Monday, January 30, 2006

Roll Call of the Cloture Vote

This is from the Washington Post:

The Associated Press tallied the 72-25 vote:

On this vote, a "yes" vote was a vote to end the debate and a "no" vote was a vote to filibuster the nomination.

Voting "yes" were 19 Democrats and 53 Republicans.

Voting "no" were 24 Democrats and one independent.!

Democrats Yes

Akaka, Hawaii; Baucus, Mont.; Bingaman, N.M.; Byrd, W.Va.; Cantwell, Wash.; Carper, Del.; Conrad, N.D.; Dorgan, N.D.; Inouye, Hawaii; Johnson, S.D.; Kohl, Wis.; Landrieu, La.; Lieberman, Conn.; Lincoln, Ark.; Nelson, Fla.; Nelson, Neb.; Pryor, Ark.; Rockefeller, W.Va.; Salazar, Colo.

Democrats No

Bayh, Ind.; Biden, Del.; Boxer, Calif.; Clinton, N.Y.; Dayton, Minn.; Dodd, Conn.; Durbin, Ill.; Feingold, Wis.; Feinstein, Calif.; Kennedy, Mass.; Kerry, Mass.; Lautenberg, N.J.; Leahy, Vt.; Levin, Mich.; Menendez, N.J.; Mikulski, Md.; Murray, Wash.; Obama, Ill.; Reed, R.I.; Reid, Nev.; Sarbanes, Md.; Schumer, N.Y.; Stabenow, Mich.; Wyden, Ore.

Democrats Not Voting

Harkin, Iowa.

Republicans Yes

Alexander, Tenn.; Allard, Colo.; Allen, Va.; Bennett, Utah; Bond, Mo.; Brownback, Kan.; Bunning, Ky.; Burns, Mont.; Burr, N.C.; Chafee, R.I.; Chambliss, Ga.; Coburn, Okla.; Cochran, Miss.; Coleman, Minn.; Collins, Maine; Cornyn, Texas; Craig, Idaho; Crapo, Idaho; DeMint, S.C.; DeWine, Ohio; Dole, N.C.; Domenici, N.M.; Enzi, Wyo.; Frist, Tenn.; Graham, S.C.; Grassley, Iowa; Gregg, N.H.; Hatch, Utah; Hutchison, Texas; Inhofe, Okla.; Isakson, Ga.; Kyl, Ariz.; Lott, Miss.; Lugar, Ind.; Martinez, Fla.; McCain, Ariz.; McConnell, Ky.; Murkowski, Alaska; Roberts, Kan.; Santorum, Pa.; Sessions, Ala.; Shelby, Ala.; Smith, Ore.; Snowe, Maine; Specter, Pa.; Stevens, Alaska; Sununu, N.H.; Talent, Mo.; Thomas, Wyo.; Thune, S.D.; Vitter, La.; Voinovich, Ohio; Warner, Va.

Republicans No


Republicans Not Voting

Ensign, Nev.; Hagel, Neb.

Others No

Jeffords, Vt

So now we know who the 19 Democrats are that voted down the filibuster.

Senate Moves Alito Close to Confirmation

Talk about hypocrisy. From Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - The Senate on Monday all but guaranteed Samuel Alito's confirmation as the nation's 110th Supreme Court justice, shutting down a last-minute attempt by liberals to block the conservative judge's nomination with a filibuster.

Republican and Democratic senators, on a 72-25 vote, agreed to end their debate, setting up a Tuesday morning vote on Alito's confirmation to replace retiring moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

With at least 57 votes committed to Alito — 53 Republicans and four Democrats — approval by majority vote in the 100-member Senate seemed assured.

A bloc of Democrats, led by Massachusetts Sens. Edward Kennedy and
John Kerry, unsuccessfully tried over the weekend and Monday to persuade other senators to use a vote-delaying filibuster to stop Alito, a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Appeals Court and a former lawyer for the Reagan administration.

"It is the only way we can stop a confirmation that we feel certain will cause irreversible damage to our country," said Kerry, the Democrats' 2004 presidential nominee.

O'Connor has been a swing vote on abortion rights, affirmative action, the death penalty and other contentious issues.

Alito's supporters needed 60 votes to block the filibuster, and they were joined by 13 Democrats who have announced they will vote against confirming his nomination.

Well, America--you've gotten what you asked for. You now have a wing-nut who will tip the balance on the Supreme Court, who will vote to give President Bush greater powers to domestically spy on you, rule in favor of big corporations over individual citizens, and turn civil liberties back to the 18th century. You can bet Alito is going to overturn Roe--the wing-nuts have gotten their Supreme Court now. We will soon watch as more of our civil liberties and protections are eroded away--heck, this court might just rule in favor of suspending the 2008 presidential elections and keep George Bush as president, if another terrorist attack occurs this October. You've wanted a fascist dictatorship, you are on the road to have one now.

How long will it be, before the American public wakes up from this nightmare? I can't say.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Bush State of Union part of election-year strategy

President Bush answers questions, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2006, during a news conference in the Brady Press Room at the White House. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

You have to love this. Also from Reuters News Service:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's State of the Union speech will stress his optimistic vision for Iraq and the U.S. economy in a strategy aimed at giving Republicans a potential road map to victory in November and boosting his own weakened standing.

Sweeping proposals along the lines of his big Social Security revamp -- which fizzled after its high-profile roll-out a year ago -- were not expected in the annual speech on Tuesday night before millions watching on television.

Bush goes into the speech burdened by a stubbornly low job approval rating of about 43 percent, reflecting disapproval of his handling of the Iraq war and soaring gasoline prices.

The White House called the speech "thematic in nature."

"The president will have some new policies that he will talk about that will reflect the priorities that the American people care most about, but this is more of a visionary and directional speech than it is a laundry list of proposals," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Aides described the speech as optimistic in tone, saying he will argue as he has in many recent speeches that progress is being made in Iraq, and that the fundamentals of the U.S. economy are sound despite an anemic growth rate of 1.1 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2005.

Yes SIR! It is the start of the constant campaign-style of governing. The Republican PR spin-meisters are already starting up their new election-year strategy of claiming everything is hunky-dorie. Progress is being made in Iraq--despite the fact that the Pentagon released a study showing the Army is cracking under the war strains. The economy is a success--despite the fact that economic growth came in at 1.1 percent, and the job market is in the pits. U.S. Middle East policy is in a shambles, with Iran ramping up their development of nuclear weapons, and the radical terrorist party Hamas won the democratic elections in the Palestine Authority territories. The Republican Party is embroiled in scandals after scandals, the American public is suspicious of the White House's continued defense of their illegal NSA domestic spying activities--now called "terrorist surveillance" program. Talk about a PR-spin here. Continuing on:

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said, "People really don't believe him (Bush) any more and that's a real problem for him."

"Americans think the state of the union is a pretty difficult state right now."

Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican, told Fox, he expected Bush would return to Republican basics in the speech -- "limited government, fiscal discipline, strong defense and a commitment to traditional values."

Domestically, Bush is expected to focus on a package of initiatives to rein in the soaring cost of U.S. health care by expanding the use of tax-preferred savings accounts and giving tax breaks to Americans without employer-provided health insurance so they can purchase health plans on their own.


The initiatives will build on some measures already enacted by Congress. Bush may also revive some past proposals including a push to rein in malpractice insurance lawsuits.

Bush's challenge is to outline a plan that Republicans who control Congress can use to try to avoid what has been the historical norm -- the party in power loses seats in midterm elections, election years in which a president is not chosen.

"I'm expecting the reframing of priorities and outlining of goals that can be accomplished early in the year to give Republicans a platform to run on," said Republican strategist Scott Reed.

"Most people have made up their minds about him one way or the other, but there's still a persuadable group in the middle who can be convinced that he's doing a good job, who are not at this point convinced," said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

Political experts said Bush's challenge is to set the tone for the campaign year. Typically, Republican candidates would be largely in lock-step with their leader. But given Bush's weakened position, this year they will choose whether they want to latch on to his agenda or go off on their own.

Democrats eager to regain control of either the House of Representatives, the Senate or both were not waiting to hear the speech before criticizing him for a "growing credibility problem" manifested by an influence-peddling probe involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a major Republican fund-raiser.

"In his speech, the president needs to tell the American people what he is going to do to end the culture of corruption and lay out solutions that will make America strong," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

This whole speech will be about how to stem the losses, the American public's growing unease with the current Bush administration's performance, the continued revelations of Republican corruption, and hopefully to maintain Republican control of Congress. The question here is, does the Bush administration have enough power and influence to maintain the Republican control of Congress--even in the face of these scandals and problems, and the upcoming problems that will arise later this year? These problems are specifically the Tom DeLay trial, the Scooter Libby trial, the Enron trial of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, the ongoing Abramoff probe and whatever Abramoff tells the prosecutors in their investigation of corruption in Congress. And these are not the unkown wildcards that this country and government will face. And you can bet that the Democrats are not going to help the Republicans in pushing any type of legislative agenda for this election year.

Welcome to Campaign 2006.

Army forces 50,000 soldiers into extended duty

A US soldier is silhouetted by the setting sun during a patrol in Iraq. Two reports warned that the US military has become perilously overstretched by the strain of repeated military deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.(AFP/File/Stan Honda)

This is your military at work. This is your military on the verge of self-destruction. From Reuters News Service:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army has forced about 50,000 soldiers to continue serving after their voluntary stints ended under a policy called "stop-loss," but while some dispute its fairness, court challenges have fallen flat.

The policy applies to soldiers in units due to deploy for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Army said stop-loss is vital to maintain units that are cohesive and ready to fight. But some experts said it shows how badly the Army is stretched and could further complicate efforts to attract new recruits.

"As the war in Iraq drags on, the Army is accumulating a collection of problems that cumulatively could call into question the viability of an all-volunteer force," said defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute think tank.

"When a service has to repeatedly resort to compelling the retention of people who want to leave, you're edging away from the whole notion of volunteerism."

When soldiers enlist, they sign a contract to serve for a certain number of years, and know precisely when their service obligation ends so they can return to civilian life. But stop-loss allows the Army, mindful of having fully manned units, to keep soldiers on the verge of leaving the military.

Under the policy, soldiers who normally would leave when their commitments expire must remain in the Army, starting 90 days before their unit is scheduled to depart, through the end of their deployment and up to another 90 days after returning to their home base.

With yearlong tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, some soldiers can be forced to stay in the Army an extra 18 months.

While the stop-loss is continuing to keep the soldiers to serve in Iraq for an extra one, two or three tours, it is ultimately destroying the military in the long run. Sooner or later, these soldiers are going to have enough of this. Either at the end of their extended 18-month tours, you're going to see a mass defection of soldiers leaving the Army, or you're going to see a major uprising of soldiers inside the military against their commanding officers--perhaps a low-grade revolt against the military. Something's going to happen. The military can't seem to recruit enough soldiers to maintain an all-volunteer force--even with the extra incentives, bonuses, and extended age limits. Continuing on:

Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman, said that "there is no plan to discontinue stop-loss."

"We understand that this is causing hardship for some individual soldiers, and we take individual situations into consideration," Hilferty said.

Hilferty said there are about 12,500 soldiers in the regular Army, as well as the part-time National Guard and Reserve, currently serving involuntarily under the policy, and that about 50,000 have had their service extended since the program began in 2002. An initial limited use of stop-loss was expanded in subsequent years to affect many more.

Almost 12,500 soldiers in the regular Army and National Guard, are serving involuntarily under the program. That number is going to increase in the next couple of years, as the military is still going to see shortfalls in their recruiting goals.

This "thin green line" is going to snap soon. Continuing on:

Hilferty noted the Army has given "exceptions" to 210 enlisted soldiers "due to personal hardship reasons" since October 2004, allowing them to leave as scheduled.

"The nation is at war and we are stop-lossing units deploying to a combat theater to ensure they mobilize, train, deploy, fight, redeploy and demobilize as a team," he said.


A few soldiers have gone to court to challenge stop-loss.

One such case fizzled last week, when U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington dismissed a suit filed in 2004 by two Army National Guard soldiers. The suit claimed the Army fraudulently induced soldiers to enlist without specifying that their service might be involuntarily extended.

Courts also have backed the policy's legality in Oregon and California cases.

Jules Lobel, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who represented the National Guard soldiers, said a successful challenge to stop-loss was still possible.

"I think the whole stop-loss program is a misrepresentation to people of how long they're going to actually serve. I think it's caused tremendous morale problems, tremendous psychological damage to people," Lobel said.

"When you sign up for the military, you're saying, 'I'll give you, say, six years and then after six years I get my life back.' And they're saying, 'No, really, we can extend you indefinitely.'"

Congressional critics have assailed stop-loss, and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry called it "a back-door draft." The United States abolished the draft in 1973, but the all-volunteer military never before has been tested by a protracted war.

The problem with the court challenges here is you have a dispute between how long you, as the individual recruit, can sign up to serve in the military, verses how long the military can keep you in the service. The military wants to keep your service contract indefinitely regarding this stop-loss orders. Individual soldiers are starting to refuse to having to serve multiple tours in Iraq, and having to face both the hardships within the war, and the hardships that their families face at home. As this "back-door draft" continues to escalate, you can bet there will be more court challenges as to the length of stay these recruit will have to endure in these stop-loss orders. And not only will court challenges continue to come up, but how long do you think before American veterans of the Iraqi war start to run for Congress?

That's already starting to happen.

Lawmakers Push Bush on Abramoff Contacts

Guess what? It's time for another exciting episode of The Jack Abramoff Show! Tonight's exciting episode--Who's On First? This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - Republican lawmakers said Sunday that President Bush should publicly disclose White House contacts with Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who has pleaded guilty to felony charges in an influence-peddling case.

Releasing the records would help eliminate suspicions that Abramoff, a top fundraiser for Bush's re-election campaign, had undue influence on the White House, the Republicans said.

"I'm one who believes that more is better, in terms of disclosure and transparency," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. "And so I'd be a big advocate for making records that are out there available."

The president has refused to reveal how much access Abramoff had to the White House, but has said he does not know Abramoff personally. Bush has said federal prosecutors are welcome to see the records of Abramoff's contacts if they suspect something inappropriate, but he has not released them publicly.

Rep. Mike Pence (news, bio, voting record), R-Ind., who appeared with Thune on "Fox News Sunday,", said all White House correspondence, phone calls and meetings with Abramoff "absolutely" should be released.

"I think this president is a man of unimpeachable integrity," Pence said. "The American people have profound confidence in him. And as Abraham Lincoln said, `Give the people the facts and republican governance perhaps will be saved.'"

Bush's spokesman has said Abramoff was admitted to the White House complex for "a few staff-level meetings" and Hanukkah receptions in 2001 and 2002. The White House will not say how many times the lobbyist came in, who he met with or what business he had there.

Bush said he had his picture taken with Abramoff an unknown number of times, but he said he doesn't remember taking them and the two never sat down and had a discussion. Bush said he has had his photo taken with thousands of people, but that doesn't mean he knows them well.

You know what surprises me here? It is that the REPUBLICANS, in Congress are calling for President Bush to release the records and the photos of the White House involvement in the Abramoff scandal. And the Bush administration still refuses to release any records, and yet continues to claim that President Bush doesn't personally know Abramoff.

Watch the nose grow on the puppet here! Continuing on:

Sen. Chuck Hagel (news, bio, voting record), R-Neb., played down the notion that Bush was beholden to Abramoff because of a few donations. But Hagel said Bush should release the photos to avoid giving Democrats unnecessary political ammunition.

"Get it out. Get it out. Come on," Hagel said, adding the photos will eventually leak out anyway.

"I mean, disclosure is the real issue. Whether it's campaign finance issues, whether it's ethics issues, whether it's lobbying issues, disclosure is the best and most effective way to deal with all of these things," he said on ABC's "This Week."

Thune said pictures should not be released because it is clear that Democrats would use any pictures of Bush with Abramoff for political purposes.

"But I do think it's important that everybody understand what this guy's level of involvement was," Thune said.

Of course, even the Republicans are starting to contradict themselves, considering that Thune says the pictures of Bush and Abramoff should not be released since they could be used politically against the Republican party. But Thune, Pence, Hagel, and other Republican congressmen are saying that the Bush White House should release all the other records, not knowing how much political damage to the White House and the Republicans, that those records could contain. Talk about Keystone Cops here.

The Democrats are not much better in this farce, but the Democrats don't control of Congress, so they can't much of anything. Continuing on:

Democrats have complained about Bush's refusal to disclose White House dealings with Abramoff, who represented six Indian tribes with casinos and several other clients.

The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean, made it clear that Abramoff's relationship with Republicans will be an issue in this year's congressional campaign.

"If the American people will put us back in power in '06, we will have on the president's desk things that outlaw all those kinds of behavior," Dean said on Fox.

But the comments from the Republicans, who hold the majority in Congress, show that it's not just Democrats who would like to see Bush come clean.

In a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Friday, 76 percent of those surveyed said the Bush administration should provide a list of all meetings any White House officials have had with Abramoff. Two in three Republicans joined with eight in 10 Democrats and political independents in favoring disclosure, according to the poll.

Now the Democrats have called upon the U.S. attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor in handling the Abramoff probe, after the current chief prosecutor Noel Hillman was appointed by President Bush for a federal judgeship in New Jersey. Like it or not, the timing on this appointment really stinks, considering the Abramoff probe is starting to taint the Bush White House--and Bush appoints the current prosecutor to a federal judge. Gee--what's President Bush hiding?

You just have to marvel at the sheer incompetence of this farce.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Poll: Public Worried About Federal Deficit

I had this post saved in draft form for the past week, and it sort of gotten pushed aside. Perhaps I wasn't really sure of how to comment on it--still not sure of what to say even now. So here's the post. It is another poll to look at. From Yahoo News:

The public thinks the federal deficit will grow larger by the end of
President Bush's second term and many people think the health care system will be weaker by then, according to a CBS-New York Times poll.

Seven in 10 said in the poll released Friday that they expect the deficit to grow larger by the end of his presidency. Four in 10 said they think health care will be worse, while half said they expect it will be about the same.

The Bush administration's new Medicare drug prescription program, which the administration said would save money for millions, has not inspired much optimism. About half in the poll, 51 percent, said they expect seniors will pay more for prescription drugs by the end of the president's second term. A third said they will pay the same and the remainder said less.

People were divided on whether the economy will be stronger at the end of Bush's presidency.

The poll also found that while many Americans would tolerate government eavesdropping on e-mails and phone calls without warrants to combat terrorism, they're concerned the program the Bush administration is aggressively promoting could encroach on their civil liberties.

While the program has been criticized as illegal by Democrats and some Republicans, 53 percent of the respondents said they supported the eavesdropping "in order to reduce the threat of terrorism."

Bush is viewed unfavorably by 48 percent and viewed favorably by 37 percent as he prepares for his sixth State of the Union address next week. The poll of 1,229 adults was taken Jan. 20-25 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Seventy percent of Americans say that the deficit will grow larger by the end of the Bush presidency. Another disturbing number to reflect on. Rereading this story now, after President Bush gave his SOTU address, I'm struck by the discontinuity between what the president says, and what the American public even believes in. This poll came out before the president's SOTU address, and the public is already worried that the deficit will continue to grow, that health care will continue to get worst, they are worried that the government will illegally spy on Americans without warrants, and that the economy will not grow stronger. We have a divided country here, and I doubt that Bush's SOTU address even made a dent at bridging this division, considering that the SOTU speech was nothing more than a campaign stump speech for this November's midterm elections.

I have a feeling we're going to see more polls like this, showing a complete lack of support for the Republicans and the White House.

Poll: Most think Bush is failing second term

Here's a couple more polls to chew on. This is from CNN.Com:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A majority of Americans are more likely to vote for a candidate in November's congressional elections who opposes President Bush, and 58 percent consider his second term a failure so far, according to a poll released Thursday.

Fewer people consider Bush to be honest and trustworthy now than did a year ago, and 53 percent said they believe his administration deliberately misled the public about Iraq's purported weapons program before the U.S. invasion in 2003, the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found.

Pollsters interviewed 1,006 American adults Friday through Sunday. Most questions in the survey had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. (Poll)

Bush is preparing for his State of the Union address, set for next week, and told reporters Thursday that he is "looking forward" to campaigning for Republicans in November's elections. (Full story)

But the latest poll indicated Americans remain in a pessimistic mood.

Fifty-eight percent of those polled said Bush's second term has been a failure so far, while 38 percent said they consider it a success. A smaller number -- 52 percent -- consider his entire presidency a failure to date, with 46 percent calling it successful.

Americans are in a pessimistic mood? And 58 percent consider Bush's second term a failure? WOW! That's a surprising result--and this result has been released just one year into his second term, and less than ten months before the midterm elections. In addition, over half the country believes his entire presidency is a failure to date--at 52 percent.

So what does this mean? There have been a lot of uninvestigated scandals, lies, cover-ups, and corruption that the Bush administration has been connected with--Jack Abramoff lobbying connection, illegal NSA domestic spying, Iraq WMDs, Valerie Plame, FEMA, the coal mine disasters and lack of safety regulations, Cheney's secret energy policy meetings--the list just goes on. All of these scandals have steadily eroded the public's lack of trust in the Bush administration, and has eroded President Bush's job performance records. That is what we're seeing here in these poll results. What is even more amazing is that the Bush White House continues their PR-spin of lies and deception--even in the face of these poll results. Consider this response:

Bush defended his performance Thursday, pointing to an improved economy despite higher prices for gasoline, heating oil and natural gas. He said the November elections would be about "peace and prosperity."

"We've got a record, and a good one," he said. "That's what I intend to campaign on and explain to people why I made the decisions I made, and why they're necessary to protect the American people, and why they've been necessary to keep this economy strong -- and why the policies we've got will keep this economy strong in the future."

But 51 percent of those polled said they were more likely to vote for a candidate in congressional elections who opposes Bush, while 40 percent said they were likely to vote for a candidate who backs the president.

Bush's own approval rating remained at 43 percent, unchanged since mid-December, according to results released earlier this week. Another 54 percent disapproved of his job performance, that survey found.

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed in the latest poll -- 62 percent -- said they were dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States, while 35 percent said they were satisfied.

And 64 percent said things in the United States have gotten worse in the past five years, while 28 percent said things have improved.

For the first time since Bush took office in 2001, a majority of those polled said the president -- who campaigned as "a uniter, not a divider" -- has been a divisive leader. Fifty-four percent called Bush a divider, while 41 percent called him a uniter.

Just over a third -- 34 percent -- said Bush had a clear plan for solving the nation's problems, and 44 percent agreed that he cared about the needs of people like them and shared their values.

A narrow majority of 51 percent said they consider Bush to be a strong and decisive leader, compared with 48 percent who disagreed. Although those totals fall within the margin of sampling error, they mark a decline from a year ago, when 61 percent called the president strong and decisive.

There is so much more to this story, but you can pretty much get the idea--the American public is starting to wake up and discover the emperor has no clothes--he hasn't been wearing any clothes for the past five years now. And as more revelations of these scandals continue to be revealed, they will continue to erode public support for the Bush White House. Remember, we have Tom DeLay's money laundering trial, the continued investigation and indictments into the Jack Abramoff scandal, and the Scooter Libby / Valerie Plame trial coming up this year. The revealing information in these three scandals will cause some nasty political fallout on the Bush White House. And who knows what else will come out with the illegal NSA wiretapping and domestic spying? I also have to ask, how many Republican congressmen are willing to allow the president to help campaign with them? I can't say, but as these scandals continue to be at the forefront of the news, they are not going to help the Republicans in November's midterm elections. They are not going to help the President's political and public image.

Most Americans want Bush reveal lobbyist ties: poll

This is a short political story which really speaks for itself. From

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three in four Americans want President George W. Bush to disclose his aides' links with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a demand the White House has rejected so far, according to a poll published on Saturday.

The Washington Post said the demand was supported by clear majorities of both Republicans and Democrats in the Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted between January 23 and January 26.

Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud charges this month and agreed to help U.S. prosecutors in a corruption probe that has sparked calls for reform of the Washington practice of lobbying lawmakers with donations and favors to influence legislation.

At a White House news conference on Thursday, Bush said he did not know Abramoff and would not release photographs in which the two appeared together.

He said the release of the photographs would be used for "pure political purposes" by Democrats.

The Washington Post said 76 percent of those surveyed said Bush should release lists of all meetings between his aides and Abramoff. Eighteen percent disagreed.

"Two in three Republicans joined with eight in 10 Democrats and political independents in favoring disclosure," the paper said.

It said 1,002 people were interviewed and the poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The only comment to make on this story is that the Bush White House will not reveal any details regarding the lobbying ties between President Bush and Jack Abramoff, any more than they will release the photos showing Bush with Abramoff. It is that simple. The Bush administration believes they are above the law, and are not accountable to anyone. The only way to get these details is for the Democrats to regain control of Congress in this year's midterm elections, and to regain control of the investigation committees and subpoena powers to investigate the Bush White House. Currently, the Democrats are pushing to have a special prosecutor appointed to look into the Jack Abramoff scandal, and congressional corruption probe. Consider this story from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - Two Senate Democrats asked the U.S. attorney general Thursday to appoint a special counsel to take over the investigation into congressional corruption involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The letter came a day after the Justice Department announced the prosecutor heading the investigation would step down from the Abramoff investigation.

Noel Hillman, chief of the department's public integrity section, was nominated by
President Bush for a judgeship on the U.S. District Court in New Jersey.

Hillman will step down as chief of the public integrity unit next week, but remain in the Justice Department's criminal division until he is confirmed, a department official said.

In a letter to the attorney general, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Ken Salazar argued an independent prosecutor "would ensure that the investigation and prosecution will proceed without fear or favor and provide the public with full confidence that no one in this country is above the law."

The two Democrats said that so far, the public integrity section of the Justice Department, which is in charge of the probe, has "pursued this case appropriately."

Rep. George Miller (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif. issued a statement supporting the request made by Schumer and Salazar. In addition to the points they raised, Miller noted that on Wednesday Bush nominated Hillman to a federal judgeship.

"It looks like the White House has reached in and tampered with an ongoing investigation," Miller said.

The White House was poised to nominate Hillman last summer after a deal on Bush's judicial nominations paved the way for New Jersey's Democratic senators to weigh in on Hillman. White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said the president makes all his nominations in a timely manner and was ready to move forward.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said, "There is no legal or ethical reason why the attorney general would need to recuse himself from this investigation as it continues to move forward successfully with a career prosecution team."

Abramoff pleaded guilty this year to several felony charges, some involving his dealings with members of Congress and their aides. His one-time business partner, former congressional aide Michael Scanlon, pleaded guilty last year in the same investigation.

The Republicans are not going to allow a special prosecutor to be selected to investigate the Abramoff scandal. Once that occurs, the special prosecutor will certainly start looking into the relationship between Abramoff, and the Bush White House--not to mention the numerous Republican congressional ties in this corruption probe. In other words, the Republicans would love nothing more that to squash this investigation as quickly as possible.

Bush Calls Hillary Clinton 'Formidable'

This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - President Bush said Friday that Sen. Hillary Clinton, a potential candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is "formidable," but he declined to speculate on which Republicans might run for the White House in 2008.

"This is an unusual year because this is the first time there hasn't been a kind of natural successor in the party," Bush said in an interview with "CBS Evening News." "Two wide-open primaries with no sitting vice president running in either primary, so this is — I can't remember a time when it's been this open."

President Bush. Reuters File Photo

I have one simple question to ask here: Why is President Bush "speculating," or perhaps "goading" is another word, that Senator Hillary Clinton should run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008? I know there has been a lot of speculation in the mainstream "corporate" media about Clinton's front-running status as a Democratic candidate. But Clinton has some huge liabilities that both the corporate media and Bush will not talk about. The biggest liability is that she is pretty much despised by the Republican base, or possibly even moderate conservatives. And I don't think any amount of campaigning will result in shifting any conservative votes to her side.

New York Senator Hillary Clinton. AP File Photo

Something tells me that the Republicans would love to have Hillary run. They would love to bring up the past Clinton record--and certainly the Monical Lewisnky scandal--and use that against her in Swift Boat attack ads. If the Republicans can get John McCain to run against Clinton, could gather more support than Clinton in a race--McCain can gather support from both the Republican base, and the moderates and independents, due to his somewhat "maverick," and independent status. Of course, this is all speculation on my part, considering that I cannot get any poll results.

There is another aspect of this story that I'm a little suspicious of. President Bush refuses to speculate on Republican nominations for the 2008 presidential election? Mr. President, why do you refuse to speculate on the Republican nominations, when you're happy to talk about Hillary Clinton's supposed nomination? That irks me.

Oh, by the way--Mr. President, the last presidential election of which both political parties did not have sitting vice-presidents running for office was the 1952 presidential elections. The 1952 presidential elections pitted former general Dwight Eisenhower on the Republican ticket, verses Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson for the Democratic ticket. Eisenhower won the 1952 electon.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Fatah Activists Protest Party Corruption

A protestor holds a Fatah badge and a Palestinian flag next to a burning car inside the courtyard of the Parliament in Gaza City Friday Jan. 27, 2006. Thousands of members of Fatah, which badly lost Palestinian parliament elections to Hamas this week, burned cars and shot in the air in demonstrations across the Gaza Strip, demanding the resignation of corrupt officials and insisting that Fatah form no coalition with Hamas. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

This is from Yahoo News:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Thousands of Fatah supporters burned cars and shot in the air across the Gaza Strip on Friday, demanding the resignation of corrupt party officials and insisting there be no coalition between their defeated party and the victorious Hamas.

The protest against the party that dominated Palestinian politics for the past 40 years came after President Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected last year to a four-year term, said he would ask the Islamic militant group to form the next government. Abbas later fired six Fatah officials.

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas prepared to task Hamas with forming a government after its shock vote win as the Islamist group faced mounting pressure to renounce violence.(AFP/Pedro Ugarte)

What we have here now, is the potential for a civil war between two political parties--Hamas and Fatah. The top political leaders of Fatah became entrenched within the Palestinian Authority, and used their government powers for their own self-interests. The corruption started when the Fatah-dominated PLO was morphed into the new Palestinian Authority. There really was no opposition party to Fatah, as Yasser Arafat was first elected as President to the Palestinian Authority. Arafat brought in his own Fatah supporters to build the government. When the Palestinian Authority was first created, it was a one-party government under the rule of Arafat and his Fatah political party. Once the Palestinian people realized the state of corruption within the Palestinian Authority, they went on to choose the next best alternative political party--in this case, Hamas.

Hamas took the opposite approach in this Palestinian political game. They were the outsiders in Palestinian politics, working as both a radical Islamic terrorist group attacking Israeli targets, and working in relief, education, and charity programs within the Palestinian Authority. I would say that Hamas' work in the charity and relief programs reinforced the idea that Hamas was working to better the plight of ordinary Palestinians, over that of the widespread corruption that was taking place within the Fatah party. The Palestinian people took that belief into the voting booths.

Now Hamas is in control of the government. Its leaders have to ask the simple question--do they continue supporting their radical beliefs in destroying Israel, and risking condemnation from the world, and possibly risk losing any type of relief aid? The U.S. is already considering with holding millions in development aid from the Palestinian Authority. Or, do they consider some type of negotiations? Continuing with the Yahoo story:

A Hamas-led government could lead to a cutoff of crucial foreign aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority if the Islamic militants do not renounce violence and end their call for the destruction of Israel.

A sea of Palestinain Hamas supporters cheer during a celebration rally in the southern Gaza Strip refugee camp of Khan Yunes. Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas prepared to task Hamas with forming a government after its shock vote win as the Islamist group faced mounting pressure to renounce violence.(AFP/Mohammed Abed)

Palestinian supporters of Hamas celebrate their victory in parliamentary elections in the West Bank town of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

Despite international pressure, Hamas leaders said Friday they had no intention of recognizing Israel.

"It's not in our mind now to recognize it as we believe that it's a state that has usurped our land and expelled our people. These issues should be handled before we talk about recognition," deputy Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk said from Damascus,

Hamas held a celebratory rally in the central Gaza town of Khan Younis, as supporters waved green party flags and caps and chanted slogans.

Palestinian Hamas supporters hold up their green hats as they chant slogans during a rally celebrating the group's victory in parliamentary elections, in the Khan Younis Refugee Camp, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, Jan. 27, 2006. Hamas leaders have hinted that despite their hardline ideology, they will be pragmatic and not disrupt daily life in the territories they are about to rule. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

At this point, I'd say that Hamas is more happy celebrating their victory in the elections, rather than seriously considering how to run the Palestinian territories. In addition, their own leaders are also a little "hot-headed," continuing their claims that they will not recognize Israel--just as the Bush administration is hot-headed in claiming they will not recognize the Hamas-elected government. The best thing now, is to let all sides cool down, and stop the rhetoric.

But the losing party here in Fatah does not like the results. Continuing on:

Small, violent confrontations also broke out in Khan Younis. An argument between roughly 20 Hamas and Fatah loyalists degenerated into gunfire and rock-throwing that left three people injured, one with gunshot wounds. A second gunbattle wounded one police officer and one Hamas supporter, police said.

Wednesday's election exposed deep tensions within Palestinian society and was a clear rebuke to Fatah for its corruption and inability to maintain order in Palestinian towns. Before the vote, veteran Fatah leaders, those most tainted by corruption allegations, resisted repeated calls for reform by the Fatah young guard.

On Friday, thousands of Fatah activists, furious with those leaders for the electoral loss, protested throughout Gaza and the West Bank, demanding the Fatah central committee resign and insisting the party not form a partnership with Hamas. Fatah officials publicly said they would not join a coalition government.

Supporters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement protest inside the Palestinian parliament building in Gaza January 27, 2006. International peace broking in the Middle East was plunged into turmoil on Friday by Hamas's shock Palestinian election win and a U.S. vow not to deal with the Islamic group until it renounced violence against Israel. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Demonstrators burned cars and shot in the air in front of the Palestinian parliament building in Gaza City. About 1,000 angry party activists went to Abbas' house in Gaza, and hundreds of gunmen fired rifles in the air. Abbas was in the West Bank city of Ramallah at the time.

A protestor holds a Fatah flag next to a burning car inside the courtyard of the Parliament in Gaza City Friday Jan. 27, 2006. Thousands of members of Fatah, which badly lost Palestinian parliament elections to Hamas this week, burned cars and shot in the air in demonstrations across the Gaza Strip, demanding the resignation of corrupt officials and insisting that Fatah form no coalition with Hamas. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Palestinian Fatah members, some holding weapons and one carrying a portrait of the late Yasser Arafat, take over the Parliament building during a demonstration against the Fatah leadership in Gaza City Friday Jan. 27, 2006. Thousands of members of Fatah, which badly lost Palestinian parliament elections to Hamas this week, burned cars and shot in the air in demonstrations across the Gaza Strip, demanding the resignation of corrupt officials and insisting that Fatah form no coalition with Hamas.(AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

The protesters then marched through Gaza City toward the security headquarters, tearing down Hamas election posters and banners and burning tires in the street. A small group called on Abbas to resign.

"We are against joining any coalition with Hamas because this means a disaster for Fatah and the Palestinian people," said Samir Mashrawi, a local Fatah leader who was defeated in the election. "Instead, we want to be a strong opposition and we want to fight and end the corruption of some of Fatah's historical leaders."

About 500 Fatah protesters marched through the West Bank city of Hebron, also calling for the resignation of party leaders.

Fatah supporters chant slogans inside the Palestinian parliament during a protest in Gaza City January 27, 2006. Fatah activists burned cars in an angry protest outside the Palestinian parliament building in Gaza City on Friday after the party's shock election defeat to the Islamic militant group Hamas, witnesses said. At least two cars were set ablaze by gunmen as thousands of Fatah supporters gathered inside the compound, firing rifles in the air. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Rank-and-file Fatah supporters are angry at their top party leaders--angry at the corruption these leaders were involved in, and at resulting Fatah electoral loss as a result of this corruption. Fatah anger is also directed at Hamas, because of Hamas' extreme radical positions regarding the destruction of Israel. Fatah supporters believe that a Hamas-run government would result in a complete cutoff of economic and relief aid, causing the already weakened Palestinian economy to collapse. Interestingly enough, Fatah is taking their anger to the streets now, rather than trying to develop a cohesive political opposition strategy within the Palestinian government. Fatah needs to learn how to work as a viable opposition party against Hamas within the Palestinian government.

The best thing that the U.S. and Israel can do is to leave the Palestinians alone in working out their newly-elected democratic government. Let these two political parties learn how to deal with each other, and how to govern together. The Palestinians have to learn how to transition their government from one political party to the other. The two political parties have to learn how to work with each other, and to learn how to work with other nations on a world stage. Both political parties were born out of terrorist organizations. Both parties participated in acts of violence. And both parties are trying to transform from these terrorist organizations into entities that are necessary in the governing of the Palestinian territories. They have to learn to do this on their own.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas Wins Landslide 76 Seats / Bush Says U.S. Policy on Hamas Unchanged

This is another 2-story post. First story from Yahoo News--Hamas Wins Landslide 76 Seats:

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Hamas won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections as Palestinian voters rejected the longtime rule of the corruption-ridden
Fatah Party, according to nearly complete official returns Thursday. The triumph by the Islamic militant group plunged the future of Mideast peacemaking into turmoil.

Palestinian leaders, stunned by the militant group's sweeping victory, huddled to determine the shape of a new government as world leaders, including
President Bush, insisted Hamas renounce violence and recognize
Israel's right to exist.

Supporters of the two main parties briefly scuffled in Ramallah after Hamas supporters raised their party's green flag over the parliament. The two sides threw stones at each other, breaking windows in the building, as a small group of Fatah supporters tried to lower the banner. The crowd of about 3,000 Hamas backers cheered and whistled as activists on the roof raised the flag again.

Hamas won 76 seats in the 132-member parliament, while Fatah, which controlled Palestinian politics for four decades, won 43 seats, said Hanna Nasser, head of the Central Election commission. The 13 remaining seats went to several smaller parties and independents.

The result was based on a count of 95 percent of the vote and still could change slightly, Nasser said.

First, this is a real surprise. I will admit that I have not been keeping up with the Palestinian conflict here, except to say that the whole situation is a complete mess. From what history I've read on the subject, the Palestinians have been consistently given the short end of the stick. Once the Arab nations found out that they could not destroy Israel, over the last four wars (1948 War of Independence, the '56 Sini Campaign, the '67 Six Day War, and the Yom Kippur War), the Arab nations realized that Israel was there to stay. So, the Arab nations took up this Palestinian cause, not to help the Palestinians gain an independent state for themselves, but rather to use this cause as a means to further aid in the destruction of Israel. The territory for this state of Palestine would have to be carved up from the state of Israel--certainly not from any territory of the Arab states. The problem here is that the Palestinians decided to line up with the Arab states, bringing about this prolonged terror conflict, which created the PLO, Hamas, and many other radical groups. Interestingly enough, UPI had a story saying that Israel started to support Hamas as a counter-weight to the PLO in the 1970s, certainly before Hamas shifted to its extreme militant ideology of today. So the Palestinians were used as pawns in this greater geopolitical game between greater powers in the Middle East.

In one sense, the Palestinians have themselves to blame. They ended up supporting a losing side in this geopolitical game of the last fifty years. The Arabs were certainly willing to provide money, weapons, and support for their cause. But that cause was molded to fit within the Arabs own overall strategy of destroying Israel--there was no negotiations, or compromise. And once the PLO started their own terror attacks against Israel, there was certainly no way for Israel to agree to negotiate with a known terrorist organization that was continually carrying out attacks on Israelis. There had to be a compromise--a middle ground between the PLO and Israel. We've seen some of that middle ground come about with the 1993 Oslo Accords, where Israel did sign an agreement with the PLO--each side recognizing the other, starting up the negotiations. But it wasn't enough to continue the peace process. I would say that both the Israelis and Palestinians--under the leadership of the PLO--never trusted each other to continue the process. In effect, the peace process may have been destroyed by not just 50 years of bad blood and revenge between the Israelis and Palestinians, but also generations of religious and ethnic hatred between the Judaism and Islam, between the Jews, the Arabs, and the Palestinians. It is going to take time to heal the wounds, time to slowly settle these conflicts, and to bring peace within the Middle East.

We've had some rapid developments going on the Middle East. The big one certainly was this victory by Hamas in the first Palestinian elections. I'd say this victory was an incredible first step in providing the Palestinians their own self-determination. The Palestinians basically threw out, what could be construed as the de facto PLO-government within the Palestinian Authority. And Fatah became the dominant political force within the PLO. I"m not going into any details on this, since I'm not sure I understand it all. But I'd say that because of Fatah's dominance within the Palestinian politics, it became the primary political force which took control of the Palestinian Authority, its leaders moving from the politics inside of the PLO, to the politics of creating and running an autonomous territory. Corruption certainly would have set in. There really wasn't any democracy to be set up within this state yet, no way for the Palestinian people to vote for their own self-interests. During this transition period of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas also worked to transition itself from a radical Islamic terrorist group, to something of a political party within the Palestinian authority--in other words, Hamas started its own grass-roots campaign to win the hearts of the Palestinian people. Meanwhile, Fatah played "palace politics." After this election, the Palestinians threw out Fatah, and instituted Hamas within the government.

So what does the Bush White House has to say about this election? Consider this story from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - Stunned by Hamas' decisive election victory,
President Bush said Thursday the United States will not deal with the militant Palestinian group as long as it seeks Israel's destruction.

"If your platform is the destruction of Israel it means you're not a partner in peace," the president said. "And we're interested in peace." He urged Hamas to reverse course.

Hamas has taken responsibility for dozens of suicide attacks on Israel over the past five years but has largely observed a cease-fire since the election of Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian president last year.

Bush left open the possibility of cutting off U.S. aid to the Palestinians. That was echoed by a nonbinding Senate resolution condemning Hamas and expressing support for halting assistance to the Palestinian government, of which the U.S. is providing $150 million for development this year.

Bush also called on Abbas, a U.S. ally, to remain in office despite Fatah's defeat by Hamas in parliamentary elections. Abbas, elected separately a year ago, said he was committed to negotiations with Israel and suggested talks would be conducted through the Palestine Liberation Organization, a possible way around a Hamas-led government.

"A political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal," he said at a White House news conference. But he also said, "Peace is never dead because people want peace."

Not a very encouraging first sign from President Bush. The Palestinian people elected a government that is hostile to both Israel and the United States. As a result, President Bush cuts off any American aid to the Palestinian, while all but claiming that this new Hamas-controlled Palestinian government is a terrorist government. And the U.S. will not negotiate with terrorist governments. I'm sorry, but the Bush administration is acting with hypocrisy here--calling for Middle Eastern countries to embrace democracy. But when a new government is democratically elected, in the Middle East with the Palestinian Authority, that is against the interests of the U.S., the Bush administration has to go on the attack in criticizing this new government. Consider this statement by Bush:

"I made it very clear that the United States does not support political parties that want to destroy our ally Israel, and that people must renounce that part of their platform," Bush said.

Too many neocon hotheads in Washington, who can't seem to control their emotions here. Did it ever occur to anyone in the Bush White House, that the Hamas party is just as shocked that they could win so many seats in this election? That perhaps, they don't know what to expect or do, now that they are the dominant power within the Palestinian Authority. Tossing insulting criticisms and with holding aid is not the way to reinforce democratic ideals within this new government. A better response would have been that the U.S. would respect the right for the Palestinians to elect their representatives, and hope that this newly elected government is willing to work towards building a lasting peace, with all parties, within the Middle East. Leave it at that--no demands, condemnations, or concessions. Let Hamas take some time to settle into its new role as the dominant political party within the Palestinian Authority. If Hamas is willing to negotiate, then you start talking about the parameters for the negotiations--such as Hamas renouncing the destruction of Israel, and such. Let democracy work from within the Palestinian Authority, let the Palestinians decide what their policies should be--in other words, let them make the first move.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration didn't allow the Palestinians to make that first move.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Bush Mine Safety Administrator Walks Out of Senate Hearing

David Dye, acting administrator of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, walked out of a Senate subcommittee hearing on the Bush administration's failures of mine safety regulations. From ThinkProgress

This I cannot believe--until I saw the video. Think Progress has a video showing David Dye, acting administrator of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, walking out of a Senate subcommittee hearing on the Bush administration's failures of mine safety regulations.

First, here is the link to the video:

Now here's the New York Times story:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 - Citing the recent deaths of 14 miners in West Virginia, senators said Monday that federal mining officials had failed to enforce safety regulations adequately.

"These deaths, I believe, were entirely preventable," said Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, citing recent budget cuts, staff reductions and "a culture of cronyism" as factors contributing to insufficient oversight by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

But David Dye, acting administrator of the agency, rejected the criticism.

Mr. Dye told a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on mine safety that it was far too early to identify the cause of the accidents: the Jan. 2 explosion at the Sago Mine that killed 12 miners and the conveyer belt fire on Thursday that killed 2 miners at the Aracoma Alma Mine No. 1 near Melville.

"Until the joint investigation team can safely enter the mine to thoroughly examine the site, we will not know" what caused the Sago accident, Mr. Dye said.

Lawmakers grew increasingly frustrated with agency officials' answers.

Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and chairman of the subcommittee, criticized the Bush administration as not keeping up with inflation in financing mine safety and said that over the last 10 years the safety agency's budget had been cut by $2.8 million, which led to the loss of the 183 staff members.

About midway through the two-hour hearing, Mr. Dye said he had other matters to attend to and had to leave.

Senator Specter responded with frustration: "I can understand your pressing other business. It may well be that some of the senators here have pressing matters, too. We don't think we are imposing too much to keep you here for another hour."

After Mr. Specter added, "That's the committee's request, but you're not under subpoena," Mr. Dye got up and walked out.

"I can't recollect it ever happening before," Mr. Specter said of the departure. "We'll find a way to take appropriate note of it."

I don't know who is the real idiot here--Dye or Specter! I can see the arrogance of Dye not wanting to sit and listen to Congressional criticism regarding the Bush administration's budget cuts, and relaxed regulations regarding mine safety. Dye probably knew those mines were unsafe, but allowed everything to slide due to the Bush administration's pro-business approach to policymaking. Reducing safety in mines, allows the mining companies to reduce costs on safety equipment, and provides bigger profits for the companies--of which they can provide more campaign contributions to the Republican Party for more deregulations to benefit the mining industry. During the Senate subcommittee hearings, Dye was evading the questions, saying that the investigation teams couldn't go into the Sago mine, until the mine was declared safe for the investigation teams to go into. Talk about a circular logic here. Dye certainly wouldn't respond to, or rejected, the Senators questions on budget cuts and staff reductions. But since these White House parrot-talking-points were not convincing the senators, Dye decided he was just going to leave the hearings, altogether. Talk about the arrogance of Dye, and ultimately the arrogance of the Bush administration, who selected Dye to head up this federal office.

But I also reserve criticism against Arlen Specter. Specter is a fricking pansy here! He let Dye push him around, by allowing Dye to leave. He refused to subpoena Dye, and he certainly is not going to subpoena the Mine Safety and Health Administration for records regarding these disasters and budget cuts. You can bet that Specter is not going to subpoena the Bush White House for these mine safety records either. The White House is refusing to release documents or allow White House officials to testify before Congress regarding the Katrina disaster--do you really think Congress is going to subpoena the White House for the Katrina records? Specter will not allow any serious congressional oversight against the Bush White House on any issue! It is that simple. So it is no wonder that Dye feels that he doesn't have to answer to Congress, since his boss--President Bush--is not answering to Congress on any issue. And Arlen Specter and his Republican cronies who control Congress, are allowing the White House to push Congress around.

The only way to get any type of serious oversight in Congress is for the Democrats to take control of both houses in Congress. Once the Democrats gain control of Congress, they gain control of the subcommittees--and the subpoena powers. The Democrats can then force a confrontation against the Bush White House, and the corruption that has gone on for five years.

Paper: Texas Favored Firm Tied to Abramoff

There really isn't much to say about this story, but that it is not surprising. Yes, we are talking another exciting episode of The Jack Abramoff Show! The story is from Yahoo News:

AUSTIN, Texas - The state of Texas hired a firm with close ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff after rejecting competing bids that met more of its selection criteria and cost less, a newspaper reported Wednesday.

What the winning firm, Cassidy & Associates, had was access all the way to presidential aide Karl Rove, the Austin American-Statesman reported, citing memos and e-mails it obtained through a Texas open records request.

The firm was awarded a $15,000-a-month contract in 2004 to lobby Congress for the state.

"Cassidy is the best fit for Texas," David Pagan, associate director of the Office of State-Federal Relations, said in a May 25, 2004, e-mail to staff members. He wrote that the firm was the leader in Washington in acquiring federal funding.

Talk about a reference and qualifications--access to Karl Rove! I especially love Pagan's comments, saying that Cassidy was the best fit for Texas, when the only winning qualification that Cassidy had was these lobbying ties to Abramoff, and access to Karl Rove. Continuing with the ties between Cassidy and Abramoff:

Cassidy & Associates is under fire from Texas House Democrats because of the close ties between Cassidy senior vice president Todd Boulanger and Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud.

Seven Texas House Democrats sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, on Friday demanding that Cassidy's contract be canceled.

Perry's spokeswoman, Kathy Walt, said that although Cassidy was not initially the top scorer in the bidding process, it rose to the top after interviews with the state's selection committee and after its references were checked.

Cassidy was one of 17 firms that competed for the contract to represent the state.

An initial state assessment ranked Cassidy fourth, the newspaper said. Two of the firms ranked ahead of it would have charged Texas $300 to $833 less per month than Cassidy's initial offer of $15,833 a month.

Once the contract was signed, Cassidy's fee was down to $15,000, plus expenses.


Palestinians Voting to Elect New Parliament

This is interesting. From The Washington Post:

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jan. 25 -- Palestinians across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip voted Wednesday in brisk, breezy weather to choose their first parliament in a decade.

A Palestinian man casts his ballot in Palestinian Parliamentary elections at a polling station in the West Bank City of Nablus Wednesday Jan. 25, 2006. Amid tight security, Palestinians cast ballots in their first parliament election in a decade Wednesday, an historic vote integrating Islamic militants into Palestinian politics and determining the future of peacemaking with Israel. (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)

There were no reports of significant problems, either as the result of Israeli security measures or factional rivalry that had threatened to disrupt voting in several cities.

A supporter of the Fatah movement chants slogans and waves party flags after polling stations closed for the Palestinian elections in Gaza City January 25, 2006. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

[Exit polls released shortly after the voting was completed suggested that the governing Fatah Party was leading but that the Hamas party had registered a strong showing, the Associated Press reported. A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Public Opinion showed Fatah with 42 percent of the vote and Hamas with 35 percent. A second one by Bir Zeit University showed Fatah with 46 percent and Hamas with nearly 40.]

A Palestinian woman shows her ink-covered finger after she voted at a polling station in Gaza City January 25, 2006. Palestinians voted in a parliamentary election on Wednesday in which the Islamic militant Hamas group is challenging the Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

In an initial assessment made before the 1,000 polling stations had closed, international election observers said the vote appeared to be unfolding without serious problems.

Palestinian election workers count votes at a polling station in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 25, 2006. No party is likely to win a majority of seats in the new Palestinian parliament, making it theoretically possible that Hamas could form the next government, a leading pollster said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

So it seems that the Palestinian election has gone on, without any major problems or disruptions. That is a good sign. But the results are especially interesting. Depending on which exit poll you want to go by, the Fatah Party has around a five percent lead over that of the Hamas Party. Hamas has been around for years--mainly as a terrorist organization attacking Israeli and American targets in the Middle East. What is especially interesting is that Hamas has reorganized itself from a terrorist organization into a viable Palestinian political party, that is giving Fatah a run for its money in these first elections.

But now, look at what the U.S. response to this election is:

Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, is competing in its first national elections. It has built its popularity in the occupied territories over the years through patient political organizing, charitable work and an unyielding position regarding Israel, which it refuses to recognize.

It remains to be seen how much influence a large Hamas parliamentary bloc could have, but Israeli and U.S. officials warned that its presence in government could undermine diplomatic initiatives and undercut foreign aid. The Bush administration spent $2 million in the campaign's closing weeks to increase the popularity of the governing Fatah party, hoping to slow Hamas's momentum through a program that bore no evidence of U.S. involvement.

The secular-nationalist Fatah movement is suffering from a reputation for corrupt, ineffective government, although the executive branch will remain in the hands of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and the party leader. But Fatah, which has dominated the Palestinian national movement for four decades, is preparing to lose a share of its power to Hamas, which holds sharply divergent views regarding a peace process with Israel, internal reform and the role of Islam in public life.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (front L) visits a polling station in Al-Eizariya, on the edge of Jerusalem, January 25, 2006. Palestinians voted on Wednesday in their first parliamentary elections in a decade, a ballot that could bring the militant Islamic movement Hamas into the government for the first time. About 900 foreign observers, led by Carter, were monitoring the process. REUTERS/Mahfouz Abu Turk

In addition, here is a the Bush administration's response to the following election. This is from Yahoo News:

After voting ended,
President Bush said Washington would not deal with Hamas unless it renounced violence against Israel. "Not until you renounce your desire to destroy Israel will we deal with you," he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Israel's response to the elections is also in the same Yahoo News story:

Though the election appeared likely to turn on internal issues, the results will have deep implications for peace efforts with Israel. If Hamas joins the government, it would be expected to ask for service ministries — health, education and welfare — and to leave diplomacy to others.

Israel says it will not deal with Hamas until it disarms. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that if a solution to the conflict cannot be reached through peace talks, then Israel will take more unilateral steps like last year's Gaza withdrawal.

"Anyone who participates in this government must renounce terrorism, must abandon the path of terrorism, must abandon incitement and the culture of hatred (and) must disarm the terrorist groups," Israeli government spokesman Raanan Gissin said.

Hamas' top candidate, Ismail Haniyeh, said the group had no intention of laying down its arms after the elections as Abbas said he expects.

So, U.S. is saying that a large Hamas presence in the Palestinian government could undermine diplomacy, and reduce foreign aid? Is the U.S. and Israel saying they don't want to deal with a Hamas bloc in the Palestinian government, and is willing to reduce foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority if a Hamas bloc does take power in the government? Is the U.S. and Israel willing to put diplomatic pressure to make sure that Hamas is not represented in the Palestinian government--even though Hamas is showing a 35-40 percent vote count in this first election? Because if that is what I'm hearing, then both the U.S. and Israel are trying to interfere with this first Palestinian election. And if the Palestinians believe that their election results are based on fraud and manipulations by the U.S. and Israel, this will take the peace process back by several decades--and you can bet that Hamas and perhaps other radical Palestinian political groups will restart the intifada against Israel. And the U.S. certainly can't afford to have violence erupting in the Palestinian territories, as American forces are also fighting an insurgency in Iraq. The best thing that the U.S. and Israel can do is let this election play out, and then deal with whatever government the Palestinians choose in their election. They may choose not to deal with the Palestinian government, which will delay the Mideast peace process. But any attempt to try to change the election, or subvert this democratically-elected Palestinian government will be disastrous for both the U.S., and Israel.

Rumsfeld Says Military Not Overextended

Well, right after the media picked up on the story of the Army's "thin green line" could snap, we get a White House talking point response from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. From Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday disputed reports suggesting that the U.S. military is stretched thin and close to a snapping point from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, asserting "the force is not broken."

"This armed force is enormously capable," Rumsfeld told reporters at a
Pentagon briefing. "In addition, it's battle hardened. It's not a peacetime force that has been in barracks or garrisons."

Rumsfeld spoke a day after The Associated Press reported that an unreleased study conducted for the Pentagon said the Army is being overextended, thanks to the two wars, and may not be able to retain and recruit enough troops to defeat the insurgency in Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld answers a question during a media briefing in Pentagon, Washington, January 25, 2006. REUTERS/Molly Riley

Got to love Rummy here--the Army is not broken! It's "battle hardened." Of course, Rumsfeld doesn't acknowledge the problems that the Army has in retaining and recruiting troops. What does Rumsfeld say? The problems the military has is the result of Bill Clinton's fault. Continuing on:

Reports suggesting that the U.S. military is close to the breaking point "is just not consistent with the facts," he said.

In an apparent shot at the Democratic Clinton administration, Rumsfeld said a number of components of the armed forces were underfunded during the 1990s, "and there were hollow pieces to it. Today, that's just not the case."

He said there were over 1.4 million active U.S. troops, and some 2 million — counting National Guard and Reserve units — of which only 138,000 people were in Iraq.

"Do we still need more rebalancing? You bet," Rumsfeld said.

The secretary suggested he was not familiar with reports suggesting an overburdened military. But, he said, "It's clear that those comments do not reflect the current situation. They are either out of date or just misdirected."

US soldiers stand guard as Iraqis protest at the entrance of Abu Gharib prison, in May 2004. A US military interrogator convicted of killing an Iraqi general by stuffing his head into a sleeping bag was sentenced to a reprimand and fine but escaped jail time.(AFP/File/Ramzi Haidar)

Excuse me Rumsfeld? The military was underfunded by Clinton? There is a slight problem with this potshot, and that is Clinton did not send us into a prolonged war and occupation in Iraq--your boss President Bush did. Yes, Clinton did send peacekeepers into the Balkins, and fired a few cruise missiles at Saddam, but that did not break the military. President Bush's illegal invasion into Iraq, the subsequent American occupation, and subsequent insurgency against American forces in Iraq is what has broken the military. It is the extended tours and stop-loss agreements imposed on current soldiers, the sending of national guard units into Iraq, the lack of body armor or armoured Humvees, that have pretty much broken the Army. It is the neoconservatives pipe-dream of American imperialism in the Middle East--created and expressed through the Project for a New American Century, an organization that you belong to, Mr. Rumsfeld--that has broken this army.

Of course, Rumsfeld would certainly ignore all that--it is not part of the White House talking points. Continuing on:

In the earlier report obtained by The Associated Press, Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who wrote it under Pentagon contract, concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency.

As evidence, he pointed to the Army's 2005 recruiting slump — missing its recruiting goal for the first time since 1999 — and its decision to offer much bigger enlistment bonuses and other incentives.

Rumsfeld said that "retention is up" and that recruitment levels must meet higher goals, ones raised because of the operations on the ground.

At the same time, Rumsfeld added: "There is no question if a country is in a conflict and we are in the global war on terror, it requires our forces to do something other than what they do in peacetime."

"The force is not broken," Rumsfeld said, suggesting such an implication was "almost backward."

"The world saw the United States military go halfway around the world in a matter of weeks, throw the Al Qaida and Taliban out of Afghanistan, in a landlocked country thousands and thousands of miles away. They saw what the United States military did in Iraq.

"And the message from that is not that this armed force is broken, but that this armed force is enormously capable," Rumsfeld said.

Okay, so Rumsfeld is saying the retention rate is up, and the Army recruitment has to meet higher goals. And to top it off, Rumsfeld tosses in the tired old argument that the US is fighting the great war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now check out these interesting little facts in the story:

The Army fell more than 6,600 recruits short of its goal of enlisting 80,000 troops last year, the first time it missed its annual target since 1999 and the largest shortfall in 26 years.

But the Army exceeded its monthly recruiting goal in December for the seventh consecutive month, though some of those targets were lowered from last year's. It will have to increase its recruiting pace, however, to meet its target of 80,000 that it has set for the budget year ending next Sept. 30.

A new law will let the Army attract older recruits, raising the top age from 35 to 42. In addition, financial bonuses for enlistments and re-enlistments have increased.

Talk about contradictory facts here. The Army fell short of its yearly recruitment goal of enlisting 80,000 troops, by 6,600. They missed their annual target since 1999 and it was the largest recruitment shortfall in 26 years. This is a major statistic to be concerned with. Like it or not, the Army did not make its recruitment goals--even with the increased advertising, and the increased incentives and bonuses for re-enlistments and recruitments. Second, the Army is trying to get anyone they can to join, considering they've raised the top age from 35 to 42. I guess the young people of prime military age--say 18 to 25--are not joining, so the military is going to have to keep raising the age again to make up for this shortfall. Are they going to raise that age again--perhaps to 50 next year? Ah, but there is a success here--the Army did exceed its monthly recruiting goal in December, even though the target goal was much lower than last year. The Army succeeded in meeting its December goals this year, because the numbers were smaller than last years goals. But it is a success that Rummy can tout.

I sit here in wonderment at both the incompetence of Rumsfeld in embarking on a policy that has practically destroyed this country's military, and the sheer, baldface lies and propoganda spin that Rumsfeld regurgitates, when confronted with his incompetence. It is just incredible.

After Subpoenas, Internet Searches Give Some Pause

There are two articles that have come out in the last couple of days that have me worried. Here is the first one from The New York Times:

Kathryn Hanson, a former telecommunications engineer who lives in Oakland, Calif., was looking at BBC News online last week when she came across an item about a British politician who had resigned over a reported affair with a "rent boy."

It was the first time Ms. Hanson had seen the term, so, in search of a definition, she typed it into Google. As Ms. Hanson scrolled through the results, she saw that several of the sites were available only to people over 18. She suddenly had a frightening thought. Would Google have to inform the government that she was looking for a rent boy - a young male prostitute?

Ms. Hanson, 45, immediately told her boyfriend what she had done. "I told him I'd Googled 'rent boy,' just in case I got whisked off to some Navy prison in the dead of night," she said.

Ms. Hanson's reaction arose from last week's reports that as part of its effort to uphold an online pornography law, the Justice Department had asked a federal judge to compel Google to turn over records on millions of its users' search queries. Google is resisting the request, but three of its competitors - Yahoo, MSN and America Online - have turned over similar information.

The government and the cooperating companies say the search queries cannot be traced to their source, and therefore no personal information about users is being given up. But the government's move is one of several recent episodes that have caused some people to think twice about the information they type into a search engine, or the opinions they express in an e-mail message.

The government has been more aggressive recently in its efforts to obtain data on Internet activity, invoking the fight against terrorism and the prosecution of online crime. A surveillance program in which the National Security Agency intercepted certain international phone calls and e-mail in the United States without court-approved warrants prompted an outcry among civil libertarians. And under the antiterrorism USA Patriot Act, the Justice Department has demanded records on library patrons' Internet use.

Those actions have put some Internet users on edge, as they confront the complications and contradictions of online life.

How much of a right does the government have in spying on its own citizens? In order to combat porn, the government is asking for Google, Yahoo, MSN, and AOL to turn over their search engine records, and yet the government is claiming that such search engine inquiries cannot be traced back to the original source. If that is true, then why is the government asking for such search engine inquiries, except to find out who is looking at what sites? Throw in the illegal NSA wiretapping, the Justice Deptartments demands for library records on internet usage, and datamining on domestic Americans, and you have the modern makings of a police state--First and Fourth Amendment rights to be shredded. This is scary. These government powers can not only be used to catch terrorists or sex predators, but also for political purposes--who is to say that the Justice Department can't look into who is surfing a political activist's website, or scroll through an opposing candidate's emails? Who is to say that the NSA isn't spying on individuals who opposes the Republican Party, or the Bush White House? Are we suppose to sit back and agree to the Bush administration's assurances that they are not spying on political enemies? President Bush is now calling this NSA domestic spying program, a "terrorist surveillance program." I'm sorry, but that doesn't reassure me.

Of course, Google isn't the angle in a white hat as depicted here. Continuing on with the Times story:

Google is citing a number of reasons for resisting the government's subpoena, including concern about trade secrets and the burden of compliance. While it does not directly assert that surrendering the data would expose personal information, it has told the government that "one can envision scenarios where queries alone could reveal identifying information about a specific Google user, which is another outcome that Google cannot accept."

So that's Google's reason for not cooperating with the US government in turning over records. But now, here's an Associated Press story to give you some pause:

SHANGHAI, China - Google Inc. launched a search engine in China on Wednesday that censors material about human rights, Tibet and other topics sensitive to Beijing--defending the move as a trade-off granting Chinese greater access to other information.

Within minutes of the launch of the new site bearing China's Web suffix ".cn," searches for the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement showed scores of sites omitted and users directed to articles condemning the group posted on Chinese government Web sites.

Searches for other sensitive subjects such as exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, Taiwan independence, and terms such as "democracy" and "human rights" yielded similar results.

In most such cases, only official Chinese government sites or those with a ".cn" suffix were included.

Google, which has as it's motto "Don't Be Evil," says the new site aims to make its search engine more accessible in China, thereby expanding access to information.

Yet the move has already been criticized by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which also has chided Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news) and Microsoft Corp.'s for submitting to China's censorship regime.

"When a search engine collaborates with the government like this, it makes it much easier for the Chinese government to control what is being said on the Internet," said Julien Pain, head of the group's Internet desk.

Talk about hypocrisy here.

Google doesn't give a crap about this motto "Don't Be Evil." It is all about profit--China has hundreds of millions of web surfers, and Google wants to break into the Chinese search engine market. So Google will sell its soul to the devil--in this case, the Chinese government--and allow the government to censor Google's new Chinese website. Of course, Yahoo, and Microsoft is also allowing the Chinese government to censor their Chinese websites as well for the sake of breaking into the Chinese market. Continuing on:

However, technology analyst Duncan Clark said such criticisms probably wouldn't generate problems for Google's business elsewhere, given weak responses to previous cooperation between foreign Internet companies and Chinese authorities.

Past incidents "haven't seemed to gel into anything that could dissuade Google," said Clark, the managing director of Beijing-based consultancy BDA China Ltd.

Chinese Internet users said Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc.'s move was inevitable given Beijing's restrictions on the Internet, which the government promotes for commerce but heavily censors for content deemed offensive or subversive.

"Google has no choice but to give up to the Party," said one posting on the popular information technology Web site PCONLINE, signed simply "AS."

Google's move was prompted by frequent disruptions of the Chinese-language version of its search engine registered under the company's dot-com address in the United States.

Government filtering has blocked access or created lengthy delays in response time.

Google's senior policy counsel Andrew McLaughlin defended the new site as better serving Chinese customers.

"In deciding how best to approach the Chinese, or any market, we must balance our commitments to satisfy the interests of users, expand access to information, and respond to local conditions," McLaughlin said in an e-mailed statement, .

McLaughlin said search results would be removed based on local laws, regulations or policies.

"While removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission," he said.

There was no indication that Google would disable access to its .com site within China.

McLaughlin said the company wouldn't host its e-mail or blogging services in China that can be mined for information about users, and would inform users if information had been deleted from searches. Such messages appeared in searches for Falun Gong and other sensitive topics.

Clark said Google likely hopes to avoid the bad publicity incurred by Yahoo last year after it provided the government with the e-mail account information of a Chinese journalist who was later convicted of violating state secrecy laws.

"They want to avoid those kinds of headlines," he said.

So Google is refusing to allow the US government access to internet search records, but they allowed the Chinese government access to an email account information of a Chinese journalist who was convicted of violating Chinese secrecy laws. More hypocrisy here.

These stories give me concern about how far our individual freedoms, rights, and protections are being eroded for the benefit of both government and corporate interests. The US government wants access to internet company records regarding internet search databases, while the Chinese government wants the internet companies to censor political sites from Chinese citizens in return for greater access to the Chinese internet market. Now I know you're going to counter, "but wait--the US government doesn't censor websites." No, but consider this December 10, 2005 story from

Ford Motor Co. executives will meet early next week with leaders of gay rights organizations to discuss the automaker's decision to pull advertisements for its Land Rover and Jaguar lines from gay publications, a Ford spokesman said Friday.

"We look forward to the dialogue with the leadership of the gay community," said spokesman Mike Moran.

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said the group will ask Ford to explain why it dropped the ads and encourage company officials to reconsider the decision Monday.

The meeting between the automaker and leaders from 19 gay rights organizations will come one week after those organizations issued a joint statement decrying media reports of a "confidential agreement" between Ford and the conservative American Family Association.

In May, the association called for a boycott of Ford because of the automaker's sponsorships of gay events such as pride celebrations, donations to gay rights organizations and diversity workshops for managers that included sexual orientation training.

The association also called for boycotts against Walgreen Co. and Kraft Foods for those companies' sponsorship of the Gay Games.

Late last week, another conservative group, Focus on the Family, closed its accounts at Wells Fargo because the bank had donated money to a gay rights organization that announced it would use the money to "fight the anti-gay industry."

Ford acknowledged Monday that it was dropping its ads in gay publications, just days after the American Family Association officially ended its boycott of the automaker.

"They've heard our concerns; they are acting on our concerns," Donald Wildmon, chairman and founder of the association, said in a statement announcing the end of the boycott. "We are pleased with where we are."

On Monday, Moran said Ford would no longer advertise the Land Rover and Jaguar lines in gay publications, although the Volvo brand would continue to do so. He said the move was intended to cut costs and downplayed the impact of the boycott on the decision.

A Ford company statement released this week said the automaker's "commitment to diversity as an employer and corporate citizen remains unchanged. We have employment policies that are second to none regarding our commitment to inclusion. Any suggestion to the contrary is just plain wrong."

The government doesn't have to enact censorship laws in this country--conservative and religious right groups are showing they have the power to push censorship of views and ideas that are opposite of their ideology, by targeting boycotts against companies. A Republican-controlled conservative government can just sit back and allow these right-wing ideology groups push for censorship for their own benefit. Either a government-imposed censorship, or ideology groups that are allied to a government which imposes censorship, both groups are responsible for eroding our individual rights.

This scares me.