to celebrate the New Year in Sydney, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2006. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

Indian man Kamlesh Nanda wears make up featuring a display Indian and Pakistani flags and a 'Happy New Year' hat in Amritsar, as he welcomes in the New Year 2006. Fireworks lit up the sky from Sydney to Hong Kong as the cities rang in 2006, kickstarting a night of celebration around the world as revellers bid farewell to a year scarred by violence and natural disasters.(AFP/Narinder Nanu)

A Chinese woman prays in front of statues of Buddha as she celebrates the start of the new year Jan. 1, 2006 at Longhua Temple in Shanghai, China. According to the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac, the year 2006 marks the year of the dog. (AP Photo)

Indonesian children play with clowns to celebrate the New Year in Jakarta on January 1, 2006. Indonesia authorities are gearing up to prevent possible terror attacks in the world's most populous Muslim nation during the New Year's celebrations. REUTERS/Dadang Tri

Clowns blow paper trumpets to celebrate the New Year in Jakarta on January 1, 2006. REUTERS/Dadang Tri

Fireworks explode over the Malaysia's Petronas Twin Towers at midnight in Kuala Lumpur January 1, 2006. Thousands of Malaysians gathered at the foot of the country's landmark to celebrate the coming of the new year. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

Two women celebrate as they welcome in the New Year in Time Square, in Hong Kong, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2006. (AP Photo / Kin Cheung)

A South Korean Christian weeps as she prays for reunification during a service to celebrate the New Year at Imjingak near the border village of the Panmunjom, north of Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2006. About 5,000 participators prayed for a peaceful solution to the rising tension over North Korea's nuclear weapons programs and hope for early reunification of the divided Koreas. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon).

The Times Square New Year's Eve ball lights up during a test drop in New York December 30, 2005. The Times Square New Year's Eve ball lights up during a test drop in New York December 30, 2005. At best, New Year's Eve is not only a time to celebrate another year passing, but also a time to see great music. New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas will be hosting the biggest names in pop and rock, and there are a slew of acts taking to stages around America to welcome in 2006. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Emma Henriksen, 17, of Wisconsin, inflates balloons in New York's Times Square Friday, Dec. 30, 2005 in preparation for the New Year's Eve celebration. Tens of thousands of balloons will be distributed to revelers welcoming in 2006. (AP Photo/Shiho Fukada)

David Pielo installs one of the 72 new Waterford Crystal triangles to the exterior of the Times Square New Year's Eve ball in New York December 27, 2005. The six-feet in diameter, 1,070-pound lighted crystal ball will serve as the centerpiece for the Times Square 2006 celebration. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

AP: Abramoff close to cooperation deal

This is just a day to wrap up scandals. Now we have an episode of The Jack Abramoff Show! This is from CNN.Com:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal prosecutors and lawyers for lobbyist Jack Abramoff are putting the finishing touches on a plea deal that could be announced early next week, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

The plea agreement would secure the Republican lobbyist's testimony against several members of Congress who received favors from him or his clients.

Pressure has been intensifying on Abramoff to strike a deal with prosecutors since former partner Adam Kidan pleaded guilty earlier this month to fraud and conspiracy in connection with the 2000 SunCruz boat deal.

Adam Kidan, above, and Jack Abramoff were parters in a Florida casino deal that led to the indictment. From CNN.Com.

Abramoff's cooperation would be a boon to an ongoing Justice Department investigation of congressional corruption, possibly helping prosecutors build criminal cases against up to 20 lawmakers of both parties and their staff members.

The people, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks, said the lawyers spoke by phone with U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck, giving him an update on the plea negotiations.

Huck scheduled another status conference for Tuesday afternoon, but the deal could be completed before then, the people said. Abramoff could sign the plea agreement and exchange it with prosecutors via fax over the weekend, they said.

Jack Abramoff, Reuter's File Photo

Details of where Abramoff will enter his plea are still being worked out. Abramoff's lawyers have indicated that they want the plea to be made in U.S. District Court in Washington, one person said.

If that happens, Abramoff would plead guilty to charges contained in a criminal information -- a filing made by a federal prosecutor with a defendant's permission that bypasses action by a grand jury.

The lawyers could then apprise Huck about the plea and its effect on the case in Miami.

What a way to ring the New Year in--A Jack Abramoff plea deal! What surprises me is that Abramoff's cooperation could allow prosecutors to build criminal cases against 20 lawmakers, and their staff! I'm wondering who these lawmakers are? How many of these lawmakers are Republican or Democratic?

Of course, Abramoff's cooperation could bear pressure in other ways. Consider the WaPost's story about the U.S. Family Network, which was headed by former Tom DeLay staffer Ed Buckham. What does Abramoff know about this U.S. Family Network, and its connections with either the Marianas' textile companies, the Choctaw Indian casinos, or even the Russian oil execs--considering that Abramoff had lobbying ties with all three of these interest groups. Whatever Abramoff says regarding the U.S. Family Network, could bring pressure of a federal investigation against Ed Buckham and his defunct organization. And who knows where that investigation could go?

It is going to be an interesting year!

DeLay Rep Says Boss Not Swayed by Donors

And now, an encore episode of The Tom DeLay Comedy Hour! I just had to add this story in, after commenting on the Washington Post's story regarding the DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail. So this new, encore story is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - A spokesman for embattled Rep. Tom DeLay on Saturday disputed any assertion that donations to a nonprofit group linked to the congressman influenced his legislative agenda.

Those donations, to a now-disbanded nonprofit group called U.S. Family Network, came from interests close to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to a story in Saturday's Washington Post.

In an e-mail, DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said the donations were not a factor in the congressional activities of the Texas Republican and former House majority leader.

"Mr. DeLay makes decisions and sets legislative priorities based on good policy and what is best for his constituents and the country. Any suggestion of outside influence is manipulative and absurd," Madden said. "Mr. DeLay has very firm beliefs and he fights very hard for them."

You know, I look at this prepared denial by DeLay, and then look at the evidence that has been coming out from this Post story, the indian gambling casinos, the Marianas textile scandal, the money laundering through Texans for a Republican Majority, and I have to ask myself--who am I going to believe here? "DeLay makes decisions and sets legislative priorities based on good policy and what is best for his constituents and the country?" Or the evidence of DeLay laundering political campaign contributions to circumvent Texas election laws, raking millions in from special interests in the Marianas textile companies, Choctaw indian casinos, or Russian oil executives, while voting favorably in their interests? The lies and denials coming out of DeLay's mouth (or his office) is comically outrageous!

It is going to be interesting, once the DeLay trial gets underway. Especially now that Abramoff is working on a plea deal with the feds--what is Abramoff going to tell the feds regarding the scams he and DeLay have cooked up, let alone how many other Republican congressmen are going to be ensnared in this train wreak? Stay tuned for more exciting episodes to come.

The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail

Folks, it is time for another episode of The Tom DeLay Comedy Hour! This is from The Washington Post:

The U.S. Family Network, a public advocacy group that operated in the 1990s with close ties to Rep. Tom DeLay and claimed to be a nationwide grass-roots organization, was funded almost entirely by corporations linked to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to tax records and former associates of the group.

Tom DeLay

During its five-year existence, the U.S. Family Network raised $2.5 million but kept its donor list secret. The list, obtained by The Washington Post, shows that $1 million of its revenue came in a single 1998 check from a now-defunct London law firm whose former partners would not identify the money's origins.

Two former associates of Edwin A. Buckham, the congressman's former chief of staff and the organizer of the U.S. Family Network, said Buckham told them the funds came from Russian oil and gas executives. Abramoff had been working closely with two such Russian energy executives on their Washington agenda, and the lobbyist and Buckham had helped organize a 1997 Moscow visit by DeLay (R-Tex.).

The former president of the U.S. Family Network said Buckham told him that Russians contributed $1 million to the group in 1998 specifically to influence DeLay's vote on legislation the International Monetary Fund needed to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy.

Whatever the real motive for the contribution of $1 million -- a sum not prohibited by law but extraordinary for a small, nonprofit group -- the steady stream of corporate payments detailed on the donor list makes it clear that Abramoff's long-standing alliance with DeLay was sealed by a much more extensive web of financial ties than previously known.

Jack Abramoff

Records and interviews also illuminate the mixture of influence and illusion that surrounded the U.S. Family Network. Despite the group's avowed purpose, records show it did little to promote conservative ideas through grass-roots advocacy. The money it raised came from businesses with no demonstrated interest in the conservative "moral fitness" agenda that was the group's professed aim.

In addition to the million-dollar payment involving the London law firm, for example, half a million dollars was donated to the U.S. Family Network by the owners of textile companies in the Mariana Islands in the Pacific, according to the tax records. The textile owners -- with Abramoff's help -- solicited and received DeLay's public commitment to block legislation that would boost their labor costs, according to Abramoff associates, one of the owners and a DeLay speech in 1997.

A quarter of a million dollars was donated over two years by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Abramoff's largest lobbying client, which counted DeLay as an ally in fighting legislation allowing the taxation of its gambling revenue.

The records, other documents and interviews call into question the very purpose of the U.S. Family Network, which functioned mostly by collecting funds from domestic and foreign businesses whose interests coincided with DeLay's activities while he was serving as House majority whip from 1995 to 2002, and as majority leader from 2002 until the end of September.

In other words, the U.S. Family Network was set up as a slush fund for Tom DeLay. The U.S. Family Network was marketed as a grass-roots campaign organization, but its real purpose was to solicit lobbying funds from clients. Think about it for a moment. Almost half of the monies raised by the U.S. Family Network came from a single defunct London law firm. What the heck was that law firm getting for that kind of money? And who was on that law firm's client list? Were the Russian oil executives responsible for moving $1 million into the London law firm, then having the law firm transfer that money into the U.S. Family Network as a payoff for DeLay's vote on approving the IMF bailout to the Russian government? Then there's the half million payment to the U.S. Family Network by textile companies in the Marianas--and we know how DeLay voted regarding legislation to increase wages for Marianas' textile workers. Of course, I haven't really gotten into Abramoff's involvement in this scam. Abramoff was the salesman here--selling his lobbying services to the Marianas' textile companies, to the Choctaw Indians (who donated a quarter million to the Family Network), and possibly to the Russian oil execs. Abramoff was selling Tom DeLay's vote in congressional legislation to the highest bidder. The money coming in for these sales were placed into organizations, which basically acted as fronts to do as DeLay pleased. Remember Texans for a Republican Majority? That was a simple front to launder corporate campaign contributions from the national Republican Party to Texas state and House GOP candidates campaign coffers, circumventing Texas election laws. The U.S. Family Network is nothing more than a slush fund.

So what was the U.S. Family Network paying out? Consider this:

After the group was formed in 1996, its director told the Internal Revenue Service that its goal was to advocate policies favorable for "economic growth and prosperity, social improvement, moral fitness, and the general well-being of the United States." DeLay, in a 1999 fundraising letter, called the group "a powerful nationwide organization dedicated to restoring our government to citizen control" by mobilizing grass-roots citizen support.

But the records show that the tiny U.S. Family Network, which never had more than one full-time staff member, spent comparatively little money on public advocacy or education projects. Although established as a nonprofit organization, it paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to Buckham and his lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group.

In other words, the slush fund was used to enrich both DeLay and Buckam's pockets. Buckham was formerly DeLay's chief of staff, before he set out on his own as a lobbyist, creating the Alexander Strategy Group. DeLay's wife worked for the Alexander Strategy Group:

There is no evidence DeLay received a direct financial benefit, but Buckham's firm employed DeLay's wife, Christine, and paid her a salary of at least $3,200 each month for three of the years the group existed. Richard Cullen, DeLay's attorney, has said that the pay was compensation for lists Christine DeLay supplied to Buckham of lawmakers' favorite charities, and that it was appropriate under House rules and election law.

The U.S. Family Network also funded some other activities. Consider this:

Some of the U.S. Family Network's revenue was used to pay for radio ads attacking vulnerable Democratic lawmakers in 1999; other funds were used to finance the cash purchase of a townhouse three blocks from DeLay's congressional office. DeLay's associates at the time called it "the Safe House."

DeLay made his own fundraising telephone pitches from the townhouse's second-floor master suite every few weeks, according to two former associates. Other rooms in the townhouse were used by Alexander Strategy Group, Buckham's newly formed lobbying firm, and Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), DeLay's leadership committee.

They paid modest rent to the U.S. Family Network, which occupied a single small room in the back.

The U.S. Family Network was nothing more than a slush fund.

Now we come to the DeLay / Russian oil executives connection:

Nine months before the June 25, 1998, payment of $1 million by the London law firm James & Sarch Co., as recorded in the tax forms, Buckham and DeLay were the dinner guests in Moscow of Marina Nevskaya and Alexander Koulakovsky of the oil firm Naftasib, which in promotional literature counted as its principal clients the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior.

Their other dining companions were Abramoff and Washington lawyer Julius "Jay" Kaplan, whose lobbying firms collected $440,000 in 1997 and 1998 from an obscure Bahamian firm that helped organize and indirectly pay for the DeLay trip, in conjunction with the Russians. In disclosure forms, the stated purpose of the lobbying was to promote the policies of the Russian government.

So DeLay, Abramoff, and Buckham were having dinner with two top Russian oil executives Nevskaya and Koulakovsky. Nevskaya and Koulakovsky not only run the oil firm Naftasib, but also have connections within the Ministries of Defense and Interior. And since both executives are involved in Naftasib and the Russian government, they are certainly willing to lobby the U.S. Congress to promote policies that would affect the Russian government in ways to benefit themselves and Naftasib. Continuing on:

Former Abramoff associates and documents in the hands of federal prosecutors state that Nevskaya and Koulakovsky sought Abramoff's help at the time in securing various favors from the U.S. government, including congressional earmarks or federal grants for their modular-home construction firm near Moscow and the construction of a fossil-fuel plant in Israel. None appears to have been obtained by their firm.

Former DeLay employees say Koulakovsky and Nevskaya met with him on multiple occasions. The Russians also frequently used Abramoff's skyboxes at local sports stadiums -- as did Kaplan, according to sources and a 2001 e-mail Abramoff wrote to another client.

Three sources familiar with Abramoff's activities on their behalf say that the two Russians -- who knew the head of the Russian energy giant Gazprom and had invested heavily in that firm -- partly wanted just to be seen with a prominent American politician as a way of bolstering their credibility with the Russian government and their safety on Moscow's streets. The Russian oil and gas business at the time had a Wild West character, and its executives worried about extortion and kidnapping threats. The anxieties of Nevskaya and Koulakovsky were not hidden; like many other business people, they traveled in Moscow with guards armed with machine guns.

A former Abramoff associate said the two executives "wanted to contribute to DeLay" and clearly had the resources to do it. At one point, Koulakovsky asked during a dinner in Moscow "what would happen if the DeLays woke up one morning" and found a luxury car in their front driveway, the former associate said. They were told the DeLays "would go to jail and you would go to jail."

The Russians certainly know how to bribe government officials, although by a rather crude means. Here's a somewhat rather slicker way to bribe a government official:

The tax form states that the $1 million came by check on June 25, 1998, from "Nations Corp, James & Sarch co." The Washington Post checked with the listed executives of Texas and Florida firms that have names similar to Nations Corp, and they said they had no connection to any such payment.

James & Sarch Co. was dissolved in May 2000, but two former partners said they recalled hearing the names of the Russians at their office. Asked if the firm represented them, former partner Philip McGuirk at first said "it may ring a bell," but later he faxed a statement that he could say no more because confidentiality practices prevent him "from disclosing any information regarding the affairs of a client (or former client)."

Nevskaya said in the e-mail yesterday, however, that "neither Naftasib nor the principals you mentioned have ever been represented by a London law firm that you name as James & Sarch Co." She also said that Naftasib and its principals did not pay $1 million to the firm, and denied knowing about the transaction.

Two former Buckham associates said that he told them years ago not only that the $1 million donation was solicited from Russian oil and gas executives, but also that the initial plan was for the donation to be made via a delivery of cash to be picked up at a Washington area airport.

One of the former associates, a Frederick, Md., pastor named Christopher Geeslin who served as the U.S. Family Network's director or president from 1998 to 2001, said Buckham further told him in 1999 that the payment was meant to influence DeLay's vote in 1998 on legislation that helped make it possible for the IMF to bail out the faltering Russian economy and the wealthy investors there.

"Ed told me, 'This is the way things work in Washington,' " Geeslin said. "He said the Russians wanted to give the money first in cash." Buckham, he said, orchestrated all the group's fundraising and spending and rarely informed the board about the details.

So, the Russians first wanted to give a luxury car to DeLay. But since this overt form of bribery was against U.S. law, they had to find a different means. Now we get this scam where a $1 million check was sent to the U.S. Family Network, from a non-existent company "Nations Corp." The law firm representing "Nations Corp." was James and Sarch, which was apparently representing the two Russian oil executives, according to the former partners of James and Sarch. So where did the money come from?

The more I read of this story, the more complications, lies, and disinformation I see in this whole bribery scam. The fact that Buckham told Geeslin that this $1 million payment from "Nations Corp." was meant to "influence DeLay's vote in 1998 on legislation that helped make it possible for the IMF to bail out the faltering Russian economy and the wealthy investors there," shows the arrogance these people have in abusing power and the political system of our country. "That is the way things work in Washington." It is incredible at how much hubris and arrogance these people have, regarding the law, regarding how this system can be subverted for their own self-interests.

There is so much more to this DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail. The Post also follows the Choctaw Indian gambling casino, and their connection with U.S. Family Network. The money connection there goes from the Choctaw tribe, through Buckham's Alexander Strategy Group, and into the Family Network. And in return, the Choctaws were getting DeLay's vote, and Congress, to stop rival indian tribes from building casinos in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. But I'm going to stop here. I would recommend that you read the Post story very carefully--perhaps even two or three times, to fully digest and understand this complicated money trail.

It is incredible.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Report: Trump Considering Run for Governor

Donald Trump is seen in New York, December 7, 2005. Casino operators Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. and Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. on Wednesday said they were bidding for gaming licenses in Philadelphia as a statewide deadline to apply for slot machine licenses loomed. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

I'm not sure what to say about this story, except only in New York.... From Yahoo News:

ALBANY, N.Y. - Could Donald Trump's next big project be political?

The New York Daily News, citing unnamed Republicans, reported Friday that Trump, the billionaire real estate developer and TV personality, is considering a run for governor as a Republican.

The report came after Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno on Thursday suggested a big-name candidate could be waiting in the wings to enter the 2006 governor's race on the GOP side.

"When it gets public, you are all going to become excited, interested, and will want to write about it," Bruno said.

Bruno, however, wouldn't name the mystery office seeker and Trump's office in New York had no immediate comment. State GOP Executive Director Ryan Moses said neither he nor state party Chairman Stephen Minarik have had any discussions with Trump about running.

Trump flirted with a possible run for president on the Reform Party ticket in 2000. He has also given money to Republicans and Democrats alike in state races.

Republicans are looking for a candidate with name recognition and money to take on the only announced Democratic candidate, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer is far ahead of all candidates for governor in the early polls.

Donald Trump verses Eliot Spitzer. What a wild race that would be.

Poll: First lady embraced, president not

This is interesting. From CNN.Com:

(CNN) -- Far more Americans think highly of first lady Laura Bush than they think of her husband, a poll released Thursday said.

Fewer than half of Americans say they have a favorable opinion of President Bush and his top aides, about the same number who said that last summer, the poll found.

But nearly three out of four (73 percent) said they have a favorable opinion of Laura Bush, the CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll said. Thirteen percent described their opinion of her as unfavorable.

First Lady Laura Bush's Poll Numbers. From CNN.Com

President Bush's Poll Numbers. From CNN.Com

The telephone poll of 1,003 adult American adults was conducted December 16-18 and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Asked their opinions of the president, 46 percent said they were favorable, a figure statistically equivalent to the 48 percent who gave that response in a July 25-28 poll.

The irony of these poll results are just incredible. I don't really hear much about Laura Bush in the news, although I'll admit that she's involved in her own charitable causes, as First Lady. She's not the co-equal partner that Hillary Clinton was, during Bill Clinton's two terms (Hillary Clinton was chosen to head up the national health care committee). That's not to say that Laura Bush was not influential in advising President Bush on policy issues. But rather, Laura Bush projected the image of a stay-at-home-wife to the Bush White House, over that of the Hillary Clinton's dual-career / co-equal-presidential-partnership of the Clinton administration. In other words, you can imagine Laura Bush baking cookies at home, while Hillary Clinton was a power-woman, working in the office (Hillary probably didn't know how to bake cookies). And now with the Bush White House political agenda exploding under its own scandals and mis-management, it is not surprising that President Bush's poll numbers are lower than that of his First Lady.

Justice Dept. Probing Domestic Spying Leak

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, left, speaks during a news conference about the Patriot Act at the Justice Department in Washington, in a Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005 photo. The Justice Department has opened an investigation Justice officials said Friday, Dec. 30, 2005. into the leak of classified information about President Bush's secret domestic spying program.(AP Photo/Yuri Gripas, File)

This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the leak of classified information about
President Bush's secret domestic spying program, Justice officials said Friday.

The officials, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe, said the inquiry will focus on disclosures to The New York Times about warrantless surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Times revealed the existence of the program two weeks ago in a front-page story that acknowledged the news had been withheld from publication for a year, partly at the request of the administration and partly because the newspaper wanted more time to confirm various aspects of the program.

Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for The Times, said the paper will not comment on the investigation.

Revelation of the secret spying program unleashed a firestorm of criticism of the administration. Some critics accused the president of breaking the law by authorizing intercepts of conversations — without prior court approval or oversight — of people inside the United States and abroad who had suspected ties to al-Qaida or its affiliates.

The surveillance program, which Bush acknowledged authorizing, bypassed a nearly 30-year-old secret court established to oversee highly sensitive investigations involving espionage and terrorism.

Administration officials insisted that Bush has the power to conduct the warrantless surveillance under the Constitution's war powers provision. They also argued that Congress gave Bush the power to conduct such a secret program when it authorized the use of military force against terrorism in a resolution adopted within days of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Justice Department's investigation was being initiated after the agency received a request for the probe from the NSA.

There are two stories here. The first story is the Justice Department's investigation. This investigation is being focused on WHO leaked the information on the secret NSA spying program to the Times. Buried within this Times story is the fact that the investigation was initiated by the NSA. The Bush White House did not want this story made public, considering the fact that the White House circumvented the FISA court, then admitted they had the legal authority to do so. Someone leaked this information out, and the Bush White House is on a witch hunt to find out who did.

The problem here is that the second, more important story, is not being investigated. This story is simply the fact that the Bush White House authorized this illegal wire-tapping in the first place, circumventing the courts. When did the president "authorize" these NSA wiretaps? And exactly WHO did the NSA domestically spy on? Was the NSA ordered by the Bush White House to spy on anti-war groups, or political opponents? Were some of these illegal NSA wiretaps used to develop "probable cause," allowing the FBI and NSA to go the FISA courts to legally obtain secret search warrants? How many American citizens were domestically spied upon? Exactly what types of wiretapping is the NSA using--there have been stories that the NSA is creating large databases of cell phone calls and email messages, then using supercomputers to search for patterns and word associations to find possible terrorist subjects. Is this one of the programs that the NSA is using? These are more serious questions that the Bush White House DOES NOT want to have investigated, or answered to the American people.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Fast Rise and Steep Fall of Jack Abramoff

I think it is time for a Season Finale of The Jack Abramoff Show! This is actually a pretty good background story, from the Washington Post, regarding the rise and fall of ubber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. From The Washington Post:

Jack Abramoff liked to slip into dialogue from "The Godfather" as he led his lobbying colleagues in planning their next conquest on Capitol Hill. In a favorite bit, he would mimic an ice-cold Michael Corleone facing down a crooked politician's demand for a cut of Mafia gambling profits: "Senator, you can have my answer now if you like. My offer is this: nothing."

The playacting provided a clue to how Abramoff saw himself -- the power behind the scenes who directed millions of dollars in Indian gambling proceeds to favored lawmakers, the puppet master who pulled the strings of officials in key places, the businessman who was building an international casino empire.

A reconstruction of the lobbyist's rise and fall shows that he was an ingenious dealmaker who hatched interlocking schemes that exploited the machinery of government and trampled the norms of doing business in Washington -- sometimes for clients but more often to serve his desire for wealth and influence.

The Post's story regarding Abramoff's rise is especially interesting. Abramoff became involved with two Republican rising stars during the Reagan years--anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist and Christian fundamentalist Ralph Reed. In the Post story:

A quarter of a century ago, Abramoff and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist were fellow Young Turks of the Reagan revolution. They organized Massachusetts college campuses in the 1980 election -- Abramoff while he was an undergraduate at Brandeis and Norquist at Harvard Business School -- to help Ronald Reagan pull an upset in the state.

They moved to Washington, maneuvered to take over the College Republicans -- at the time a sleepy establishment organization -- and transformed it into a right-wing activist group. They were joined by Ralph Reed, an ambitious Georgian whose later Christian conversion would fuel his rise to national political prominence.

Soon they made headlines with such tactics as demolishing a mock Berlin Wall in Lafayette Park, where they also burned a Soviet leader in effigy. "We want to shock them," Abramoff told The Post at the time.

They forged lifelong ties. At Reagan's 72nd-birthday party at the White House, Reed introduced Abramoff to his future wife, Pam Alexander, who was working with Reed.

During the Reagan years, Abramoff also networked himself with other interesting names during the 80s. Consider this:

[In 1982,] Abramoff was running Citizens for America, a conservative grass-roots group founded by drugstore magnate Lewis E. Lehrman. Abramoff was in frequent contact with Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, the Reagan White House's Iran-contra mastermind, about grass-roots efforts to lobby Congress for the Nicaraguan contras, according to records in the National Security Archive.

One of Abramoff's most audacious adventures involved Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan rebel leader who had U.S. support but was later found to have ordered the murders of his movement's representative to the United States and that man's relatives. With Savimbi, Abramoff organized a "convention" of anticommunist guerrillas from Laos, Nicaragua and Afghanistan in a remote part of Angola. Afterward, Lehrman fired Abramoff amid a dispute about the handling of the group's $3 million budget.

Abramoff also worked on behalf of the apartheid South African government, which secretly paid $1.5 million a year to the International Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit group that Abramoff operated out of a townhouse in the 1980s, according to sworn testimony to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

At the same time, Abramoff dabbled as a Hollywood producer, shepherding an anticommunist movie, "Red Scorpion," starring Dolph Lundgren, filmed in Namibia, which was then ruled by South Africa. Actors in the film said they saw South African soldiers on the set. When the film was released in 1989, anti-apartheid groups demonstrated at the theaters. The movie ran into financial difficulty during and after production, but Abramoff produced a sequel, "Red Scorpion 2."

What I find interesting here is who Abramoff was working with. Abramoff networked with anyone who would give him a rising paycheck, power, and influence. And in this early networking, Abramoff didn't care if what he was working on was morally or legally right. Abramoff and North worked on developing grass-roots lobbying in Congress for the Nicaraguan Contras. He worked with Jonas Savimbi, the UNITA rebel leader, for this anti-communist convention in Angola. And it is also interesting the Abramoff was involved in the mis-handling of $3 million budget for this convention. Finally, we see this lobbying on behalf of the apartheid South African government, which then secretly paid $1.5 million to a non-profit group that was set up by Abramoff. You could say that Abramoff was "learning the ropes" of lobbying and shady dealmaking--the basic skills that would propel him to the top lobbyist position in his dealings with Tom DeLay, the Indian casinos, and so many other Republican and Democratic congressmen.

There are also aspects of Abramoff's personality that may reflect on his rise and fall from lobbying power. Consider this:

For a time, all things seemed possible. Abramoff's brash style often clashed with culturally conservative Washington, but many people were drawn to his moxie and his money. He collected unprecedented sums -- tens of millions of dollars -- from casino-rich Indian tribes. Lawmakers and their aides packed his restaurants and skyboxes and jetted off with him on golf trips to Scotland and the Pacific island of Saipan.

Abramoff offered jobs and other favors to well-placed congressional staffers and executive branch officials. He pushed his own associates for government positions, from which they, too, could help him.

He was a man of contradictions. He presented himself as deeply religious, yet his e-mails show that he blatantly deceived Indian tribes and did business with people linked to the underworld. He had genuine inside connections but also puffed himself up with phony claims about his access.

"Everybody lost their minds," recalled a former congressional staffer who lobbied with Abramoff at Preston Gates. "Jack was cutting deals all over town. Staffers lost their loyalty to members -- they were loyal to money."

A senior Preston Gates partner warned him to slow down or he would be "dead, disgraced or in jail." Those within Abramoff's circle also saw the danger signs. Their boss had become increasingly frenzied about money and flouted the rules. "I'm sensing shadiness. I'll stop asking," one associate, Todd Boulanger, e-mailed a colleague.

Abramoff was a salesman. He worked for the sale. He lived for the deal. Only instead of selling cars, or encyclopedias, or vacuum cleaners, Abramoff sold politics. He sold access to politicians to the highest bidders. He became the middleman who provided the link between the business groups, who needed access to the politicians in order to provide their views regarding legislation that would affect their interests, and the politicians themselves, who needed contributions to fund their campaign war chests. And as a middleman, Abramoff was at the political center, reaping the rewards of both money and power. And it was the greed for both money and power that drove Abramoff to destruction.

There is more here regarding the fall of Jack Abramoff, but much of the information regarding Jack Abramoff's fall from lobbying power, and the indictments against him by federal prosecutors, have already been reported in numerous press accounts. Still, the story is a fascinating read on how a single individual could rise from a obscure Young Turk to the highest lobbying position in Washington, only to fall spectacularly in one of the biggest congressional scandals of all time.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Ex-Enron exec pleads guilty

Former Enron chief accounting officer Richard Causey and his wife Bitsy leave the federal courthouse Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005 in Houston after pleading guilty to criminal charges pending against him. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

This is from CNN.Com:

NEW YORK ( - Former Enron accounting chief Richard Causey's guilty plea to securities fraud Wednesday for his role in the financial scandal that drove the energy company into bankruptcy in 2001 is being hailed as a big win for the government in their case against former top executives at Enron.

Causey is expected to cooperate with prosecutors seeking convictions of his former bosses, Enron founder Ken Lay and ex-CEO Jeff Skilling, who face charges of fraud and conspiracy from the scandal that rocked corporate America in 2001. The two men were due to go on trial with Causey next month in Houston.

Causey, who had been facing multiple counts of conspiracy and fraud charges, entered his plea before a federal judge overseeing the case in Houston.

His eleventh hour plea agreement could tip the scales in favor of the prosecution by providing prosecutors with an additional corroborating witness against the defendants.

"Causey has long been the keys to the kingdom because he's the most important person in the Enron saga in terms of knowing who knew and who didn't know," said a source familiar with the case. "The government has been trying to get him to plead guilty long before anyone was even indicted. It's a huge win."

So the feds have got themselves another witness to bolster their case against Lay and Skilling. According to the CNN story, Causey was the chief accountant who dreamed up these creative accounting schemes. The CNN story also said that Causey "has not been accused of personally profiting from any misdeeds, [and] may prove to be a more likeable witness by a jury," over that of chief financial officer, Andrew Fastow. Not only did Fastow plead guilty to two counts of wire and securities fraud last year, but Fastow's own credibility as a witness was undermined when it was revealed that Fastow and his wife funneled cash payments to themselves, disguised as gifts. Defense lawyers for Lay and Skilling would certainly work at destroying Fastow's credibility as a government witness to the jurors. But now with Causey entering the picture as a government witness, it could certainly bolster the government's case against both Lay and Skilling, and make it harder for the defense attorneys claiming that Lay and Skilling didn't know what was going on in the company. So this complicated case is getting even more interesting.

The trial starts January 30th.

Sunday, December 25, 2005


Friday, December 23, 2005

Osama's Niece Poses in Racy Photo Shoot

Wafah Dufour, niece of Osama bin Laden, poses in an undated publicity photo released on December 22, 2005, taken during a photo session for the January 2006 issue of GQ Magazine. Dufour, who took her mother's maiden name after the events of September 11, 2001, is an aspiring musician struggling to make a name for herself. Dufour said she has never met Osama bin Laden. 'Everyone relates me to that man, and I have nothing to do with him. There are 400 other people related to him, but they are all in Saudi Arabia, so nobody's going to get tarred with it. I'm the only one here,' Dufour said in the GQ article. NO SALES NO ARCHIVES REUTERS/Jeff Riedel/GQ Magazine/Handout

I'm curious. Will President Bush place an NSA wiretap on her?

NEW YORK - Osama bin Laden's niece, in an interview with GQ magazine in which she appears scantily clad, says she has nothing in common with the al-Qaida leader and simply wants acceptance by Americans.

"Everyone relates me to that man, and I have nothing to do with him," Wafah Dufour, the daughter of bin Laden's half brother, Yeslam Binladin, says in the January edition of the magazine, referring to the al-Qaida leader.

"I want to be accepted here, but I feel that everybody's judging me and rejecting me," said the California-born Dufour, a law graduate who lives in New York. "Come on, where's the American spirit? Accept me. I want to be embraced, because my values are like yours. And I'm here. I'm not hiding."

Dufour, who adopted her mother's maiden name after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that have been blamed on bin Laden, appears in several provocative photos in the magazine.

The pictures are likely to be considered obscene by conservative Muslims in and outside of Saudi Arabia where women are required to be veiled.

Asked if she would like to perform her music in the Middle East, Dufour says her mother, Carmen Dufour, would be too afraid that "someone would want to kill me."

"Listen, I would love to raise consciousness. Maybe women could hear the songs and realize that I'm doing my dream and hopefully they can, too," she said.

Yeslam and Osama are among 54 children of the late Saudi construction magnate Mohammed bin Laden and his 22 wives. The extended family includes several hundred people.

Binladin, who received Swiss citizenship in 2001, has condemned his half brother "for his acts and his convictions." He intentionally spells his name differently from his half brother.

In the interview, Dufour says she would not date a fundamentalist Muslim and that she cried hysterically when she witnessed the attacks on New York while staying with her mother in Geneva.

I mean, she is related to ole Osama. Maybe she's a "terrorist threat?"

Congress Extends Patriot Act for One Month

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., speaks about the one-month extention of the Patriot Act during a press conference in the Capitol, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2005, in Washington. The House of Representatives passed a one-month extension of the Patriot Act on Thursday and sent it to the Senate for final action as the U.S. Congress scrambled to prevent expiration of anti-terror law enforcement provisions on Dec. 31. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - Congress on Thursday approved a one-month extension of the Patriot Act and sent it to President Bush in a pre-Christmas scramble to prevent many of its anti-terrorism provisions from expiring Dec. 31.

The Senate, with only Sen. John Warner (news, bio, voting record), R-Va., present, approved the Feb. 3 expiration date four hours after the House, with a nearly empty chamber, bowed to Rep. James Sensenbrenner's refusal to agree to a six-month extension.

Congress can pass legislation with only a few lawmakers present as long as no member of the House or Senate objects. The Senate session lasted four minutes.

Sensenbrenner, chairman of the
House Judiciary Committee, said the shorter extension would force swifter Senate action and had the support of the White House and Speaker
Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. The Senate reconvenes Jan. 18 and the House Jan. 26.

"A six-month extension, in my opinion, would have simply allowed the Senate to duck the issue until the last week in June," the Wisconson Republican told reporters.

Most Senate Democrats and a few libertarian-leaning Republicans united against a House-Senate compromise that would have renewed several expiring provisions permanently while extending some other for another four years.

Democrats were pleased with a short-term extension, whether for six months or just a few weeks.

"The amount of time is less important than the good-faith effort that will be needed in improving the Patriot Act to strike the right balance in respecting Americans liberty and privacy, while protecting their security," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), D-Vt., the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

"We're happy to agree to a shorter-term extension of the Patriot Act," said Rebecca Kirszner, an aide to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "The important thing is to strike the right balance between liberty and security."

House passage marked the latest step in a stalemate that first pitted Republicans against Democrats in the Senate, then turned into an intramural GOP dispute.

Without action by Congress, several provisions enacted in the days following the 2001 terror attacks would have expired. Bush has repeatedly urged Congress not to let that happen.

Now this is interesting. First--like it or not--both houses are ducking this issue. The debate here is that the Republicans, under President Bush's urging, want to make certain provisions in the Patriot Act permanent. These provisions include roving wiretaps, which allow investigators to listen in on any telephone and tag any computer they feel is suspect in a terrorist case. Democrats are refusing to allow this provision to be permanent, arguing that such roving wiretaps infringe on American citizens Fourth Amendment rights. The Senate was willing to give a six-month extension, which would bring the debate on the Patriot Act well in the middle of the congressional midterm elections. But the House decided to reduce this extension to one month, bringing the Patriot Act up for debate in February. Obviously, both sides want to duck this issue for the end of this term, allowing congressmen to return home for their Christmas break. The president will not allow the Patriot Act to expire, and will quickly sign it before the Dec. 31 deadline.

The problem with the Patriot Act is that it does to the heart of the issue of wiretaps, security, and American citizens civil liberties. How much authority should the government have in issuing wiretaps to listen in on American citizens? Should they be allowed to secretly wiretap American citizens calls without a court order? Where do the interests of national security collide with the Fourth Amendment rights? The Democrats and moderate Republicans are united in pushing for safeguards to protect civil liberties--especially now, considering the latest stories of the NSA and Pentagon domestically spying on Americans. This is an extraordinary power, fraught with the temptation of abuse. And the Bush White House has clearly shown that it is willing to destroy Americans Fourth Amendment civil rights in the interests of "national security." That's the debate.

So it has been extended out of the winter break. Come February, there will, again, be a bloody fight in Congress over the Patriot Act. And I'm not sure where it will go, considering the possibility of a Democratic filibuster on this measure. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Senate Passes 6-Month Patriot Act Extension

Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., center, along with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., left, and and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., meet reporters on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005, to discuss the Patriot Act. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - The terror-fighting USA Patriot Act may have a new lease on life.

The GOP-controlled Senate on Wednesday approved a six-month extension of the USA Patriot Act to keep the anti-terror law from expiring on Dec. 31.
President Bush gave it his grudging blessing.

The Republican-controlled House is now expected to come back and consider the legislation keeping the 16 provisions of the law passed after the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington from expiring.

Republican leaders and Bush wanted to make most of the law permanent, but were stymied by a filibuster in the Senate and had to resort to a six-month extension.

"This will allow more time to finally agree on a bill that protects our rights and freedoms while preserving important tools for fighting terrorism," said Sen. Feingold, D-Wis., who was the only senator to vote against the original Patriot Act in 2001.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan on Thursday accused Senate Democrats of trying to score political points and appease special interests, including the
American Civil Liberties Union, by blocking extension of the law. He said the temporary extension is a victory for the administration, even though it long said it would not approve anything but its permanent renewal.

"We kept Senate Democrats from killing the Patriot Act," McClellan said. "We're pleased that the existing Patriot Act is still in place."

"These vital tools will remain in place," he said, adding that the administration would continue to work to get the act reauthorized.

Most of the Patriot Act — which expanded the government's surveillance and prosecutorial powers against suspected terrorists, their associates and financiers — was made permanent when Congress overwhelmingly passed it after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington.

Making permanent the rest of the Patriot Act powers, like the roving wiretaps which allow investigators to listen in on any telephone and tap any computer they think a target might use, has been a priority of the Bush administration and Republican lawmakers.

House and Senate negotiators had agreed to compromise legislation that would have made most of the anti-terrorism law permanent and added additional safeguards to the law. But Senate Democrats and a small group of GOP senators blocked the legislation, arguing that the compromise needed more safeguards in it to protect Americans' civil liberties.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he had no choice but to accept a six-month extension in the face of a successful filibuster and the Patriot Act's Dec. 31 expiration date. "I'm not going to let the Patriot Act die," Frist said.

Bush indicated that he would sign the extension. "The work of Congress on the Patriot Act is not finished," Bush said. "The act will expire next summer, but the terrorist threat to America will not expire on that schedule. I look forward to continuing to work with Congress to reauthorize the Patriot Act."

Now while the Patriot Act may have a six month extension, there is a little problem that both the Bush White House and the Senate Republicans seemed to have overlooked. It is the time frame for this extension of six months. This means that the Patriot Act will again come up before the Republican-controlled Congress in June of 2006--right in the middle of the midterm elections. Now the Republicans may think this is an advantage for them, since they can pull out the tired, old arguments of "we're stronger on national security and protecting America against the terrorists, over that of the surrendering-to-the-terrorist Democrats." However, the revelations of the Bush White House using the NSA to domestically spy on American citizens, without warrants, have brought the Patriot Act out as a campaign issue in terms of balancing the nation's security interests in fighting terrorism with the American citizen's Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful searches and seizures. A Republican strategy of trying to place the fear of a terrorist attack against Americans may just backfire within six months. Also remember, there will be plenty of trials taking place within the next six months that can also harm the Republican establishment--Scooter Libby, Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff. So this is not a victory or a defeat for either political party. It is a six-month continuation of the status quo. And come June, you will see an even greater bloody fight regarding this Patriot Act, where both sides would have no choice, but to take this debate to whatever conclusion occurs.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Senate Blocks Alaska Refuge Drilling

Senators, from left, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., John Kerry, D-Mass. and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. prepare for a Capitol Hill news conference, Monday, Dec. 19, 2005 to protest a move by Sen Ted Stevens, R-Alaska to include an Arctic drilling provision in the Defense Appropriations Bill. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

After five years, the Republicans are still trying to push ANWR drilling through Congress, and they are still being defeated. This is off Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - The Senate blocked oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge Wednesday, rejecting a must-pass defense spending bill where supporters positioned the quarter-century-old environmental issue to garner broader support.

Drilling backers fell four votes short of getting the required 60 votes to avoid a threatened filibuster of the defense measure over the oil drilling issue. Senate leaders were expected to withdraw the legislation so it could be reworked without the refuge language. The vote was 56-44.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was among those who for procedural reasons cast a "no" vote, so that he could bring the drilling issue up for another vote.

The vote was a stinging defeat for Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who for years has waged an intense fight to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He had thought this time he would finally get his wish.

Stevens called the refuge's oil vital to national security and bemoaned repeated attempts over the years by opponents using the filibuster to kill drilling proposals.

Democrats, conversely, accused Stevens of holding hostage a military spending bill that includes money to support troops in
Iraq and $29 billion for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

"Our military is being held hostage by this issue, Arctic drilling," fumed Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader. The Nevada Democrat said the Senate could move quickly to pass the defense bill once the refuge issue was resolved.

"We all agree we want money for our troops. ... This is not about the troops," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a strong critic of letting oil development disturb the refuge in northeastern Alaska.

During the vote, a grim-faced Stevens, 82, who had fought to open the refuge to drilling since 1980 and is the most senior Republican in the Senate, sat midway back in the chamber, watching his colleagues. When it became apparent that he had lost, he briefly talked with Frist, presumably over what move should be taken next. He briefly shook his head, a signal of his disappointment.

So now the Republicans thought they could sneak the ANWR drilling through a big defense bill--probably stating that the ANWR drilling was important to the national security of the US, and to the 'Great War on Terrorism.' What a crock. Let's hope the Democratic senators keep ANWR the way it is.

Abramoff Lawyers in Plea Talks, Source Says

Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff is seen in Miami, August 18, 2005. Two U.S. newspapers said on Monday that they would no longer publish opinion pieces by conservative commentator Peter Ferrara, who has admitted taking payments from Abramoff to write op-ed pieces favorable to Abramoff's clients. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

And now, another exciting episode of The Jack Abramoff Show!This is off the Yahoo News site:

WASHINGTON - Lawyers for Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff are in discussions with the Justice Department about his possible cooperation in a congressional corruption probe, a person involved in the investigation said Tuesday night.

The probe involves a number of members of Congress as well as staff. A former aide to ex-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, has already pleaded guilty.

Abramoff would plead guilty under an arrangement that would settle a criminal case against him in Florida as well as potential corruption charges in Washington, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

The person describing the ongoing discussions said they have been going on "a long time, months." Only in the past week or so have they come "close to any kind of fruition," the person said.

The person cautioned that unspecified issues remain to be worked out. The person added that if the conversations proceeded smoothly, an agreement could be reached quickly, as early as "the beginning of next week." Abramoff has not been charged in the corruption investigation.

The New York Times first reported on the talks Tuesday night in a story its Web site.

The person declined to specify how many members of Congress Abramoff could implicate, saying only that "cooperation is cooperation; it's full cooperation."

Abramoff's cooperation with the feds is going to be HUGE! He knows where the bodies are buried--how the scams have been created and are now being linked to both the Republican leaders in Congress, and possibly to the Bush administration. If anyone can bring down the Republican Congress, it could be Jack Abramoff as a means to save his own skin from serious jail time. Abramoff's agreement to talk could certainly seal Tom DeLay's money laundering fate. And how many other Republican congressmen would also end up in the crosshairs of this federal investigation?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


This is a commentary article, written by Bruce Fein, for the Washington Times. What is especially interesting is that the Washington Times is a Moonie-controlled newspaper. Here are some excerpts of what Fein writes:

President Bush presents a clear and present danger to the rule of law. He cannot be trusted to conduct the war against global terrorism with a decent respect for civil liberties and checks against executive abuses. Congress should swiftly enact a code that would require Mr. Bush to obtain legislative consent for every counterterrorism measure that would materially impair individual freedoms....

Mr. Bush insisted in his radio address that the NSA targets only citizens "with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. Before we intercept these communications, the government must have information that establishes a clear link to these terrorist organizations."

But there are no checks on NSA errors or abuses, the hallmark of a rule of law as opposed to a rule of men. Truth and accuracy are the first casualties of war. President Bush assured the world Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 invasion. He was wrong. President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Americans of Japanese ancestry were security threats to justify interning them in concentration camps during World War II. He was wrong. President Lyndon Johnson maintained communists masterminded and funded the massive Vietnam War protests in the United States. He was wrong. To paraphrase President Ronald Reagan's remark to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, President Bush can be trusted in wartime, but only with independent verification.

The NSA eavesdropping is further troublesome because it easily evades judicial review. Targeted citizens are never informed their international communications have been intercepted. Unless a criminal prosecution is forthcoming (which seems unlikely), the citizen has no forum to test the government's claim the interceptions were triggered by known links to a terrorist organization.

Americablog reports that Fein was a "Justice Department official under Ronald Reagan." Fein is also a constitutional lawyer and international consultant for Bruce Fein & Associates and the Lichfield Group. What I find especially interesting about this article is that a former Reagan Justice Department official, with possibly some impressive conservative credentials, is attacking the Bush White House for overstepping the bounds of presidential power with this NSA wiretapping, in a column of a Republican-propaganda newspaper. Perhaps what Fein realizes is that this type of presidential power-grab can cut both ways. Not only could the NSA look into liberal or Democratic-leaning political groups and organizations, but also towards conservative-leaning groups and organizations. Why stop at using these NSA databases for looking at, Greenpeace or PETA. How about looking into the Minutemen, who are supposedly watching for the illegal Mexicans crossing over the borders into the US? Or how many neo-Nazi / KKK-loving paramilitary groups are setting up bases in remote locations of Montana and Idaho? What if a Democratic president takes power in 2008, and decides to use these NSA databases for snooping into Republican-leaning organizations? Are conservatives and Republicans only going to say that this kind of power is only reserved for one political party--and the Democrats are not on the list? These laws were set up to maintain that delicate system of checks and balances. In one sense, they were designed to protect this country, and the government, from extremism and its lustful desire for absolute power. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts--absolutely.

Spy Court Judge Quits In Protest

U.S. District Judge James Robertson

Some more news on the illegal wiretapping. This is from the Washington Post:

A federal judge has resigned from the court that oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of President Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program, according to two sources.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson, one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, sent a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. late Monday notifying him of his resignation without providing an explanation.

Two associates familiar with his decision said yesterday that Robertson privately expressed deep concern that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by the president in 2001 was legally questionable and may have tainted the FISA court's work.

The illegal wiretaps may have tainted the FISA court's work. The NSA starts wiretapping American citizens on domestic soil--and they pick up some choice bits of intelligence information regarding "suspected" terrorist activities. So what does the Bush White House do? How about go to FISA with this information to get the subpoenas for legally wiretapping these American citizens. Gather suspected evidence illegally, then clean it up to present to the FISA court as neat and legal.

Continuing with the Post story:

Robertson indicated privately to colleagues in recent conversations that he was concerned that information gained from warrantless NSA surveillance could have then been used to obtain FISA warrants. FISA court Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who had been briefed on the spying program by the administration, raised the same concern in 2004 and insisted that the Justice Department certify in writing that it was not occurring.

"They just don't know if the product of wiretaps were used for FISA warrants -- to kind of cleanse the information," said one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the FISA warrants. "What I've heard some of the judges say is they feel they've participated in a Potemkin court."

Robertson is considered a liberal judge who has often ruled against the Bush administration's assertions of broad powers in the terrorism fight, most notably in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld . Robertson held in that case that the Pentagon's military commissions for prosecuting terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were illegal and stacked against the detainees.

Incredible. So who is going to replace Robertson? A conservative hard-liner who has no qualms about this NSA illegal end-run around the FISA "Potemkin Court?"

Donors Underwrite DeLay's Deluxe Lifestyle

Former House Majority Leader, Rep. Tom Delay, R-Texas, left, prepares to tee off as President Bush swings in the background during a morning golf outing with three House Republicans at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland in this July 27, 2002 file photo. As DeLay became a king of political fundraising, he lived like one too. Over the past six years, the Republican and his aides have visited cliff-top Caribbean resorts, golf courses designed by PGA champions and four-star restaurants - all courtesy of donors who bankrolled his political money empire. (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert, Files)

Time to take a break from the NSA spying and enjoy The Tom DeLay Comedy Hour! This is from the Washington Post:

WASHINGTON -- As Tom DeLay became a king of campaign fundraising, he lived like one too. He visited cliff-top Caribbean resorts, golf courses designed by PGA champions and four-star restaurants _ all courtesy of donors who bankrolled his political money empire.

Over the past six years, the former House majority leader and his associates have visited places of luxury most Americans have never seen, often getting there aboard corporate jets arranged by lobbyists and other special interests.

Public documents reviewed by The Associated Press tell the story: at least 48 visits to golf clubs and resorts; 100 flights aboard company planes; 200 stays at hotels, many world-class; and 500 meals at restaurants, some averaging nearly $200 for a dinner for two.

Instead of his personal expense, the meals and trips for DeLay and his associates were paid with donations collected by the campaign committees, political action committees and children's charity the Texas Republican created during his rise to the top of Congress. His lawyer says the expenses are part of DeLay's effort to raise money from Republicans and to spread the GOP message.

Put them together and a lifestyle emerges.

"A life to enjoy. The excuse to escape," Palmas del Mar, an oceanside Puerto Rican resort visited by DeLay, promised in a summer ad on its Web site as a golf ball bounced into a hole and an image of a sunset appeared.

And our congressmen are suppose to represent us? The will of the people? I certainly can't afford a $200 dinner for two, or golfing in Puerto Rico. Then again, I guess if you're working real hard to represent the interests of indian casinos, Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Any-Business, it takes a lot out of you. So you have to relax in Big Luxury. Continuing on:

The Caribbean vacation spot has casino gambling, horseback riding, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing and private beaches.

"He was very friendly. We always see the relaxed side of politicians," said Daniel Vassi, owner of the French bistro Chez Daniel at Palmas del Mar. Vassi said DeLay has eaten at his restaurant every year for the last three, and was last there in April with about 20 other people, including the resort's owners.

The restaurant is a cozy and popular place on the yacht-lined marina at Palmas del Mar. Dishes include bouillabaisse for about $35.50, Dover sole for $37.50 and filet mignon for $28.50. Palmas del Mar is also a DeLay donor, giving $5,000 to DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority PAC in 2000.

Since he joined the House leadership as majority whip in 1995, DeLay has raised at least $35 million for his campaign, PACs, foundation and legal defense fund. He hasn't faced a serious re-election threat in recent years, giving him more leeway than candidates in close races to spend campaign money.

AP's review found DeLay's various organizations spent at least $1 million over the last six years on hotels, restaurants, golf resorts and corporate jet flights for their boss and his associates.

While it's illegal for a lawmaker to tap political donations for a family vacation, it is perfectly legal to spend it in luxury if the stated purpose is raising more money or talking politics.


F.B.I. Watched Activist Groups, New Files Show

I found this off of Shakespeare's Sister, which I then went back to the original story from the New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 - Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief, newly disclosed agency records show.

F.B.I. officials said Monday that their investigators had no interest in monitoring political or social activities and that any investigations that touched on advocacy groups were driven by evidence of criminal or violent activity at public protests and in other settings.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, John Ashcroft, who was then attorney general, loosened restrictions on the F.B.I.'s investigative powers, giving the bureau greater ability to visit and monitor Web sites, mosques and other public entities in developing terrorism leads. The bureau has used that authority to investigate not only groups with suspected ties to foreign terrorists, but also protest groups suspected of having links to violent or disruptive activities.

But the documents, coming after the Bush administration's confirmation that President Bush had authorized some spying without warrants in fighting terrorism, prompted charges from civil rights advocates that the government had improperly blurred the line between terrorism and acts of civil disobedience and lawful protest.

One F.B.I. document indicates that agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a "Vegan Community Project." Another document talks of the Catholic Workers group's "semi-communistic ideology." A third indicates the bureau's interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The documents, provided to The New York Times over the past week, came as part of a series of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. For more than a year, the A.C.L.U. has been seeking access to information in F.B.I. files on about 150 protest and social groups that it says may have been improperly monitored.

The F.B.I. had previously turned over a small number of documents on antiwar groups, showing the agency's interest in investigating possible anarchist or violent links in connection with antiwar protests and demonstrations in advance of the 2004 political conventions. And earlier this month, the A.C.L.U.'s Colorado chapter released similar documents involving, among other things, people protesting logging practices at a lumber industry gathering in 2002.

The latest batch of documents, parts of which the A.C.L.U. plans to release publicly on Tuesday, totals more than 2,300 pages and centers on references in internal files to a handful of groups, including PETA, the environmental group Greenpeace and the Catholic Workers group, which promotes antipoverty efforts and social causes.

Many of the investigative documents turned over by the bureau are heavily edited, making it difficult or impossible to determine the full context of the references and why the F.B.I. may have been discussing events like a PETA protest. F.B.I. officials say many of the references may be much more benign than they seem to civil rights advocates, adding that the documents offer an incomplete and sometimes misleading snapshot of the bureau's activities.

I just have one simple question about this story. Where is the "probable cause" for allowing the FBI's investigation of PETA, Greenpeace, and the Catholic Worker's group in fighting terrorism? Where is the connection between social activist groups and the "war on terror?" Granted, I'll accept the possibility that certain social activist groups will use violence or terror to push their own agenda. But does that mean that a member of al Qaida is the same as a member of Greenpeace or PETA? Are members of the Catholic Worker's Group going to fly airplanes into buildings so they can advance their "semi-communistic ideology?"

My worry here is that under this guise of "fighting terrorism," the FBI is broadening their investigation of other activist groups, who have their own criticisms of the Bush administration. There's a pattern here. The Pentagon is building a database of anti-war activists, and investigating their activities on the grounds that these activists may attack military bases on U.S. soil. The NSA is conducting secret wiretaps of American citizens on domestic soil, also under the guise of gathering intelligence against future terrorist activities. And now the FBI is investigating Greenpeace and PETA, also for generating terrorism leads. Who is next on the list? Individual Americans who oppose the Bush foreign and domestic policies? Volunteers for the Democratic Party? Democratic Party political candidates? George Soros?

Continuing on with the Times story:

A.C.L.U officials said the latest batch of documents released by the F.B.I. indicated the agency's interest in a broader array of activist and protest groups than they had previously thought. In light of other recent disclosures about domestic surveillance activities by the National Security Agency and military intelligence units, the A.C.L.U. said the documents reflected a pattern of overreaching by the Bush administration.

"It's clear that this administration has engaged every possible agency, from the Pentagon to N.S.A. to the F.B.I., to engage in spying on Americans," said Ann Beeson, associate legal director for the A.C.L.U.

"You look at these documents," Ms. Beeson said, "and you think, wow, we have really returned to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, when you see in F.B.I. files that they're talking about a group like the Catholic Workers league as having a communist ideology."

The documents indicate that in some cases, the F.B.I. has used employees, interns and other confidential informants within groups like PETA and Greenpeace to develop leads on potential criminal activity and has downloaded material from the groups' Web sites, in addition to monitoring their protests.

In the case of Greenpeace, which is known for highly publicized acts of civil disobedience like the boarding of cargo ships to unfurl protest banners, the files indicate that the F.B.I. investigated possible financial ties between its members and militant groups like the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front.

These networks, which have no declared leaders and are only loosely organized, have been described by the F.B.I. in Congressional testimony as "extremist special interest groups" whose cells engage in violent or other illegal acts, making them "a serious domestic terrorist threat."

In testimony last year, John E. Lewis, deputy assistant director of the counterterrorism division, said the F.B.I. estimated that in the past 10 years such groups had engaged in more than 1,000 criminal acts causing more than $100 million in damage.

When the F.B.I. investigates evidence of possible violence or criminal disruptions at protests and other events, those investigations are routinely handled by agents within the bureau's counterterrorism division.

But the groups mentioned in the newly disclosed F.B.I. files questioned both the propriety of characterizing such investigations as related to "terrorism" and the necessity of diverting counterterrorism personnel from more pressing investigations.

"The fact that we're even mentioned in the F.B.I. files in connection with terrorism is really troubling," said Tom Wetterer, general counsel for Greenpeace. "There's no property damage or physical injury caused in our activities, and under any definition of terrorism, we'd take issue with that."

Jeff Kerr, general counsel for PETA, rejected the suggestion in some F.B.I. files that the animal rights group had financial ties to militant groups, and said he, too, was troubled by his group's inclusion in the files.

"It's shocking and it's outrageous," Mr. Kerr said. "And to me, it's an abuse of power by the F.B.I. when groups like Greenpeace and PETA are basically being punished for their social activism."

Bush: Secret wiretaps won't stop

More on secret wiretaps. This is from CNN.Com:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush defended using government wiretaps without court authorization to monitor terrorism suspects and urged the Senate to renew the USA Patriot Act during his year-end news conference Monday.

The president said he intends to continue using secret international wiretaps to monitor activities of people in the United States suspected of having connections to al Qaeda.

"To save American lives we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks," Bush said during the event, in the East Room of the White House.

"I swore to uphold the laws. Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is, absolutely."

What I find amazing about this story is that even with the outrage of Congress, and the shock of the American public (if there is any shock), this president will continue to plow ahead in doing whatever he feels like doing--and such trivial items such as the law and the Constitution can be damned.

It is incredible.

Critics Question Timing of Surveillance Story

Now some speculation on the New York Times' involvement in the NSA wiretapping. This is actually from the Los Angeles Times, titled Critics Question Timing of Surveillance Story:

The New York Times first debated publishing a story about secret eavesdropping on Americans as early as last fall, before the 2004 presidential election.

But the newspaper held the story for more than a year and only revealed the secret wiretaps last Friday, when it became apparent a book by one of its reporters was about to break the news, according to journalists familiar with the paper's internal discussions.

The Times report has created a furor in Washington, with politicians in both parties and civil libertarians saying that President Bush was wrong to authorize the surveillance by the National Security Agency without permission from a special court.

Bush and his supporters have fired back, saying that the eavesdropping was needed to protect Americans after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. On Monday, the president called the public reports on the once-secret surveillance "shameful."

Politicians, journalists and Internet commentators have feverishly aired the debate over the timing of the New York Times story in the last four days — with critics on the left wondering why the paper waited so long to publish the story and those on the right wondering why it was published at all.

So now the Times may have known about the illegal wiretapping before the November presidential elections. This brings up a whole new host of questions--what did the Times reporters know about the wiretaps, and when exactly did they know of it? When did the Times reporters place a call to the White House for their comment on the story? What did the White House use to keep the Times story under wraps? Who was involved, on the Times editorial board, in making this decision to hold the story?

There's more to the LA Times story:

The initial Times statements did not say that the paper's internal debate began before the Nov. 2, 2004, presidential election — in which Iraq and national security questions loomed large — or make any reference to Risen's book, due out Jan. 16.

But two journalists, who declined to be identified, said that editors at the paper were actively considering running the story about the wiretaps before Bush's November showdown with Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.

Top editors at the paper eventually decided to hold the story. But the discussion was renewed after the election, with Risen and coauthor of the story, reporter Eric Lichtblau, joining some of the paper's editors in pushing for publication, according to the sources, who said they did not want to be identified because the Times had designated only Keller and a spokeswoman to address the matter.

"When they realized that it was going to appear in the book anyway, that is when they went ahead and agreed to publish the story," said one of the journalists. "That's not to say that was their entire consideration, but it was a very important one of them."

Both of the journalists said they thought that Times editors were overly cautious in holding the story for more than a year. But they said they thought the delays appeared to be in good faith, with the editors taking to heart the national security concerns raised by the Bush administration.

So there was dissent between the Times editors -- who wanted to hold the story out of "national security concerns raised by the Bush administration" -- and the reporters, who wanted to bring this story out before a book publication. How long did this conflict take place in the Times offices?

There are so many unanswered questions here, but what I can say is that the New York Times got hold of a story where the NSA was domestically wiretapping American citizens. They got this information sometime before the November 2005 presidential elections. The Times probably got much of the story out by November 2004, considering that the reporters are going to release a book next month on the NSA wiretapping. The Times called the White House for their comments. Now here is where the story gets vague. The question here isn't whether the Bush administration was engaged in wiretaps against American citizens on domestic soil, but rather who are those American citizens that have been wiretapped by the NSA? And what type of electronic eavesdropping is the NSA involved with these wiretappings. Joshua Marshall, over at Talking Points Memo, provides an interesting theory that the NSA was involved in datamining phone and email conversations, looking for key words and phrases. Marshall gets his information from The Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum. Could it be that the Bush White House was on a "fishing expedition" for suspected terrorists, reasoning they couldn't go through the FISA courts for search warrants since they had no "probable cause?" And if the NSA was involved in these data minings of cell phone conversations and emails of domestic Americans, who is to say that the White House wasn't just looking into Americans with suspected ties to terrorism--or even anti-war demonstrators, environmentalists, or other liberal groups opposed to the Bush administration? We certainly know politics plays a central role in every decision the White House makes. What if Bush administration officials--i.e. Karl Rove--decided to use, or even consider using, the NSA data mining technology to spy on Kerry campaign cell phone conversations and email messages? If the Times story came out before the November elections, it certainly would have been devastating to the Bush White House campaign of being "tough on terrorism." Would moderates and independents who voted for Bush in 2004 on the basis of his message "don't change a horse in the middle of a stream," would consider voting for Bush if they knew the president was trampling on American citizens Fourth Amendment rights. Lord knows what the Kerry campaign could have done with this story! In other words, the White House "concerns" regarding the possible publication of the Times' story could have been based on political interests, rather than national security interests. The Bush administration didn't want this embarrassing and illegal story to come out before the elections, thus possibly influencing the elections towards a Kerry victory.

And yet, by not publishing the story, the New York Times may have also influenced the elections towards the Bush victory. It is the greatest problem with speculating on this issue, this story--the variables of this story can tilt it either way. We don't know exactly what exactly the Times reporters and editors knew about the NSA wiretaps before the November 2004 elections--we just know that the reporters and editors knew of the wiretaps. The LA Times continues, saying:

Daniel Okrent, the former public editor at the New York Times, said the disclosure of wiretaps without court authority was an important story and one the newspaper deserved plaudits for bringing into the public debate.

But the story also put the newspaper in a difficult position, he said.

"You are damned if you do and damned if you don't," said Okrent, who often wrote critical reviews of the Times before leaving in May to write a book. "For the right, this information never should have come out. And for the left, it never could have come out early enough."

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said readers would like to have more information to judge why the paper waited more than a year to publish the story.

"If the concerns were strong enough they didn't run the story, then it puts them in a very difficult position when it comes time to explain" because the newspaper had determined that it could not reveal many of the details for national security reasons, Jamieson said.

Nonetheless, Jamieson called on the paper to be as transparent as possible to explain the delay because it had an obligation "to make sure all possible information was available to voters before the election, as long as that information did not jeopardize national security."

I certainly want to know more on this issue.