Friday, May 26, 2006

I'll be on vacation next week

I'll be on vacation next week, so I will not be posting as much as I do on a regular week. I will be back on Saturday June 3rd. Until then, enjoy this photo:

Setting sail : The sun sets behind the three sailboats, painting a golden glow on the waters off Boracay island. (AFP/Leo Solinap)

Robertson says he leg-pressed 2,000 pounds

This photo provided by the Christian Broadcasting Network shows religious broadcaster Pat Robertson leg pressing what is claimed to be 2,000 pounds at the fitness center at the Founders Inn on Regent University campus in Virginia Beach, Va., Feb. 1, 2003. A CBN spokesman claims the photo is from 2003 even though the date stamp on the photo says 8/1/1994. (AP Photo/Christian Broadcasting Network)

This has been going through the blogosphere. I have not really wanted to comment on it, due to the ridiculous nature of this story. But it appears that the mainstream media has jumped onto the Pat Robertson bandwagon. From Yahoo News:

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson says he has leg-pressed 2,000 pounds, but some say he'd be in a pretty tough spot if he tried.

The "700 Club" host's feat of strength is recounted on the Web site of his Christian Broadcasting Network, in a posting headlined "How Pat Robertson Leg Pressed 2,000 Pounds."

According to the CBN Web site, Robertson worked his way up to lifting a ton with the help of his physician, who is not named. The posting does not say when the lift occurred, but a CBN spokeswoman released photos to The Associated Press that she said showed Robertson lifting 2,000 pounds in 2003, when Robertson was 73. He is now 76.

The Web posting said two men loaded the leg-press machine with 2,000 pounds "and then let it down on Mr. Robertson, who pushed it up one rep and let it go back down again." The Web site said several people witnessed the event, and shows video of Robertson leg-pressing what appears to be 1,000 pounds.

Clay Travis of CBS called the 2,000-pound assertion impossible in a column this week, writing that the leg-press record for football players at Florida State University is 665 pounds less.

"Where in the world did Robertson even find a machine that could hold 2,000 pounds at one time?" Travis asked.

My question here is why is the mainstream media even picking up on this story? I mean, you're talking about leg-pressing the equivalent weight of an auto here! And having Pat Robertson making this claim of leg-pressing a Ford or a Toyota is frickin' insane.

Ah, but there's more:

CBN spokeswoman Angell Vasko said Friday that Robertson was not available for comment because he was "out of pocket" for the long holiday weekend.

Vasko said she has not seen Robertson leg-press 2,000 pounds but that it's not "a huge shocker" that he could.

"Pat is so healthy," she said. "This is something he trained for over an extended period of time. He lives a very healthy, regimented life."

The CBN Web site attributes Robertson's energy in part to "his age-defying protein shake." The site offers a recipe for the shake, which contains ingredients such as soy protein isolate, whey protein isolate, flaxseed oil and apple cider vinegar.

YES SIR! Folks, you too can leg-press a Ford or Toyota, if only you drink Pat Robertson's incredible "age-defying protein shakes!" You don't believe me? Check out the astounding web link here. And if you sign up now, CBN will give you Pat's secret recipe for his age-defying protein shakes--absolutely free! Just make sure you leave a small donation to the Christian Broadcasting Network.

I'm sorry, I think I'm allergic to "soy protein isolate, whey protein isolate, flaxseed oil and apple cider vinegar."

Pentagon sources: Civilians likely killed without provocation

This is from CNN.Com:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An ongoing military investigation supports allegations that U.S. Marines in November killed 24 innocent Iraqi civilians without being provoked, senior Pentagon sources said Friday.

Charges, including murder, could soon be filed against Marines allegedly involved, the sources said.

The killings reportedly occurred while troops from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines were searching for insurgents who planted a roadside bomb that killed a member of the unit.

The Marines originally had reported that 15 civilians were killed by a roadside bomb in Haditha, a city along the Euphrates River in western Iraq. The Marines later suggested the civilians may have been caught in a firefight.

However, photographs being reviewed by investigators "are inconsistent with how the Marines claim the Iraqis died," according to a military source familiar with the investigation.

An Iraqi human rights group, Hammurabi Human Rights Association, caught the scene on video, which was obtained by Time magazine. A criminal investigation ensued. Time Warner is the parent company of Time magazine and CNN.

I'm not going to say what these Marines did was right or wrong. But I will say that this incident is a major example of our failed U.S. policy in Iraq. The American military was never designed to fight a low tech insurgency. Since the end of the Second World War, the American military was designed and trained to fight big set-piece battles against the Soviet Union. U.S. technological firepower was designed to destroy large numbers of Soviet tanks on the European battlefield. And that technological firepower worked perfectly against Saddam Hussein's forces in both the Gulf War I and the current U.S. invasion of Iraq.

But while the American military can destroy opposing armies, this same military has been a failure in the type of low-tech insurgency that it currently finds itself in Iraq. Technology and superior firepower doesn't work when a convoy is attacked by a roadside bomb. It does not work when American soldiers cannot identify between individuals who are civilians and those individuals who are insurgents. And when you are an occupation force inside a foreign land, fighting this low-tech insurgency where you can't tell the difference between friend and foe, then everyone around you becomes the enemy.

Does anyone remember the Mai Lai Massacre?

Friday Fun Stuff--Some pictures to WOW you

I saw this picture off Yahoo News, and so I had to post it. It is incredible!

A massive sand storm cloud approaches a military camp in Al Asad, Iraq, April 27, 2005. Earth's atmosphere is warming faster over the subtropics than anywhere else, which could mean bigger deserts and more drought from Africa to Australia to the Middle East, researchers said on Thursday. (U.S. Department of Defense/Cpl. Alicia M. Garcia, U.S. Marine Corps/Handout AH/Reuters)

Here is another storm that is fast approaching our country:

Kristin Kenny of Edison New Jersey clutches the grave stone of her boyfriend Dennis Flanagan at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia May 25, 2006. Flanagan was killed in Iraq on January 21, 2006 by an improvised explosive device. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Bush cronyism going to the federal bench

White House aid Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as a federal appeals judge by a Senate vote of 57-36. From CNN.Com

Political cronyism is alive and well in the Bush administration. This is off CNN.Com:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- White House aide Brett Kavanaugh won Senate confirmation as an appeals judge Friday after a wait of nearly three years, yet another victory in President Bush's drive to place a more conservative stamp on the nation's courts.

Kavanaugh was confirmed on a vote of 57-36, warmly praised by Republicans but widely opposed by Democrats who said he is ill-suited to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

In a statement, Bush said Kavanaugh will be "a brilliant, thoughtful and fair-minded judge."

The vote marked the latest in a string of confirmations for conservative appellate court nominees in the year since a centrist group of senators agreed on terms designed to prevent a meltdown over Bush's conservative picks.

"It's clear that he is a political pick being pushed for political reasons," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "This is not a court that needs another rubber stamp for this president's exertion of executive power."

Kavanaugh, the White House staff secretary, was an assistant to independent counsel Kenneth Starr during the impeachment probe of President Clinton and he worked on behalf of the Bush campaign during the election recount in 2000.

Ralph Neas, president of the liberal-oriented lobbying group People for the American Way, said that Bush and Senate Republicans "have succeeded today in putting a partisan lapdog into a powerful, lifetime position on the federal bench. Brett Kavanaugh has spent his career as a partisan operative, carrying out the will of the Bush administration and twisting legal arguments to benefit his political ideology."

Senate confirms Hayden as CIA director

In a file photo CIA nominee Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden testifies on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 18, 2006 at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. After hearing assurances he will be independent of the Pentagon, the Senate on Friday, May 26, 2006, easily confirmed Gen. Michael Hayden, a career Air Force man, to head the CIA. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)

Well, I'm not surprised here. From Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - After hearing assurances he will be independent of the
Pentagon, the Senate on Friday easily confirmed Gen. Michael Hayden, a career Air Force man, to head the CIA.

Hayden, a four-star general, currently is the top deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.

Hayden, 61, would be the first active-duty or retired military officer to run the spy agency in 25 years. He was approved by a vote of 78-15.

It appears that the castrated Democratic Party rolled over and died again for the Republicans. And the American public has pretty much lost their civil rights, now that this Gestapo spy has taken control of the CIA. When will the Democrats ever stand up for anything? When will the Democrats ever start pushing back against this fascist dictatorship that is being created by the Republican Party? After the November midterm elections? Will that be when they win control of Congress from the Republicans--if they can even win control of Congress from the Republicans? In order to win control of Congress from the Republicans, the Democrats have got to start standing up in opposition to these extreme Republican policies. They have got to start offering an alternative vision to allow the American voters a choice--the only choice now is to stay with the Republicans with their terrorist fears and assurances that by destroying American civil rights and liberties, the Republicans will make them feel "safe." Or will the American public decide to go with the treasonous, traitorous Democrats, who will surrender to the terrorists? That is the choice that is being defined by the Republicans, and has been accepted by the mainstream news media. The Democratic Party is even accepting the Republican's defining image of their party by not offering a vision of their own.

Is this how the Democrats expect to win an election?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

House OKs oil drilling in Alaska refuge

Well, it appears the House is doing what it does best--being whores to Big Oil! This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - Citing the public outcry over $3-a-gallon gasoline and America's heavy reliance on foreign oil, the House on Thursday voted to open an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling, knowing the prospects for Senate approval were slim.

Drilling proponents argued that the refuge on Alaska's North Slope would provide 1 million barrels a day of additional domestic oil at peak production and reduce the need for imports.

But opponents to developing what environmentalists argue is a pristine area where drilling will harm caribou, polar bears and migratory birds, said Congress should pursue conservation and alternative energy sources that would save more oil than would be tapped from the refuge.

The House voted 225-201 to direct the Interior Department to open oil leases on the coastal strip of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — an area of 1.5 million acres that is thought likely to hold about 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

But the action may be little more than symbolic. Arctic refuge development, while approved by the House five times, repeatedly has been blocked in the Senate where drilling proponents have been unable to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

Okay, so we've heard these arguments before. And the House has always voted to drill in ANWAR, while the Senate has has been stuck in a filibuster on this proposal. But now I want to include some fun comments by our congressmen:

"We need to develop energy, here at home. ... We can't say no to everything," declared Rep. Richard Pombo (news, bio, voting record), R-Calif., who pressed for a House vote on opening the refuge that lies east of the declining Prudhoe Bay oil fields 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Nice to hear that Richard Pombo is looking out for his constituent's interests. According to, oil and gas interests gave Richard Pombo $86,700 in political campaign contributions for the 2006 election. And there is this little interesting piece of information from the SF Guardian:

[Pombo's] third largest source of campaign funds is the oil and gas industry, which has given him $178,788 since 1989. Pombo is chair of the House Committee on Resources, which oversees those industries. Chevron Texaco alone gave him $21,500.

There are plenty of reasons for the oil giant to like Pombo. He opposed a Chinese bid to purchase Unocal -- Chevron also wanted to buy Unocal – and has tried to lift the moratorium on oil drilling off the coast of California.

So Mr. Pombo, how is pushing for oil drilling in ANWAR going to help your voting constituents in California?

Ah, but the congressional bombast gets better. Consider this from the Yahoo story:

Congress approved drilling in the refuge in 1995, but
President Clinton vetoed the bill.

Had Clinton not issued his veto "we would have had a million barrels of oil today," said Rep. Don Young (news, bio, voting record), R-Alaska. "We should be drilling off shore, we should be drilling in the Rockies and most of all we should be drilling in the Arctic refuge."

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (news, bio, voting record), R-N.Y., countered that had Congress passed improved auto fuel economy measures 11 years ago when they were considered, today "we would save far more oil than ANWR would produce."

"This Congress hasn't voted on a single conservation measure since gasoline hit $3 a gallon," said Boehlert.

"Rather than debating how we could increase the fuel efficiency standards (of cars) over the next few years, we are debating about a bill that won't produce the first barrel of oil for 10 years and it will come from a pristine wildlife refuge," complained Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a leading drilling opponent.

Talk about putting all these supply-sided, oil drilling Republicans in their place. We certainly do hear all this talk about oil drilling in ANWAR, but the Republicans in Congress have refused to increase the CAFE fuel efficient standards for the past decade. Boehlert is right. We probably could have saved more oil, and more money, in improving our country's energy efficiency, rather than continuing to drill for a dwindling supply of oil.

But the House Republicans still don't get it.

Waas: Rove Was Novak's Source; Two Men May Have Planned Cover-Up

I found this story off TMP Muckraker, and I found it incredibly fascinating. The actual source of the story is from National Journal's Murray Waas. Here is the National Journal article:

On September 29, 2003, three days after it became known that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate who leaked the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, columnist Robert Novak telephoned White House senior adviser Karl Rove to assure Rove that he would protect him from being harmed by the investigation, according to people with firsthand knowledge of the federal grand jury testimony of both men.

Suspicious that Rove and Novak might have devised a cover story during that conversation to protect Rove, federal investigators briefed then-Attorney General John Ashcroft on the matter in the early stages of the investigation in fall 2003, according to officials with direct knowledge of those briefings.

Ashcroft oversaw the CIA-Plame leak probe for three months until he recused himself and allowed Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to be named to take over the investigation on December 30, 2003. Ashcroft received routine briefings about the status of the investigation from October to December of that year.

Sources said that Ashcroft received a special briefing on the highly sensitive issue of the September 29 conversation between Novak and Rove because of the concerns of federal investigators that a well-known journalist might have been involved in an effort to not only protect a source but also work in tandem with the president's chief political adviser to stymie the FBI.

This is fascinating. If Novak contacted Rove, and the two men actually did devise a cover story to protect Rove, then both Novak and Rove could be charged with obstruction of justice. The timing of this phone call seems especially suspicious--three days after the CIA asked the Justice Department for an investigation into the Valerie Plame leak. Both Novak and Rove would have known that they could have been targets in the investigation. So what did they talk about in that September 29 phone call? There are some very interesting details regarding this story:

Foremost among the reasons that federal investigators harbored suspicions about the September 29 conversation was its timing. Three days earlier, NBC broke the news that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to launch a probe into the leaking of Plame's identity. During the noon news briefing at the White House on September 29, various reporters asked spokesman Scott McClellan repeatedly whether Justice was indeed investigating the Plame leak.

"If someone leaked classified information of the nature that has been reported, absolutely, the president would want it to be looked into," McClellan responded. "And the Justice Department would be the appropriate agency to do so."

In fact, Justice was already preparing to announce such a criminal probe, and the department made the formal announcement the following day, September 30.

A second reason that federal investigators were suspicious, sources said, is that they believed that after the September 29 call, Novak shifted his account of his July 9, 2003, conversation with Rove to show that administration officials had a passive role in leaking Plame's identity.

On July 22, 2003 -- eight days after the publication of Novak's column on Plame -- Newsday reporters Timothy Phelps and Knut Royce quoted Novak as telling them in an interview that it was White House officials who encouraged him to write about Plame. "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," Newsday quoted Novak as saying about Plame. "They thought it was significant. They gave me the name, and I used it."

If Novak's interview with Phelps and Royce was accurate, sources said, it suggests that Rove was actively involved in trying to expose Plame's CIA job.

Novak did not speak publicly on the matter again until September 29 -- later on the same day as his conversation with Rove in which he assured the president's chief political aide that he would protect him in the forthcoming Justice Department investigation. What Novak said publicly was different from the earlier account in Newsday:

"I have been beleaguered by television networks around the world, but I am reserving my say for Crossfire," Novak said on his own CNN program, which is no longer on the air. "Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. In July, I was interviewing a senior administration official on Ambassador [Joseph C.] Wilson's report [on his Niger trip], when [the official] told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction. Another senior official told me the same thing.

"As a professional journalist with 46 years' experience in Washington, I do not reveal confidential sources. When I called the CIA in July, they confirmed Mrs. Wilson's involvement in a mission for her husband on a secondary basis, who is -- he is a former Clinton administration official. They asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else."

In explaining the discrepancy between what he told Newsday a week after he outed Plame and everything he said later regarding Plame, Novak has said that Phelps "badly misquoted" him. Phelps, who is Newsday's Washington bureau chief, denied that, saying he took accurate notes of his interview with Novak and reported exactly what Novak told him.

A third reason that investigators are said to be concerned about a possible cover story was the grand jury testimony of both Novak and Rove about their July 9, 2003, conversation. On that day, Novak was still reporting for his July 14 column.

Novak and Rove have testified that it was Novak, not Rove, who raised the subject of Plame's CIA job and Wilson's trip to Niger, according to people familiar with the testimony of both men.

Rove has testified that he simply told the columnist that he had heard much the same information about Plame, which perhaps was nothing more than an unsubstantiated rumor. Novak's account of the July 9 call matched Rove's. Investigators were suspicious that, if this version was true, the columnist would have relied on Rove as one of his two sources to out Plame as an "agency operative."

Ashcroft was advised during the briefing that investigators had strong reservations about the veracity of the Novak and Rove accounts of the July 9 conversation. If Rove had simply said that he heard the same information that Novak did, investigators wondered why Novak would have relied on such an offhand comment as the basis for writing the column. Investigators also wondered why Novak had not at least asked Rove about what else he knew about Plame, sources said.

There is a lot of contradictions within this story--Rove's contradictory grand jury testimony and Novak's contradictory public statements regarding the Valerie Plame scandal. It is certainly enough for investigators to put some serious heat on both Rove and Novak. There is even some interesting speculation as to why Ashcroft recused himself from this investigation. Did Ashcroft even know that Vice President Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby or even Vice President Cheney himself was involved in the Valerie Plame affair, and thus Ashcroft had to recuse himself? Of that question, I'm not sure. But I do find it interesting that a secret briefing took place between FBI agents and Ashcroft regarding the September 29th phone call between Novak and Rove. I don't think John Ashcroft was involved in the Valerie Plame scandal. But I think that after Ashcroft had his secret briefing on the September 29th phone call between Novak and Rove, Ashcroft knew that Karl Rove was behind a White House campaign to discredit Ambassador Joe Wilson through outing his wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent. And Ashcroft also realized that if he was directly involved in the CIA leak investigation, and if Karl Rove's involvement had been revealed, then the resulting scandal of a White House political operative trying to stop a DOJ investigation could have sunk the hopes of a Bush administration's 2004 re-election. So Ashcroft recused himself from the investigation.

There is so much more in this story that I have not figured out yet. Stay tuned.

Bush orders FBI-Congress documents sealed

To be honest, I don't know what to make of this story. From Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - President Bush stepped into a confrontation between the Justice Department and Congress on Thursday, ordering that documents seized in an
FBI raid on a lawmaker's office be sealed for 45 days.

His spokesman also labeled as "false, false, false" charges that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' department had tried to intimidate Republican House Speaker
Dennis Hastert.

In an effort to defuse an intensifying, election-year dispute between the Republican-led Congress and his administration, Bush, facing growing complaints from lawmakers in both parties that he has abused presidential powers, called for a cooling-off period.

"Our government has not faced such a dilemma in more than two centuries," he said in a statement. "Yet after days of discussions, it is clear these differences will require more time to be worked out."

Republican officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said Vice President
Dick Cheney had become involved as the administration worked to ease the anger of the speaker, who has enormous control over the president's legislative agenda.

Bush granted one of Hastert's demands, directing the FBI to surrender documents and computerized records taken last weekend from the office of Rep. William Jefferson (news, bio, voting record), D-La. He ordered Solicitor General Paul Clement, who has a separate office in the Justice Department, to take custody of them.

The president said no one is above the law and that he continued to support the investigation of Jefferson. The eight-term congressman is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars to facilitate a telephone investment deal in Africa.

"Those who violate the law — including a member of Congress — should and will be held to account," the president said. "This investigation will go forward and justice will be served."

First, I can the political spin-control working here, where the president becomes the fatherly moderator in this little tuff-a-tuff between House Speaker Hastert, and the FBI. The president is certainly trying to cite a moderate tone by sealing these FBI records for a period of time until this "constitutional crisis" becomes resolved. And this little PR-spin game works to both the Bush administration's and Republican Party's advantage, since the records were seized from the congressional office of a Democratic congressman William Jefferson. So in one sense, the Republicans in Congress can say they are trying to avert a constitutional crisis of an out-of-control Justice Department trying to tear down this "culture of corruption" that exists in Congress. That's all the political spin.

There is more. There has to be more here. What gets me here is that this whole "constitutional crisis" seems to be manufactured over a third-rate bribery scam of a Democratic congressman, who really doesn't have a clue as to how to be crooked. I'm not saying that William Jefferson is innocent--there is probably enough evidence to put him away without having the FBI search his congressional office. I mean, the FBI has him on videotape taking bribes, and they searched Jefferson's house and found $90,000 in cash stashed in his freezer. And I will say that I'm not surprised for the FBI getting a search warrant to search Jefferson's congressional office. If the circumstances of this case involved an "Average Joe," you can bet that the FBI would be searching both the home and the office of such an "Average Joe." Instead, we've got the FBI (which is part of the executive branch) securing a search warrant from the judiciary branch to search an office of the congressional branch. And I still have to wonder why did the FBI search this Democratic congressman's office, and not any of the offices of Republican congressmen who are involved in their own scandals--such as Duke Cunningham, or Tom DeLay?

There is more twists here than you can imagine. According to this LA Times story, both Dennis Hastert and and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) demanded that the FBI confiscated items not only be returned to Jefferson, but "that the FBI agents involved in the search be taken off the case." And now according to this ABC News Update on the Hastert story, senior law enforcement officials are saying that Hastert is under investigation within the Abramoff probe. According to ABC News:

The investigation of HastertÂ’s relationship with Abramoff is in the early stages, according to these officials, and could eventually conclude that AbramoffÂ’s information was unfounded.

Officials said the next logical investigative step would be for the FBI to seek a wide range of documents from the members of Congress named by Abramoff, including letters and business documents.

A spokesman for Hastert said the office had received no subpoenas or requests for documents.

What will happen if the FBI serves a search warrant to Hastert's office for documents relating to the Abramoff scandal? And it is not just Dennis Hastert that is involved in the Abramoff scandal. There are quite a few Republican senators and representatives whose names have been connected with Abramoff. And don't forget that President Bush's name has also been connected to the Abramoff probe. So are the Republicans trying to jump on this bandwagon to stop the FBI from searching and investigating a two-bit bribery scam by a Democratic congressman in order to stymie any serious investigation into their own allegations of corruption? Is Dennis Hastert using this William Jefferson scandal as a means to stop the feds from investigating his own criminal activities in the Abramoff scandal?

Hence, my confusion, and suspicions, regarding this story.

Senate passes immigration bill overhaul

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., talks with reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday, May 25, 2006, after the Senate voted 62-36 to overhaul the nation's immigratikon laws. Left to right are Frist, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. AP Photo.

Well, it appears that President Bush has got his election year victory bill for immigration reform. You can expect the President to tout this immigration reform bill for the midterm elections. This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - Legislation to secure U.S. borders and offer millions of illegal immigrants access to the American dream cleared the Senate on Thursday, a rare election-year reach across party lines and a triumph for
President Bush.

The 62-36 vote cleared the way for arduous summertime compromise talks with the House on its version that focuses on border enforcement — with no guarantee of success.

The legislation includes money to better secure the borders, provide a new guest worker program and give an eventual shot at citizenship to many of the estimated 11 million to 12 million immigrants in the country illegally.

The House bill, which passed on a largely party-line vote last year, is generally limited to border enforcement. It would make all illegal immigrants subject to felony charges and it contains no provision for either a new temporary worker program or citizenship for men, women and children in the country unlawfully.

In contrast, the Senate bill would mark the most far-reaching changes in immigration law in two decades. Built on compromise after painstaking compromise, it was designed to appeal to conservatives and others seeking tougher border enforcement; business interests eager for a steady supply of legal, low-wage labor; unions seeking enhanced protections for migrants who often toil in seasonal work the fields and Hispanics who are on the cusp of greater political power and determined to win a change in legal status for millions of illegal immigrants.

The House bill on immigration reform doesn't surprise me here--add more guards, more barbed wire, and stop the supply of illegal immigrants from coming across the border. The house bill does nothing to punish business and corporate interests who use this form of cheap illegal slave labor to drive down American wages. It is immigration reform that was written by Corporate America. The Senate bill is different. There is a combination of many different issues here--money to secure the border areas, a "guest worker" program, a possible amnesty program, and even an electronic verification system so that companies will be accountable for hiring decisions. I'd like to say it is a good start towards immigration reform....

But I'm still not sure. I guess I will take a "wait and see" look.

Lay, Skilling convicted in Enron collapse

Kenneth Lay, left, and Jeffrey Skilling are seen in this file photo combo. (AP Photo)

This is off Yahoo News:

HOUSTON - Former Enron Corp. chiefs Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were convicted Thursday of conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud in one of the biggest business scandals in U.S. history.

The verdict put the blame for the 2001 demise of the high-profile energy trader, once the nation's seventh-largest company, squarely on its top two executives. It came in the sixth day of deliberations following a federal criminal trial that lasted nearly four months.

Lay was also convicted of bank fraud and making false statements to banks in a separate, non-jury trial before U.S. District Judge Sim Lake related to Lay's personal banking.

The conviction was a major win for the government, serving almost as a bookend to an era that has seen prosecutors win convictions against executives from WorldCom Inc. to Adelphia Communications Corp. and homemaking maven
Martha Stewart. The public outrage over the string of corporate scandals led Congress to pass the Sarbanes-Oxley act, designed to make company executives more accountable.

Enron's demise alone took with it more than $60 billion in market value, almost $2.1 billion in pension plans and 5,600 jobs.

Enron founder Lay was convicted Thursday on all six counts against him in the corporate trial. Former Chief Executive Skilling was convicted on 19 of the 28 counts, including one count of insider trading, and acquitted on the remaining nine.

As much as I'm happy to see that both Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling have been convicted of fraud in the wake of the Enron collapse, I fear that this is a pyrrhic victory for the government. Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling will become the scapegoats in white collar crime, where corporations will continue to control access and influence within the government through their excessive campaign donations to congressmen and presidential candidates. Now that the Enron trial is over, it will be back to business as usual. Want an example? How about Halliburton:

(CBS) When it comes to logistical help for U.S. troops in Iraq, Halliburton is the biggest game in town. Under a wartime contract that's $7 billion and growing, it's serving the needs of 200,000 troops.

But the Houston-based conglomerate once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney is neck-deep in allegations of waste and fraud involving millions of taxpayer dollars, reports CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

The U.S. Army is threatening to partially withhold payments to Halliburton for the logistical support the company provides for troops in Iraq. The reason: allegations of millions of dollars in over-charges for food, shelter and services.

"There was no regard for spending limits," says former employee Marie DeYoung.

Some of the most compelling accusations come from people like DeYoung, who worked for Halliburton subsidiary KBR.

She recently told Congress that while troops rough it in tents, hundreds of preferred Halliburton KBR employees reside in five-star hotels like the Kempinski in Kuwait with fruit baskets and pressed laundry delivered daily.

"It costs $110 to house one KBR employee per day at the Kempinski, while it costs the Army $1.39 per day to bunk a soldier in a leased tent," DeYoung said.

"The military requested that Halliburton move into tents, but Halliburton refused."

Documents obtained by CBS News show an auditor repeatedly flagged improper fees for soldiers' laundry. At one site, taxpayers reportedly paid $100 for each 15-pound load of wash - $1 million a month in overcharges.

Halliburton's still making billions defrauding the government, and no one within the company has been brought to justice. How about this one on Time Warner:

NEW YORK - Time Warner Inc., the worldÂ’s largest media company, is paying $300 million to settle fraud charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission for overstating online advertising revenues and the number of its Internet subscribers.

As part of the agreement announced Monday, Time Warner has restated its financial results to reduce the amount of online advertising revenues it reported by about $500 million from the fourth quarter of 2000 through 2002, the SEC said.

Time Warner will neither admit nor deny any wrongdoing under the settlement. However, it has agreed to appoint an independent examiner who will further review the companyÂ’s accounting for several previous transactions. That report, which is expected to be done within six months, could result in further restatements.

How many of these stories have we seen, where a company will pay a small fine, then neither admit or deny any wrongdoing to the SEC? It becomes a shell game for corporations, where they will engage in any activity that will excessively increase their profits. And when they're caught with their hands in the cookie jar, they pay a small fine and then go back to stealing from the cookie jar. Corporate fraud and the ensuing fines have become nothing more than a business expense to Corporate America.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Tale of Two Hasterts

President Bush, right, shakes hands with Speaker of the House Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., before delivering his speechat the Arie Crown Theatre in McCormick Place, in a Monday, May 22, 2006 photo in Chicago. House Speaker Dennis Hastert demanded Wednesday, May 24, 2006, that the FBI surrender documents it seized and remove agents involved in the weekend raid of Rep. William Jefferson's office, under what lawmakers of both parties said were unconstitutional circumstances. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

When I first saw this Yahoo News story, I just about rolled my eyes at Dennis Hastert. The story was titled, House leaders demand FBI return papers:

WASHINGTON - In rare, election-year harmony, House Republican and Democratic leaders jointly demanded on Wednesday that the FBI return documents taken in a Capitol Hill raid that has quickly grown into a constitutional turf fight beyond party politics.

"The Justice Department must immediately return the papers it unconstitutionally seized," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.

After that, they said, Democratic Rep. William Jefferson (news, bio, voting record) of Louisiana must cooperate with the Justice Department's bribery investigation against him.

Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., makes a statement upon his arrival at Washington's National Airport, Monday, May 22, 2006. (AP Photo/Alex Lorman)

The leaders also said the Justice Department should not look at the documents or give them to investigators in the Jefferson case.

The developments capped a day of escalating charges, demands and behind-the-scene talks between House leaders and the Justice Department that ended with no resolution, according to officials of both parties.

This whole fracias has come about because the FBI has searched William Jefferson's congressional office for evidence regarding a bribery investigation. According to the Washington Post, Jefferson was videotaped taking $100,000 in bribes "from a Northern Virginia investor who was wearing an FBI wire. A few days later, on Aug. 3, 2005, FBI agents raided Jefferson's home in Northeast Washington and found $90,000 of the cash in the freezer, in $10,000 increments wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside frozen-food containers..."

FBI agents load the back of a minivan at the Rayburn House Office Building 'horseshoe' entrance Sunday, May 21, 2006 on Capitol Hill in Washington after contnuin their of the offices of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

There is not much to say here about Jefferson--if he was caught taking bribes, then he deserves a trial and, if convicted, the full punishment the law allows. The big news here is that the FBI raided Jefferson's office. And Congress went into an uproar over it. According to the Arizona Republic:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., complained directly to President Bush on Tuesday about the FBI raid, while Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, predicted a constitutional showdown before the Supreme Court.

"My opinion is that they took the wrong path," Hastert told reporters after his meeting with Bush in the White House. "They need to back up, and we need to go from there."

According to one Justice Department official, the White House is sympathetic to Hastert's complaint and is pressing Justice officials to figure out a way to placate Congress.

So that's the fracias in a nutshell. Denny Hastert is finally stepping up to what he believes are unconstitutional searches by law enforcement officials. It is amazing that he is willing to go along with the Bush administration's illegal NSA domestic spying program, or the Patriot Act's allowing police and FBI to do "sneak and peeks" in American citizen's homes and their library records, or even to allow the big telecoms to provide American citizen's phone records to the NSA for spying. But when the FBI decides to raid a congressman's office--Oh NO! That's unconstitutional! That's destroying the delicate system of checks and balances--does Dennis Hastert really understand the process of checks and balances, considering how little he and his Republican cronies have provided almost no congressional oversight to the multitude of scandals this Bush White House is embroiled in?

So we'll admit that House Speaker Dennis Hastert is a hypocrite! That's understandable. But now here's another little story from ABC News, titled Corruption Investigation: Hastert 'In the Mix:'

Federal officials say the Congressional bribery investigation now includes Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, based on information from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government.

Part of the investigation involves a letter Hastert wrote three years ago, urging the Secretary of the Interior to block a casino on an Indian reservation that would have competed with other tribes.

The other tribes were represented by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff who reportedly has provided details of his dealings with Hastert as part of his plea agreement with the government.

The letter was written shortly after a fund-raiser for Hastert at a restaurant owned by Abramoff. Abramoff and his clients contributed more than $26,000 at the time.

The day Abramoff was indicted, Hastert denied any unlawful connection and said he would donate to charity any campaign contribution he had received from Abramoff and his clients.

And there is more to this story:

Despite a flat denial from the Department of Justice, federal law enforcement sources tonight said ABC News accurately reported that Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is "in the mix" in the FBI investigation of corruption in Congress.

Speaker Hastert said tonight the story was "absolutely untrue" and has demanded ABC News retract its story.

Speaker of the House, Rep.Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday, May 24, 2006, about a report by ABC News claiming he was that he was under investigation by the FBI. The Justice Department said it was not investigating Hastert. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

Law enforcement sources told ABC News that convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff has provided information to the FBI about Hastert and a number of other members of Congress that have broadened the scope of the investigation. Sources would not divulge details of the AbramoffÂ’s information.

"You guys wrote the story very carefully but they are not reading it very carefully," a senior official said.

One focus involves a letter Hastert wrote in 2003 urging the Secretary of the Interior to block an Indian casino that would have competed with tribes represented by Abramoff.

ABC’s law enforcement sources said the Justice Department denial was meant only to deny that Hastert was a formal “target” or “subject” of the investigation.

"Whether they like it or not, members of Congress, including Hastert, are under investigation," one federal official said tonight.

I think the problem here is that Hastert and the Department of Justice believes that Hastert is being investigated under the William Jefferson bribery case, whereas the FBI is investigating Hastert under the Jack Abramoff probe.

Dennis Hastert involved in the Jack Abramoff probe? If Hastert wrote a letter to Norton on behalf of Abrmaoff and his Indian clients, well, the next question would be what did Abramoff give Hastert for this letter? And it would not be good for Hastert if the FBI decided to raid his congressional office for evidence regarding the Abramoff scandal. No wonder Hastert wants the FBI to return those papers seized from Jefferson's office--Hastert certainly wouldn't want the FBI to go through his papers on the Abramoff scandal!

Now, I know there is a constitutional issue regarding an agency of the executive branch searching an office of a congressional branch. And I will agree that it is an issue. If you are a government official, or congressman, who was caught committing a crime, then the Justice Department has every legal right to investigate you--and that includes issuing search warrants. Actually, I think it should go both ways, regarding searches for evidence of crimes committed by our government officials. You see, I'm also more than happy to have Justice Department officials search through the executive branch for evidence of crimes committed by the president. I'm even open to having congressional officials search through the White House papers for evidence of crimes committed by the executive branch--as long as search warrants are issued by the judicial branch.

I want the criminals out of our government.

Ex-Bush official hid ties to Abramoff, US says

It's time for another exciting episode of The Jack Abramoff Show! This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former Bush administration official lied to investigators in an attempt to hide the influence-peddling activities of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.

In opening statements at the first trial in connection with the Abramoff scandal, prosecutors tried to paint David Safavian as a liar while his lawyer denied the charges and accused the government of basing its case on "guilt by association."

Justice Department lawyer Peter Zeidenberg said Safavian took advantage of his position to help his friend, a top Washington lobbyist with strong ties to leaders in Congress, particularly in the Republican Party.

"He worked first and foremost to further the interest of one particular individual -- a rich and powerful lobbyist and personal friend of the defendant, Jack Abramoff," Zeidenberg told 12 jurors and two alternates.

Safavian, the former chief of staff at the General Services Administration -- the agency that manages property for the federal government -- has been charged with lying and obstructing investigations into his relationship with Abramoff and their 2002 golf outing to Scotland that was funded by the lobbyist.

A political appointee at the GSA from May 2002 to January 2004 who later worked at the White House budget office, Safavian is the first government official to be indicted in a case related to the Abramoff scandal.

YES! It is the trial of David Safavian, who has been charged with lying and obstruction of justice. It is certainly interesting that the first government official to be charged in this Abramoff scandal happens to be a Bush administration official, and not any of the congressional Republicans. But this is just the tip of the iceberg here. If Safavian is found guilty, you have to wonder whether he's going to cooperate with the feds in return for a reduced jail sentence. We will soon know. According to the Yahoo story, the trial is expected to last a week.

Stay tuned.

Consumer Reports: Gas prices having big impact

Now this is interesting. From CNN.Com:

NEW YORK ( - More than a third of American drivers say they are considering getting rid of their current vehicle in favor of something more fuel efficient, according to a national survey by Consumer Reports magazine.

Of those who say they might replace their current vehicle, half say they are considering a gas-electric hybrid vehicle, according to the survey.

"High gas prices are not just an inconvenience anymore," said Robert Gentile, director of Consumer Reports' Auto Price Services. "They are forcing people to reconsider what and how they drive, even the way they live their lives."

Only eight percent say they are considering a diesel vehicle. Diesel vehicles get better fuel mileage than gasoline-powered vehicles and don't have as much added cost as hybrid vehicles. They are unavailable in some states, though, because of their relatively dirty emissions.

Fifty-five percent of those who are considering replacing their vehicle are planning to get a small car. About 20 percent are considering a family sedan or small SUV. Fewer than five percent are considering a luxury sedan or large SUV, according to the Consumer Reports survey.

Fuel efficiency was a very important consideration for all of those considering a hybrid vehicle, but for most it wasn't all about financial savings. A desire to reduce U.S. oil consumption was important for 70 percent of them and the vehicle's "environmental friendliness" was important for 64 percent.

So what does this survey tell us? As gas prices go up, people want to find a way to replace their old gas-guzzling cars with something more fuel efficient. We've seen this back in the 1970s, when the Arab oil embargos forced Americans to dump their gas-guzzling Detroit iron for the more fuel efficient Japanese cars of Honda, Toyota and Datsun (Now Nissan). During the 1990s, people snatched up the big gas-guzzling Detroit SUVs, and are now wishing they could replace them with the more fuel efficient hybrids--of which the Japanese car companies Honda, Toyota, and Nissan are happily selling. And as for the Detroit Big Three automakers? Well, they were caught flat-footed in the 1970s for not seeing the market shift to fuel efficient cars, and today they were caught flat-footed for not seeing the market in hybrids. And Detroit is still playing catch-up.

Amazing how history repeats itself.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hayden nomination moves to full Senate

This is from CNN.Com:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 12-3 Tuesday in favor of Gen. Michael Hayden to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, sending his nomination to the floor for a vote by the full Senate.

The vote was taken during a closed-door hearing. The committee's chairman, Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, urged the Senate to take up the nomination before it begins its Memorial Day recess at the end of the week.

Eight Republicans and seven Democrats serve on the committee. The three negative votes came from Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Evan Bayh of Indiana.

Congratulations Democrats--you have just castrated yourselves AGAIN to the Republicans in the name of acting tough on U.S. security. I want to know if any of the Democrats even voted for Hayden, or did they decide to just not vote on the issue?

This is not how you win back the Congress for 2006, or even the presidency in 2008. The Democrats need to take some strong stands on issues, to show the American people that they believe in freedom and liberty in this country. This was a perfect example to draw a distinction between individual rights, freedoms and constitutional protections, verses the wholesale illegal domestic spying program that the Bush administration, the Republican Party, and General Hayden wants to shove down our throats. Do we hear anything from the Democrats? Not really. Do the Democrats take a stand and vote in opposition to Hayden's, and the Bush administration's, spying program? Of course not. We get a political opposition party that has rolled over and played dead--again.

Source: Theft of vets' data kept secret for 19 days

Authorities waited three weeks to alert public on data theft of 26 million veterans. From CNN.Com

Oh My GOD! I don't know which is worst here--the theft of 26 million vet's identities stolen, or the government keeping this information quiet for three weeks! From CNN.Com:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Authorities waited almost three weeks to alert the public that personal data on more than 26 million U.S. veterans had fallen into the hands of thieves, a government source said Tuesday.

The data were on a laptop and external drive stolen May 3 in an apparent random burglary from the Montgomery County, Maryland, home of a Department of Veterans Affairs computer analyst, said the government source, who has been briefed on the issue.

The government did not immediately announce the theft because officials had hoped to catch the culprits and did not want to tip them off about what they had stolen for fear they would sell it, the government source said.

On Monday, officials abandoned that plan and alerted the public.

The computer disk contained the names, Social Security numbers and birth dates of every living veteran from 1975 to the present, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson said Monday.

I can understand keeping this type of theft quiet for a couple of days--perhaps even a week, so that investigators could both push hard to recover the stolen computer hardware, and to not tip off the thieves at what they had. But to keep this quiet for three weeks? What if these thieves knew at what they had and were able to sell the data to individuals who knew how to engage in identity theft? It doesn't take a computer genius to turn on a computer, and to poke around on the Windows software. And if the data for these 26 million veterans was on the external hard drive, then it is far easier to pull that data off by plugging the hard drive into another computer (I'm assuming this is a simple USB external hard drive here). This is simple stuff for a computer user.

All I can say is that we have authorities and lawmakers who seem ignorant on the dangers of computer technology.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Suit Seeks to Stop Phone Records Release

Well, the lawsuits are starting now. This is from Yahoo News:

CHICAGO - A lawsuit filed Monday on behalf of author Studs Terkel and other professionals seeks to stop AT&T from giving customer phone records to the National Security Agency without a court order.

The plaintiffs, who also include a doctor and a state lawmaker, said they rely on confidentiality in their work and are worried their clients will be less likely to phone them if they think the government collects lists of the numbers they are calling.

The six plaintiffs, whose legal team includes lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, claim the telephone giant violated the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which prevents phone companies from releasing records to the government unless there is an emergency.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court, seeks to include all Illinois AT&T customers as plaintiffs in a class action. The plaintiffs are not seeking monetary damages.

"Having been blacklisted from working in television during the McCarthy era, I know the harm of government using private corporations to intrude into the lives of innocent Americans," Terkel said in a statement. "When government uses the telephone companies to create massive databases of all our phone calls it has gone too far."

Harvey Grossman of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois said the NSA program could interfere with the ability of lawyers to deal with their clients and doctors to communicate with patients.

The plaintiffs besides Terkel are State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago; Rabbi Gary Gerson of Temple B'nai Abraham Zion in Oak Park; Diane Geraghty, a Loyola University law professor; attorney James Montgomery, former corporation counsel for the City of Chicago; and Dr. Quinten Young, a doctor and advocate for health care reform.

The action follows similar lawsuits filed in other states.

The first thing to note here is that the ACLU is throwing its support in this lawsuit. This could negate the telecom's desire to have this lawsuit tossed out due to its "frivolous" nature. Also with the ACLU involved, we could expect their PR department to push their own spin on this issue. Already we now have the impression that the NSA could use its program to spy on doctors and lawyers in their dealings with clients. Finally, we've got some noteworthy individuals suing the telecoms here--an oral historian, a state representative, a law professor, and a corporate attorney. These are professional citizens--not your average blue collar factory workers here. So this is going to be an interesting lawsuit, especially if they can combine this suit with the other state lawsuits filed against the telecoms.

Thieves Steal Personal Data of 26.5M Vets

So, do you still feel safe now? This is from Yahoo News:

WASHINGTON - Thieves took sensitive personal information on 26.5 million U.S. veterans, including Social Security numbers and birth dates, after a Veterans Affairs employee improperly brought the material home, the government said Monday.

The information involved mainly those veterans who served and have been discharged since 1975, said VA Secretary Jim Nicholson. Data of veterans discharged before 1975 who submitted claims to the agency may have been included.

Nicholson said there was no evidence the thieves had used the data for identity theft, and an investigation was continuing.

"It's highly probable that they do not know what they have," he said in a briefing with reporters. "We have decided that we must exercise an abundance of caution and make sure our veterans are aware of this incident."

It is highly probable that they do not know what they have? Well, they do now! Continuing with the story:

Nicholson declined to comment on the specifics of the incident, which involved a midlevel data analyst who had taken the information home to suburban Maryland on a laptop to work on a department project.

The residential community had been a target of a series of burglaries when the employee was victimized earlier this month, according to the
FBI in Baltimore. Local law enforcement and the VA inspector general were also investigating.

This is gross incompetence on the part of the Veteran's Administration. First, they should have never allowed this analyst to take home this private information on his laptop, which was then stolen. This type of project should never have been worked on at home.

I really don't know what to say here. It is incredible.

Elections Are Crux Of GOP's Strategy

It appears the Republicans are painting a rosy scenario for the midterm elections--or should it be The Washington Post painting the Republican Party painting a rosy scenario for the midterm elections? I can't seem to figure out which is which here. This is from The Washington Post:

Confronting the worst poll numbers seen in the West Wing since his father went down to defeat, President Bush and his team are focusing on the fall midterm elections as the best chance to salvage his presidency and are building a campaign strategy around tax cuts, immigration and national security.

Modern history offers no precedent of a president climbing from a hole as deep as the one Bush finds himself in, and White House strategists have concluded that no staff shake-up or other quick fix will alter their trajectory. In the sixth year of his tenure, they said, Bush cannot easily change the minds of voters whose impressions are fully formed.

And so short of some event outside their direct control -- such as a dramatic turnaround in Iraq or the capture of Osama bin Laden -- Bush advisers have turned to the election as the most important chance to rewrite the troubled narrative of his presidency and allow him to recover enough to govern his last two years, Republican strategists said. With that in mind, Bush last week called on the National Guard to help stop illegal immigrants, signed tax-cut legislation and headlined three party fundraisers.

So the White House is in full campaign mode, creating a bunch of nonsensical "feel good" policies in which they hope will maintain control of Congress in the Republican's hands. And yes, we have seen some of these policies in action--the tax cut to the rich, the Oval Office speech where Bush is sending 6,000 armed National Guard troops to the Mexican border, and the latest flap regarding a constitutional amendment making English as the national language. The Republicans under Karl Rove will also be gearing up for a rather nasty negative campaign season, telling their Republican voters that a vote for the Democrats will be a vote for impeachment of Bush.

Looking at this story, you're probably thinking, "Wow--this doesn't look good for the president. This is not a rosy picture story. This is a story of doom and gloom in the White House." But in this White House PR-manufactured-spin mode, it is bad news before the good news, and we hope that the voters will forget the bad news while we constantly spin the good news. Continuing with the Post story:

If Republicans retain Congress in November, Bush advisers note, he could assert that for the third straight election, the party defied historical patterns and popular predictions. Bush, they said, could advance a fresh agenda in early 2007.

Aides point to the president's last spike in the polls, which came late last year after Iraqi elections and a series of Iraq speeches by Bush. A top adviser said Rove and White House political director Sara M. Taylor are advising candidates not to duck the issue of Iraq but rather to make it a centerpiece of their campaigns.

The Rove-Taylor view is that one-third of Americans agree with liberal Democrats calling for immediate withdrawal and another third support staying the course. The middle third wants a new strategy, but would be leery of pulling out and leaving behind a volatile Iraq, a position strategists believe leaves those voters open to persuasion.

"Look, we're in a sour time -- I readily admit it," Rove said in a speech last week. "I mean, being in the middle of a war where people turn on their television sets and see brave men and women dying is not something that makes people happy and optimistic and upbeat." But, he added, "ultimately, the American people are a center-right country who, presented with a center-right party with center-right candidates, will vote center-right."

Perhaps the most important element of the emerging strategy will be to "move from a referendum to a choice," as Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman put it. Instead of a verdict on Bush, Republicans want to frame the election as a contest with Democrats, confident that voters unhappy with the president will find the opposition even more distasteful.

"We're moving from a period where the public looks at things and says thumbs-up or thumbs-down, to a time when they have a choice between one side or the other," Mehlman said.

So thumbs in the middle is actually good news? Who thought this campaign strategy up--Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli? What's next? Are Republican candidates going to have to "jump the sharks," instead of jumping through hoops?

I especially love Rove's comments on America being a center-right country. Give the American voters a center-right candidate, and they will vote center-right. There is just one problem--George Bush has not governed as a center-right candidate, but rather by the extreme right. He has completely polarized this electorate, and has divided this country along extreme political fault lines. He has refused to compromise, or work with the Democrats in a bipartisan manner--unless you consider President Bush's view of bipartisanship as being nothing more than a rubber-stamp to whatever he says or does. He has continually placated himself towards the Religious Right on both the social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, and through the selection of extremely hard-lined conservative judges to the courts. But this White House charade is pretty much over. The American public has woken up to realize what type of president George Bush really is--you can see this in the 70 percent of Americans polled saying this country is on the wrong track. President Bush is now losing his support among conservatives and Republicans:

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll last week found 33 percent of Americans approving of Bush's job performance, his worst showing ever in that poll and matching his father's lowest point. Support among Republicans has fallen to 68 percent, down from 93 percent after the president's reelection.

But how are the Republicans responding to this? Let's take a trip into Candyland:

Even under optimistic scenarios, aides believe that Bush's ratings may never rise above the mid-forties, and privately are mulling contingencies if Democrats win the House. Whenever the White House thinks it is turning a corner, it runs into trouble, such as a 10-day period in February when Cheney shot a friend in a hunting accident, Republicans rebelled against Arab management of U.S. ports and militants blew up a Shiite shrine in Iraq.

"The president's run into a perfect political storm where the confluence of natural disasters from last fall, gasoline prices, staff changes, the continuing war in Iraq, all are giving conservatives a defensive fatigue," said Kenneth Khachigian, a California GOP strategist who served in Ronald Reagan's White House. "And let's put immigration in there, too. . . . There's just wave after wave washing over them at this point."

Still, he said, Republicans will come back to Bush when the contest heats up this fall. "The president still needs to find ways to motivate the troops, and that means using the powers of his office to find victories here and there," Khachigian said. "If I were sitting in their shoes, I'd be looking at probably some high-profile challenges with Congress, whether it's a veto of a spending bill or a battle over judgeships."

Ed Rogers, a prominent Republican strategist, offered similar advice. "We need less panic among Republicans in town and on the Hill and to some degree in the states, and more energy from the White House," he said. "Use the Rose Garden, sign some executive orders. Activity is our friend." But time may not be, some Republicans say. "Opinions do begin to set in . . . so we need successes now," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) offered a novel model for recovery: Bill Clinton. In 1995, after Gingrich's Republicans took over Congress, the White House rebuilt public support methodically. "He split with the left, he moved to the center, he did dozens of little things that worked, and gradually, week by week, he grew more acceptable," Gingrich said.

"You get to the point where you have to take a very deep breath and rethink what you're doing," he said of Bush. "He's still president, and he's got 2 1/2 years left. It's very important not just to him but to the country" that he recover authority.

So it is not the Bush White House's fault--they just ran into some unforeseen troubles here. Don't panic. The sky is not falling. Ramp up the White House spin-machine and create some make-do activities showing the president is on the job governorning. See that these make-do activities of the president governorning get prime Fox News coverage, with the Right Wing Echo Machine reiterating how this president is turning things around.

There's nothing like some good spin here.

If there is one thing you have to admire the Republicans, it is their ability to goose-step in unison. If the Republican Party is so willing to march in such a fashion, what else are they willing to do? How much voter fraud, suppression of votes, or even illegal stuffing of ballot boxes (via Diebold) are the Republicans willing to go in order to maintain control of all three branches of government? The Republicans know the stakes of this election. For the Democrats to take control of Congress, the Republicans know that five years worth of Bush White House and Republican scandals, incompetence, and cronyism will be exposed to the American public. A Democratically-controlled Congress would grind the federal government down to a halt for the last two years of this Bush administration, as both political parties would fight over the ensuing congressional investigations. I can't even say what the revelations of these scandals could do to this Republican Party--a party built on a fragile coalition of extreme corporatism and religious fanaticism, using fear, hatred, and racism within social issues to keep their grip on governmental power. Will the American public become so disgusted at these Republican excesses, that they will force the Republicans to play a minority party status in government in 2008? Or will the Republicans find a way to keep their power?

Friday, May 19, 2006

President Bush and the English language

Who spiked the White House Kool-Aid today? I've got two stories here from Yahoo News. The first is titled Bush opposes English as national language: Gonzales. Here is the first story:

HOUSTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush has long opposed making English the country's national language, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said on Friday, the day after the Senate voted to do so.

The vote came in an amendment to proposed legislation overhauling U.S. immigration law and directed the government to "preserve and enhance" the role of English. Opponents said it could affect the status of some multilingual services offered by government organizations.

Adding to the confusion, the Senate also adopted a softer amendment calling English the "unifying language" of the United States. Senators take both versions into negotiations over a final bill with the U.S. House of Representatives.

Gonzales did not directly address Bush's position on the controversial amendment because the Senate has not yet voted on the whole bill. But he said that Bush has in the past rejected such efforts.

"The president has never supported making English the national language," Gonzales said after meeting with state and local officials in Texas to discuss cooperation on enforcement of immigration laws.

He said Bush has instead long supported a concept called "English-Plus," believing that it was good to be proficient in more than one language.

"English represents freedom in our country and anybody who wants to be successful in our country has a much better chance of doing so if they speak English," Gonzales said. "It is of course a common language."

But, Gonzales said, "I don't see the need to have laws or legislation that says English is the national language."

While visiting Arizona on Thursday to press his plan to send up to 6,000 National Guard troops to the Mexican border, Bush spoke of the need to unite Americans.

"We've got to honor the great American tradition of the melting pot," Bush said. "Americans are bound together by shared ideals and appreciation of our history, of respect for our flag and ability to speak the English language."

Intervening in a recent furor over a Spanish-language version of the national anthem released by Latin pop stars, Bush said that the "Star-Spangled Banner" should be sung in English.

First, what the frack is "English-Plus?" I have never heard of the Bush administration endorsing that program. Also, don't you just love the hypocrisy here--President Bush opposes making English the country's official language, but insists that The Star Spangled Banner should be sung in English, and NOT Spanish. And I will say I just love this Bush quote: ""We've got to honor the great American tradition of the melting pot. Americans are bound together by shared ideals and appreciation of our history, of respect for our flag and ability to speak the English language." Look at the imagery. We've got this great American melting pot, shared ideals, appreciation of history, respect for flag....And everyone has to speak English. Never mind the fact that the immigrants who came to this great American melting pot, from all over the world, probably couldn't speak a word of English.

Are you spinning yet? Well, here's the second Yahoo News story, titled Bush Wants Newcomers to Learn English:

WASHINGTON - The White House took both sides in a dispute over English being the national language Friday as a broad immigration bill moved toward a final Senate vote next week with one conservative predicting it will never become law.

Bush's support for the dueling sides doesn't stray from his long-held view on learning English, said White House press secretary Tony Snow.

"What the president has said all along is that he wants to make sure that people who become American citizens have a command of the English language," Snow said. "It's as simple as that."

The Senate on Thursday approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. James Inhofe (news, bio, voting record), R-Okla., that would declare English the national language. But it also approved an alternative proposal sponsored by Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., designating English the nation's "common and unifying language." Before the vote on the alternative, Inhofe warned his colleagues, "You can't have it both ways."

The White House seemed to. "We have supported both of these," Snow said of the two amendments.

John Trasvina, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the amendment could be misinterpreted and lead to a cutback in services for those not proficient in English.

"Latinos don't need a law passed to say we ought to learn English. There are long waiting lists for adult English classes," Trasvina said. "It's false patriotism to pass an amendment to say you ought to learn English and not fulfill your responsibility of providing the opportunities."

I think I'm getting dizzy from all this ridiculous political spin.

McCain Finds Unfriendly Audience in NYC

The New School's graduating students protest as U.S. Senator John McCain speaks during their commencement ceremony Friday May 19, 2006 in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Talk about straddling graduation ceremonies. This is from Yahoo News:

NEW YORK - Arizona Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record) received a cantankerous reception Friday at the New School's commencement, where dozens of faculty members and students turned their backs and raised protest signs and a student speaker mocked him as he sat silently on stage.

The historically liberal university has been roiled in controversy in recent weeks over the selection of the Republican and likely 2008 presidential candidate to speak to its 2,700 graduates and thousands of family, friends and faculty.

The New School's graduating students protest as U.S. Senator John McCain, speaks during their commencement ceremony Friday May 19, 2006 in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Madison Square Garden crowd cheered loudly as Jean Sarah Rohe said McCain "does not reflect the ideals upon which this university was founded."

Rohe, one of two distinguished seniors invited by the university's deans to address the graduates, spoke before McCain did but noted that he had promised to deliver the same speech he gave at the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University last weekend and Columbia University on Tuesday.

"He will tell us we are young and too naive to have valid opinions," Rohe said. "I am young and though I don't possess the wisdom that time affords us, I do know that pre-emptive war is dangerous. And I know that despite all the havoc that my country has wrought overseas in my name, Osama bin Laden still has not been found, nor have those weapons of mass destruction."

McCain later thanked Rohe for her "Cliff's notes" version of his speech.

U.S. Senator John McCain gestures while speaking during the 70th commencement ceremony for The New School, Friday May 19, 2006 in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

You see Johnny-Boy? This is what happens when you throw away your ideals for blind presidential ambition. You are shown to be the complete hypocrite that you are. Did you really think that by giving the same speech you gave to students at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University last weekend, to the students graduating at New School this weekend, was going to redeem you in the hearts and minds of liberals? Did you think we were going to embrace your maverick style, after your pandering towards the Religious Right Wing-nuts?

I'm sorry Johnny-Boy--You're a hypocrite!

Evangelicals Tightlipped on Immigration

Well, this is interesting. From Yahoo News:

While the Roman Catholic Church, mainline Protestants, Jews and Muslims have backed the emerging immigrants' rights movement, the situation has proved more complex for some conservative Protestants.

Struggling to balance compassion with respect for law and order — and dealing with an increasing number of Hispanics in their churches — evangelicals have lacked the united front they have presented on matters such as abortion and gay marriage, with some groups notably quiet.

"Evangelical leaders are concerned that our voice be a biblical voice that does not send the wrong signal to the growing Latino community," said the Rev. Richard Cizik, Washington spokesman for the National Association of Evangelicals

Cizik was one of several officials from evangelical organizations who were briefed Tuesday on
President Bush's plans by top adviser Karl Rove — the idea being to gather support and head off opposition. Other groups represented included the Concerned Women for America, Institute on Religion and Democracy, National Religious Broadcasters and Southern Baptist Convention.

Tanya Erzen of, which monitors and criticizes the conservative Christian movement, said the issue is tricky for evangelicals because they want to mobilize Hispanics behind their favored social causes, and know that many of the street demonstrators are "members of evangelical churches that represent a key constituency."

A report to the NAE board's March meeting said more evangelical converts come from Hispanic communities than from any other sector in America. Cizik counts 600,000 Hispanic converts from Catholicism living in the United States.

Pew Research Center polling this year showed nearly two-thirds of white evangelicals thought immigrants threaten "traditional American customs and values" and are a burden on "our jobs, housing and health care," well above the percentages for white Catholics, mainline Protestants and the U.S. population in general.

The Evangelicals are in a pickle here. The want to court the Hispanic Catholics behind their pet causes of abortion and gay marriage, but their own extreme law-and-order stance of Minutemen watching the border and concrete fences to keep the illegals out, will actually go against the desires of the Hispanic community for an amnesty program for long-term illegal immigrants to become legal residents in the U.S. And what is more, the Evangelical church leadership's concerns for this balancing act of courting Hispanics, actually goes against their congregation's white evangelicals political views of illegal immigration threatens jobs, housing health care, and traditional values, as reported by the Pew Research Center. They are in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation since it is likely that the most radical of Evangelical leaders were also decrying that illegal immigration would threaten "traditional American values and society" for years.

What goes around, comes around.

U.S. sending reinforcements to violent Ramadi

Fire rages in one of the shops in an alleyway in the restive city of Ramadi during clashes between US forces and insurgents. Iraqi politicians were locked in final discussions ahead of the promised weekend announcement of the country's first permanent post-invasion government, over five months after landmark elections.(AFP/Ahmed Shallal)

Looks like the war in Iraq is heating up. This is from CNN.Com:

(CNN) -- U.S. military commanders will order more U.S. troops to the Iraqi city of Ramadi, the volatile Anbar provincial capital where troops and insurgents have been fighting new pitched battles, CNN learned on Friday.

The reinforcements, described as a significant number, will come from other areas inside Iraq, but military sources are not saying exactly when the troops will arrive.

Fighting has been raging in the sprawling, largely Sunni Arab province west of Baghdad for days; coalition forces have engaged insurgents in the area every day since May 7, the military said.

Anbar has been a major front in the ongoing insurgency.

Insurgents have hidden out and established bases in Anbar towns along the Euphrates River, and some have entered Anbar over the Syrian border. Over the past year, Marine-led forces have been launching offensives against insurgents along the Euphrates.

Guantanamo Prison Guards, Inmates Clash

You know things are going from bad to worst when this Yahoo News story comes out:

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Prisoners wielding improvised weapons clashed with guards trying to stop a detainee from committing suicide at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the military said Friday.

The fight occurred Thursday in a medium-security section of the camp as guards were responding to the fourth attempted suicide that day at the detention center on the
U.S. Navy base, Cmdr. Robert Durand said.

Detainees used fans, light fixtures and other improvised weapons to attack the guards as they entered a communal living area to stop a prisoner trying to hang himself, Durand said.

Earlier in the day, three detainees in another part of the prison attempted suicide by swallowing prescription medicine they had been hoarding.

The attempted suicides and clash occurred on the same day the military transferred 15 Saudi detainees to their country, leaving about 460 prisoners at Guantanamo. It was unclear if the disturbances were related to the transfers.

This was the second reported simultaneous suicide attempt at Guantanamo, which holds detainees suspected of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. The U.S. military said 23 detainees carried out a coordinated effort to hang or strangle themselves in 2003 during a weeklong protest in the secretive camp in Cuba.

There have been previous reports of protests and more minor disturbances at the detention center, including incidents in which detainees hurled urine and other bodily fluids at guards or banged on cell doors for hours at a time. A hunger strike that began in August has involved up to 131 detainees but now has dwindled to a handful.

There have been 39 suicide attempts at Guantanamo since the prison opened in January 2002, the military said. At least 12 were by Juma'a Mohammed al-Dossary, a 32-year-old from Bahrain.

But hey, why look at all this bad news about Gitmo prisoners rioting? How about some good news for a change? How about this story from CNN.Com:

(CNN) -- The United States should close its jail at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and any secret prisons it may be running, a U.N. panel said Friday.

"The state party should cease to detain any person at Guantanamo Bay and close this detention facility, permit access by the detainees to judicial process or release them as soon as possible," the U.N. Committee Against Torture said in an 11-page report issued in Geneva, Switzerland.

The report concluded that detention of suspects without charges being filed runs counter to established human rights law and that the war on terrorism does not constitute an armed conflict under international law.

The report also suggested that the United States is operating "secret prisons" and called on Washington to close any "it may be running."

The report said U.S. interrogators should stop using "water boarding" and other questioning techniques that amount to torture.

American officials reportedly have acknowledged using water boarding as one of the more extreme techniques to elicit information from suspects.

The technique involves strapping down an interrogation subject and dunking them in water or otherwise making them feel that they may be drowning, although they are not.

The committee also took aim at the United States using dogs to induce fear and methods involving sexual humiliation -- both documented in unofficial photographs taken at the Abu Ghraib facility in Iraq. Several of the individuals involved in those cases have been prosecuted.

It urged an end to any methods that amounted to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

It is nice to know that the U.S. is now sitting in the gutter with other totalitarian nations that incarcerate and torture individuals without trial or legal recourse.