Saturday, March 05, 2005
Well, now Washington Monthly has come out with an article showing that Norquist's grip on the Republican Party might be slipping, which could only be a good thing for the American people - not just the Republicans or the Democrats. It's simply not sane to continue to spend money without raising any money whatsoever. But then again, that's what Norquist is all about; "drowning" the government. Read on...
Is Grover Over?
Norquist's anti-tax jihad stumbles in the states.
By Daniel Franklin and A.G. Newmyer III
If ever two men seemed to share one political soul, surely they were Grover Norquist and Mitch Daniels. From his perch as president of Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist was the architect of President Bush's strategy to cut taxes every year and has elicited signed promises from virtually every congressional Republican never to vote for a tax hike. Norquist once famously boasted that he hoped to “reduce [government] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” During Bush's first term, it was Daniels, the White House budget director, who began running the water. During his time in the White House, Daniels conceded nothing in arguing for the president's tax cuts, even going so far as suggesting that the president's trillion-dollar tax cut represented “our best chance of another unexpected surplus.” So if the smile on Norquist's face seemed extra-wide on Election Day, even considering the Republicans' reinforced grip on Washington power, it might have had something to do with Daniels's election as governor of Indiana. Daniels was bringing Grover's jihad back to the Heartland.
Where he promptly dropped it. Daniels had campaigned touting citations from Norquist's ATR and other anti-tax groups. But eight short days after settling into the Indiana Statehouse, Daniels proposed a budget that sought to close a $600 million budget gap by socking high-income Hoosiers with a 29-percent increase in income tax. Norquist quickly accused his old cohort of “betraying” taxpayers with his budget proposal. “This is the fastest any governor claiming to be a Reagan Republican has folded under the pressure of the big-spending interests,” Norquist said. Daniels was stung. “Two years ago, Grover was giving me the Hero of the American Taxpayer Award,” Daniels lamented to the Indianapolis Star. “I'm the same guy I was then.”
To bring pressure on the apostate, Norquist publicly and negatively compared him to other governors who he said hewed more closely to the doctrine that taxes can go in only one direction: down. “On behalf of Indiana's families and businesses,” Norquist wrote Indiana state legislators, “I urge you to prevent Gov. Daniels from closing Indiana for business, and turn to people like [Texas] Gov. Rick Perry ... for alternative solutions.” But just four days later, it was Perry's turn to break Norquist's heart. Introducing a new tax program to the Texas Association of Businesses, Perry said Texas had a “once in a generation opportunity...to put in place an educational system to really impact our children and our children's children.”
Poor Grover. Nearly everywhere he looks, it seems, a Republican governor or legislature is finding the seductions of tax hikes too powerful to resist in the face of reduced federal support and soaring education and health-care costs. Anti-tax groups such as ATR, the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, and FreedomWorks seem to have feet-on-the-desk privileges in the White House and Republican Congress. For a time, they appeared to have even more pull in the states, where 1,200 of 7,400 state legislators have signed Norquist's pledge never to vote for a tax increase. Anti-tax advocates are quick to threaten political death to any Republican who strays from the no-tax gospel. But with the red ink still flowing, even after collectively closing more than $200 billion in budget shortfalls over the last three years, cracks are forming within the no-tax coalition. Governors are finding that they can't cut more without endangering programs that hit people where they live—such programs as road construction, nursing home assistance, and reading, writing and arithmetic lessons. Surprisingly, legislatures are going along. Indeed, the day after Norquist announced his opposition to Daniels's budget plan, the Republican chairmen of the Indiana House Ways and Means and Senate Budget committees admitted that they didn't consider the no-tax pledges they had given the ATR binding because they signed them years before they acquired their current budget responsibilities. Another Republican Hoosier lawmaker complained to The Indianapolis Star, “I knew it [ATR's no-tax pledge] was like a marriage when I signed it, but now I want a divorce.”
It was not always thus. In the early '90s, state Republican parties rode the anti-tax backlash to power, going from controlling five statehouses in 1992 to 20 today. (Democrats and Republicans split control of ten others.) A big reason why was the fundraising and organizational help offered from national anti-tax groups. “You can not discount the impact of Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform and the Club for Growth,” says Bill Pound, executive director of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the main umbrella group for state lawmakers. “To their credit, they have had considerable effect.” And indeed, many a Republican statehouse still keeps a light on for Norquist and his Washington friends. ATR and others have helped beat back major tax increase proposals from Alabama and Arkansas to Oregon and Washington in recent years.
Lost among press stories heralding the Republicans' victories in the presidential and congressional elections, however, is evidence that the tide may be turning. Voters in November rejected every tax-limitation measure on state ballots, including a Maine property tax initiative that was the most ambitious of its kind in 20 years. Voters in several other states, meanwhile, approved tax increases to pay for specific programs such as schools, roads and mental health. States have not exactly gone on a spending spree—they've cut spending much more than they've raised taxes over their last few years of budget difficulties—but because they are under so much pressure, they are increasingly resistant to the ministrations of Norquist and others who are telling them to cut taxes even more.
No state demonstrates the rise and wobble of the anti-tax movement better than Colorado. In 1992, at the instigation of Douglas Bruce, now a county commissioner in Colorado Springs, Colorado voters passed a referendum known as the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR which attached an amendment to the state constitution that required any tax increase to be approved by a vote of the people and limits state spending increases to inflation, with adjustments made for population growth. Any amount that the state collects above its spending limit has to be returned as a tax refund, unless the public specifically votes to allow the state to keep the money. So far, no Colorado official has even tried to bring the question to a vote. “It sounds good, so it's hard to fight politically,” says Brad Young, the former Republican chairman of Colorado's joint budget committee.
TABOR has completely warped Colorado politics ever since. One of the original supporters was a little-known state representative from Aurora named Bill Owens. Six years later, Owens was elected to be Colorado's first Republican governor in 24 years. It wasn't long before national Republicans began to notice. National Review named him “America's Best Governor” in 2002 and admiringly listed his government-cutting bona fides. Anti-tax advocates began touting TABOR as a national model and Owens as a potential presidential candidate for 2008.
But while Colorado has been terrific for TABOR, TABOR has been a nightmare for Colorado, and for Colorado Republicans in particular. The state budget was fine as long as the state's economy was growing, and bills could be pushed into the following year. Once things slowed down, retrenchment became a serious business just as health care and education expenses began to shoot upwards. Thanks to TABOR, the state can't increase its spending on roads and other expenditures it's been putting off. Now, Gov. Owens himself has proposed a ballot measure to curtail some of the law's limits.
Business is the chisel driving a crack between moderate Republicans and the anti-tax fanatics. Although there is no group in Washington more loyal to the GOP's anti-tax doctrine than the Chamber of Commerce, in the states, reality often trumps ideology. “For businesses to be successful, you need roads and you need higher education, both of which have gotten worse under TABOR and will continue to get worse,” says Tom Clark of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, who notes that higher education has shrunk from 25 percent of the state budget in 1995 to about 10 percent today. “I'm a Republican,” Clark says, “but I made the decision not to give any money to the state party.”
Throughout the state, moderate businessmen such as Clark kept their political checkbooks closed to many Republicans last year. Several statehouse incumbents who might otherwise have counted on huge campaign spending advantages over Democratic challengers instead faced something approaching parity. A tightly organized state Democratic Party was able to take advantage, knocking off enough Republican incumbents to gain control of the Colorado legislature for the first time in 40 years. Democratic leaders in the state legislature are now reaching out to moderate Republicans to make changes to TABOR. As for Owens, he's term-limited and preparing to begin his last two years as governor. With a reinvigorated Democratic majority in the statehouse and a conservative base disappointed with his concessions to budget realities, he's quacking lamely. TABOR is at no risk of being jettisoned altogether, but its reputation as the third rail of Colorado politics has taken a permanent hit, as have Owens's hopes for competing in the GOP presidential primary 2008.
The fight now moves to Virginia, where, last year, business groups helped enact the state's largest tax increase since 1966. Democratic Gov. Mark Warner conceded he might be “a lunatic” for trying to reform his state's tax system. He had run on a no-tax pledge, but recanted after finding that the state's fiscal hole was deeper than he could fill. He spent his first two years in office slicing spending by $6 billion, but finally concluded that the state would continue to bleed red even if the economy grew by higher than historic rates. The state would be facing deficits through 2010, just funding current programs. So Warner proposed raising taxes by $1.1 billion by offering tax breaks to most people but raising a number of rates, such as sales and cigarette taxes, and closing up some of the most gaping loopholes. Republican lawmakers began sharpening their knives until they realized that many of their constituents, business groups among them, were squarely behind the Democratic governor. Over the howls from national anti-tax groups, Virginia Republicans actually outdid the governor's tax hike, increasing it by an additional $700 million, fully two-thirds larger than Warner's proposal.
Norquist and the Club for Growth have vowed to defeat dozens of Republican legislators who supported the tax hike, dubbing them “Virginia's Least Wanted.” “We had a bunch of worthless Republicans in the Senate who have been there forever and don't have any core free market beliefs,” complained Club for Growth then-President Stephen Moore in an online chat. “They sold us out and then enough Benedict Arnold Republicans in the House went along. The good news is that these Republicans are through politically—we will be sure of that.”
Two years ago, anti-tax groups made good on earlier threats to target legislators who referred regional sales tax hikes to voters, unseating the House transportation committee chair. But there is a different mood in Richmond. John Chichester, the Republican president pro tempore of the Virginia Senate who steered the tax hike through as finance chairman, calls Norquist and Moore “generals without armies.... The Norquist crowd—if they had a flame burning someplace, it's dimming now. The shrillness and strident rhetoric probably did their cause more harm than good.”
As in Colorado, business groups have already come to the financial and organizational aid of the apostates facing challengers in this June's primaries. “The 17 members of the Republican House majority who voted for the modest tax increases demonstrated statesmanship and political courage in the old-fashioned sense,” says Hugh Keogh, president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “We'll do whatever seems to make sense to help encourage their reelection.”
Given that kind of support from business interests, which have formed a new PAC specifically designed to help Republican lawmakers who supported Warner's tax increases, coupled with the fact that the moderate Republicans are mostly well established and well-liked in their districts—it may be difficult for Norquist and Moore to dislodge very many of them. “No doubt, Norquist and his allies can bring some money in on the other side,” says University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. “But to beat the legislators, he'll have to find strong opponents, always tough with established incumbents; catch the incumbents napping, which they aren't; and significantly outspend them, which I doubt he can do… In some competitive districts, Norquist's efforts might elect Democrats in the fall.”
It is a bizarre notion when set against Norquist's outsized reputation as the preeminent Washington conservative powerbroker. But with Colorado looking shaky for Republicans and Daniels launching his administration with a direct slap to the anti-tax crowd, Virginia's statewide elections later this year loom large. If “Virginia's Least Wanted” survive their primary challenges or Democrats pick up seats in November's statewide election, Norquist and the anti-tax movement's threats could carry significantly less sting in the 2006 midterms nationwide. Grover is a long way from being politically neutered, to be sure. But it is in the nation's capital, rather than the states, that he continues to find his soulmates. From statehouse Republicans, such as his former friend Daniels, Norquist keeps hearing heresies. “Many other states have cut education spending—I didn't want to do that,” Daniels said. “Many have cut higher education spending—I didn't want to do that.” But weep not for Norquist and Daniels. They'll always have Washington.
Friday, March 04, 2005
Freed Italian Journalist Wounded By U.S. Fire After Release
POSTED: 1:34 pm EST March 4, 2005
UPDATED: 3:30 pm EST March 4, 2005
ROME -- A freed Italian hostage was injured and an Italian intelligence officer killed Friday after a U.S. armored vehicle fired on a car in which they were riding in Iraq, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said.
Berlusconi, an ally of the United States who has kept troops in Iraq despite public opposition at home, said he has asked the U.S. ambassador for an explanation.
"Given that the fire came from an American source I called in the American ambassador," Berlusconi told reporters. "I believe we must have an explanation for such a serious incident, for which someone must take the responsibility."
The shooting occurred Friday at a roadblock near the airport. Berlusconi confirmed that the former Italian hostage, journalist Giuliana Sgrena, was injured by shrapnel. She was taken to a U.S. military hospital by U.S. troops, where she had a minor operation on her left shoulder to remove a piece of shrapnel, he said.
The editor of Il Manifesto, Gabriele Polo, said the secret service agent was killed when he threw himself over the freed hostage to protect her from fire, according to Apcom. He also said Sgrena was in the hospital but was not seriously injured.
Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said a shooting incident occurred as the Italian woman was being brought into U.S. military control at Camp Victory, the U.S. military base near Baghdad International Airport.
More at NBC4 news.
Blogger blow in Apple leak case
Apple's MacWorld conference
The ruling could be a blow for bloggers
Three blogs which revealed sensitive information about upcoming Apple products could be made to disclose where the leaks came from.
A California judge said in a preliminary ruling that bloggers should not have the same protection afforded to journalists under US law.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), representing the sites, said it was disappointed and would appeal.
It is a big win for Apple in the first leg of the lawsuits, filed in December.
The preliminary ruling could be far-reaching for bloggers who disclose information about companies in the future.
Over four months, Apple has filed against PowerPage, Apple Insider and Think Secret to find out how the websites obtained details of unreleased products, code-named Asteroid and Q97.
The EFF argued that those writing for blogs, websites which increasingly act as "unofficial" news sources, should get the same First Amendment and California Shield Law protection as journalists.
The law is designed to protect journalists from being forced to reveal the names of sources or supply unpublished materials, if the matter reported is in the public's interest.
The lawsuits were filed by Apple just weeks before the MacWorld conference in San Francisco which is used to showcase new products.
Apple is famously secretive about its future product launches while Apple users are equally famous for speculating about new technology from the company.
In December 2002, Apple sued a former contractor who allegedly posted online drawings, images and engineering details of the company's PowerMac G4 computer.
March 3, 2005
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Dear Mr. President:
We write in the hope that we can achieve a bipartisan agreement to strengthen Social Security for the long term and enhance the retirement security of all Americans.
Soon after your reelection, you made clear that your Administration's top priority is to move toward the privatization of Social Security. Your proposal would cut Social Security's funding by diverting payroll taxes into privatized accounts, which would weaken the program and force deep cuts in benefits. Your Administration also acknowledged that the proposal would require borrowing trillions of dollars, much of which we know would come from foreign countries like China and Japan.
Democrats in the Congress believe this approach is unacceptable, and it appears that most Americans agree with us. Funding privatized accounts with Social Security dollars would not only make the program's long term problems worse, but many believe it represents a first step toward undermining the program's fundamental goals. Therefore, so long as this proposal is on the table, we believe it will be impossible to establish the kind of cooperative, bipartisan process we need to truly address the challenges facing the program many decades in the future.
We were encouraged that Treasury Secretary John Snow suggested that you might be willing to abandon your privatization proposal and move instead to an alternative approach in which investment accounts would be established entirely separate and apart from Social Security. As you know, many Democrats, including President Bill Clinton, have advocated just such an approach, with benefits targeted to working and middle class families who need help the most. So long as such accounts remain entirely independent from Social Security and do not put the program's guaranteed benefits at risk in any way, we believe they deserve serious consideration as part of a broader effort to promote retirement security.
While Secretary Snow's suggestion was initially encouraging, subsequent reports indicate that you remain committed to your privatization plan and his public comments were little more than a tactical maneuver. According to a story in today's Washington Post, "White House officials are privately telling Republicans that Bush is opposed to the idea [of accounts outside of Social Security], but does not want to say so because it would appear he is not willing to compromise."
Given the conflicting and ambiguous reports on such a critical issue, we urge you to publicly and unambiguously announce that you reject privatized accounts funded with
Social Security dollars or otherwise linked to the provision of guaranteed Social Security benefits. Such a statement would eliminate a serious obstacle to the kind of bipartisan process that Democrats are seeking to deal with Social Security's long-term challenges and to improve the retirement security of all Americans.
Thank you for your consideration of our views.
Akaka, Baucus, Bayh, Biden, Bingaman, Boxer, Byrd, Cantwell, Carper, Clinton, Corzine, Dayton, Dodd, Dorgan, Durbin, Feinstein, Harkin, Inouye, Jeffords, Johnson, Kennedy, Kerry, Kohl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Lincoln, Mikulski, Murray, Bill Nelson, Obama, Pryor, Reed, Reid, Rockefeller, Salazar, Sarbanes, Schumer, Stabenow, Wyden.
I don’t know, is it a real emergency when you’ve already attempted to turn entire cities into fortress compounds? I have to give the Administration credit, though, they really are trying to drag Iraq into Western Society kicking and screaming…too bad they’re trying to build from the city-state stage. I think the next development will be flaming arrows.
Oh, wait, we already have Scott McClellan.
Emergency War Funding Wins Backing
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2005; Page A19
House Republican leaders overcame earlier concerns and decided yesterday to give President Bush most of the emergency war spending money he requested last month, including $600 million for a compound in Baghdad that will be the largest U.S. embassy in the world.
The leaders said they plan to approve all but $800 million of Bush's $81.9 billion request in emergency funding for Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terrorism. They cut back dramatically on the foreign aid portion of the request, because they said some of the proposed spending was not for emergencies or was potentially wasteful.
The Republicans -- backing off many of their complaints about the size and vagueness of the White House's request -- agreed to fund the project that had drawn the most criticism: construction of the embassy in Iraq, which will have the largest staff of any in the world.
Leaders attributed much of their willingness to grant Bush's request to an impassioned presentation by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the chambers of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) late Wednesday afternoon.
More at the Washington Post
Ow...just, ow. You know when China, the poster child for human rights outrages, feels safe to call you out on human rights outrages that you’ve done something wrong. I guess it takes one to know one.
China, Others Criticize U.S. Report on Rights
Double Standard at State Dept. Alleged
By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 4, 2005; Page A14
BEIJING, March 3 -- China accused the United States on Thursday of using a double standard to judge human rights in other countries, adding to a list of nations suggesting that the government that produced the Abu Ghraib prison abuses has no business commenting on what happens elsewhere.
"No country should exclude itself from the international human rights development process or view itself as the incarnation of human rights that can reign over other countries and give orders to the others," Premier Wen Jiabao's cabinet declared, three days after the State Department criticized China in its annual human rights report.
The Chinese retort, which contained a long list of what it labeled U.S. human rights abuses at home and abroad, came directly from Wen's cabinet, giving it more weight than a Foreign Ministry comment or editorial. In addition, it used unusually direct language -- for example, charging that the United States "frequently commits wanton slaughters during external invasions and military attacks."
More at the Washington Post
It had to be said, and Harry Reid was the right man for the job. I get a little tired of hearing pronouncements from an unelected man who holds more power over the U.S. Economy than any of our elected officials. I don’t care who appointed him, Democrat or Republican, I just see him giving the rubber stamp to a lot of destructive policies these days.
Senate Democratic Leader Blasts Greenspan
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2005; Page A06
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan generally gets accolades for his public pronouncements. Yesterday he got a brickbat from Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who blasted Greenspan as "one of the biggest political hacks we have here in Washington."
Reid ripped Greenspan during an interview on CNN's "Inside Politics." He said the Fed chairman has given President Bush a pass on deficits that have built up in the past four years and should be challenging Republicans on their fiscal policies, rather than promoting Bush's plan to introduce personal accounts into Social Security.
"I'm not a big Greenspan fan -- Alan Greenspan fan," Reid said when asked about the Fed chairman's testimony this week urging Congress to deal quickly with the financial problems facing Social Security and Medicare. "I voted against him the last two times. I think he's one of the biggest political hacks we have in Washington."
More at the Washington Post
Oh, and speaking of arrogance and political hackery, guess who’s shilling for changes to the tax code? And not only changes, but Reagan-era style changes that favor the wealthy? That’s right…
Time to Change Tax Code Again, Greenspan Says
1986 Law Presented As Model of Reform
By Nell Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2005; Page E02
The U.S. tax code should be simplified in ways that would boost economic growth, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said yesterday.
Greenspan, addressing the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform, urged the committee to follow the spirit of the "exemplary" 1986 law that lowered marginal rates while broadening the revenue base by scrapping many of the exemptions, deductions, credits and other provisions that shield much income from taxation.
Since 1986, he said, "the tax code has drifted back to be overly complicated," with higher rates and multiple special provisions that narrow the tax base. "It is perhaps inevitable that, every couple of decades, drift needs to be addressed and reversed."
Greenspan proposed no specific tax-law changes, but recommended broadly that the panel seek to keep tax rates as low as possible and make the rules predictable. That should benefit the economy overall, as did the 1986 law, he said.
"A simpler tax code would reduce the considerable resources devoted to complying with the current tax laws, and the freed-up resources could be used for more productive purposes," Greenspan said.
President Bush has made tax reform one of the top domestic legislative priorities of his second term.
More at the Washington Post
Hey, here are the folks who are in charge today. The fact that people who think like this can get elected, then cheered for encouraging genocide, is a scary, scary thing.
Texas Republican Congressman: "Nuke Syria"
Thu, 3 Mar 2005 09:31:27 -0600
Rep. Strangelove By Jackson Thoreau
I covered Rep. Sam Johnson [R-Texas] when he first ran for Congress in 1991. He was so “honest” that he didn’t even live in the district – he just rented an apartment in the district to run.
That was technically legal, but many raised questions about him using a loophole to run. I was one of the few reporters to write about that at the time, but it didn’t stop Johnson from winning the election.
Now, Johnson wants to kill everyone in Syria in one nuclear swoop, just because he has some unproven notion that weapons of mass destruction are being hidden there. That would include the relatives of my kids – who are part Syrian. Not to mention, the nuke would probably take out much of the Middle East, including Israel. And it would affect weather patterns and cause cancer in surrounding areas for years, if not decades.
His chief of staff says Johnson doesn’t really want to nuke Syria, but I don’t buy that. He has said this at least twice, including to a public gathering in a speech in a church, no less, on Feb. 19, and privately to Bush himself at the White House. Remember what Bush once tried to say: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame won’t get fooled again.”
What’s also sad is that many in the audience at the church applauded right after Johnson said he wants to nuke Syria. In fact, “the crowd roared with applause,” according to a report in the non-partisan Roll Call publication that covers Capitol Hill.
More at GNN
On that note, here’s your quote of the day: “We need to execute people like John Walker [the American Taliban] in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too. Otherwise they will turn out to be outright traitors.” – Ann Coulter
Thursday, March 03, 2005Media Girl's excellent post on the subject; they are coming, and we have to fight back.
See yesterday's article. Now see today's article. Flip-flop, flip-flop.
Frist: Social Security action this year
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Thursday that Congress must confront Social Security's problems this year, dialing back comments earlier in the week that action might have to wait.
"We need to do it this year. Not the next year," Frist said Thursday on the Senate floor. "We are working towards this goal."
Two days ago, Frist noted intense Democratic opposition and suggested he might not be able to move a bill to the Senate floor this year, as Bush has pushed for.
"I want to be realistic," Frist said on Tuesday.
Other Republicans have expressed skepticism about the Bush plan, and polls have shown public support falling.
That's left opponents feeling optimistic about how the debate is shaping up, a month after Bush laid out his ideas in his State of the Union address.
On Thursday, Frist said he would work to move the legislation forward.
"This president and this Congress are facing this challenge and the challenge is to fix Social Security for seniors, for near retirees, and for that next generation," he said. "And we need to do it this year."
Bush Seen Backing Europe on Iran in Major Policy Shift
2 hours, 37 minutes ago Politics - Reuters
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush was leaning on Thursday toward backing Europe in offering incentives to Iran to persuade it to give up nuclear ambitions, U.S. officials said, in a significant shift in strategy toward an arch enemy.
Bush was to discuss Iran at an afternoon meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who met on Tuesday in London with foreign ministers of the three nations handling European negotiations with Iran -- Britain, France and Germany.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush had not made a final decision. He declined to discuss any details.
"We're continuing to look at how we can best support the European efforts, and make sure that those efforts are successful, to get Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions," he said.
From Yahoo! News
And then this one...although the fear-mongering is still strong in this one.
Bush: Stopping Bin Laden 'Greatest Challenge'
1 hour, 37 minutes ago Top Stories - Reuters
By Tabassum Zakaria
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a rare public mention of the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush said on Thursday stopping Osama bin Laden from a new attack on U.S. soil was "the greatest challenge of our day."
Bush confirmed U.S. reports that bin Laden had asked his chief ally in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to plan attacks in the United States -- a warning that al Qaeda was still a threat to Americans at home.
"Recently, we learned that Osama bin Laden has urged the terrorist Zarqawi to form a group to conduct attacks outside Iraq, including here in the United States," Bush said at a public swearing-in ceremony for Michael Chertoff, the new head of the Department of Homeland Security.
"Bin Laden's message is a telling reminder that al Qaeda still hopes to attack us on our own soil," Bush said. "Stopping him is the greatest challenge of our day."
From Yahoo! News
Also, is anyone really sick of this picture of bin Laden? Is there no other picture of him out there?
I mean, come on!
“You are telling us the state can't accommodate religion. You are asking religious people to surrender their beliefs.”
Hello, strawman. That’s not the argument at all. They’re just saying don’t put your religion in front of everyone else’s.
I don’t think you can put the Ten Commandments up in a court, even as a “precedent of law”. If you did that, you’d also have to include the Code of Hammurabi. Let’s get that clear: the argument that the Ten Commandments are the precedent of American law is absolutely ridiculous. Last I checked, we were free to commit adultery and covet our neighbors’ stuff (hell, that’s what America is all about!).
Oh, and please, take a look at where Scalia’s head is. Check this out:
“When someone walks by the commandments, they are not studying the text. They are acknowledging that the government derives its authority from God.”
That’s an absolutely reprehensible statement. Is he talking about a monarchy? It sure sounds like it.
Take Two Tablets
The Supreme Court picks through the rubble of its Ten Commandments jurisprudence.
By Dahlia Lithwick
Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2005, at 5:03 PM PT
Imagine a bunch of elderly, black-robed medieval clerics absorbed in a scholarly dialogue on the number of angels (better make that "secular" angels—candy stripers or maybe Hell's Angels) able to dance on the head of a pin. You'd have a good idea of how oral argument went this morning in the pair of cases involving displays of the Ten Commandments on state property.
At one level everything appears scholarly and doctrinal. Until you realize that the doctrine is a mess, and the justices are so tangled up in old tests, old glosses on old tests, and new glosses on new tests that they don't even know how to talk about the Establishment Clause cases, much less how to resolve them. Perhaps the court is waiting to resolve the chaos until there are as many different Establishment Clause tests (legal scholars currently count about seven) as there are commandments.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." That ban has been interpreted to sweep in state and local governments as well. The disaster-on-stilts the court has used to determine whether such an establishment has taken place is known as the "Lemon test," vomited forth upon the land in a 1971 case called Lemon v. Kurtzman. That test asked whether the government's conduct had: (i) a secular purpose; (ii) a principal or primary effect that neither enhances nor inhibits religion; and (iii) did not foster excessive entanglement with religion. Subsequent courts have dealt with Lemon either by modifying its various prongs (as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor did in a 1984 crèche case called Lynch v. Donnelly), manipulating it to produce desired outcomes, or ignoring the test altogether. At least six of the sitting justices have openly questioned the utility of the Lemon test. But of the alternative tests, nothing has so far proved more workable. As a result, the court spends the morning sorting among the rubble of discarded tests—all smashed up like Moses' tablets—and deconstructing hopelessly narrow, fact-specific old case law.
More at Slate.
So yesterday’s news about a delay in social security? Bush rejects that, and not only does he reject it, he’s going to drag Mr. Scaremonger himself, Dick Cheney, into his updated plan. Watch for them to go into full-on crisis mode. I predict Dick Cheney talking about the economy collapsing.
Bush Rejects Delay, Prepares Escalated Social Security Push
By Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 3, 2005; Page A04
President Bush plans to intensify his campaign to win public and congressional support for restructuring Social Security, warning that it would be a bad idea to delay action as the Senate Republican leader has suggested and politically unwise for lawmakers to oppose private accounts, White House officials said yesterday.
Despite polls showing support for the plan slipping, Bush is confident he is winning the first phase of the public debate over Social Security and has no plans to significantly alter his strategy for enacting the most dramatic changes ever to the venerable system, said senior White House officials who have talked to Bush. Several congressional Republicans, however, said they do not share Bush's optimism and questioned his strategy for enacting changes this year.
One day after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said the Senate might not meet Bush's year-end deadline, the White House announced plans to step up its effort to pressure lawmakers into action by dispatching Bush, Vice President Cheney and other administration officials to 60 events in 60 days. Cheney, in particular, will assume a larger role in the effort, including attending town hall meetings with GOP lawmakers.
More at The Washington Post.
And oh, gee, what a surprise. The cronies in Congress are refusing to investigate the cronies in the CIA:
In recent weeks, the ranking Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence panels have asked their Republican chairmen to investigate the CIA's detention and interrogations. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) has declined the request from Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.).
Ah, it must be good to run everything. Right into the ground.
CIA Avoids Scrutiny of Detainee Treatment
Afghan's Death Took Two Years to Come to Light; Agency Says Abuse Claims Are Probed Fully
By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 3, 2005; Page A01
In November 2002, a newly minted CIA case officer in charge of a secret prison just north of Kabul allegedly ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young Afghan detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets, according to four U.S. government officials aware of the case.
The Afghan guards -- paid by the CIA and working under CIA supervision in an abandoned warehouse code-named the Salt Pit -- dragged their captive around on the concrete floor, bruising and scraping his skin, before putting him in his cell, two of the officials said.
As night fell, so, predictably, did the temperature.
By morning, the Afghan man had frozen to death.
After a quick autopsy by a CIA medic -- "hypothermia" was listed as the cause of death -- the guards buried the Afghan, who was in his twenties, in an unmarked, unacknowledged cemetery used by Afghan forces, officials said. The captive's family has never been notified; his remains have never been returned for burial. He is on no one's registry of captives, not even as a "ghost detainee," the term for CIA captives held in military prisons but not registered on the books, they said.
"He just disappeared from the face of the earth," said one U.S. government official with knowledge of the case.
The CIA case officer, meanwhile, has been promoted, two of the officials said, who like others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk about the matter. The case is under investigation by the CIA inspector general.
More at The Washington Post.
I hate to argue against something based on how difficult it is, as I believe Americans are already generally lazy enough and don’t want to bother to get the facts to actually deal with something, but the following is a somewhat valid argument against social security, and I suspect it’s driving a lot of the resistance to social security deform.
The Hassle Factor
But I don't want to manage my own Social Security account!
By Thomas Geoghegan
Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2005, at 1:27 PM PT
Of the Bush plan to establish individual Social Security accounts, a lawyer friend of mine complains: It's one more damned thing I'd have to manage. I've got enough to handle already.
Isn't that the real issue? Let's forget the funding problem. Or even the risk of ending up with a lower benefit for retirement. Under the Bush plan, we'd be partly responsible. We'd have to hatch our own nest eggs. It's one more job the Republicans would give to us.
This is my gripe against the Bush plan: I've already got enough to do.
Millions of Americans, I'm convinced, are against it for only that reason. We don't want to have to think about Social Security. "But people worry about it now," you might say. Oh, sure, at these presidential drop-in discussions in Fargo, N.D., a cop or cook will say, "I worry Social Security won't be there for me." But come on, they don't really worry. If they did, they'd open a damned savings account.
In real life, we ignore our Social Security. That's the glory of it. We have the freedom not to think about it. With all the time I have not to think about my "private" account, I can turn on the Cubs game. Or open up Kafka.
I can even pray, if I want.
Privatization is one more damn thing to distract and upset me. I read a bit less (as Laura Bush reads more). I volunteer a bit less (as her husband lauds us for volunteering more). In one way or another, I spend less time being responsible for other people because I'm more responsible for me.
I don't like it.
More at Slate
Finally, here’s a piece from the Raising Kaine blog concerning the Virginia Governor’s Race. The interview was great; I suggest any Virginians give it a listen. Potts is right on the money.
Potts Pans Kilgore and "Dr. No" Republicans
On yesterday's "Virginia Politics Hour" on WAMU radio, Russ Potts slammed Jerry Kill-more better than we at RaisingKaine every could. It's worth listening to the Potts interview, which is both informative and entertaining. Here are a few highlights.
- Why is Potts running? He says he "loves Virginia" and wants to provide "leadership" for the state. Potts pans Kilgore as "promis[ing]...no solutions, and certainly no nitty-gritty."
- Why is Potts running as an Independent when his party "already has a candidate?" Potts says, "What I see, quite frankly, from Mr. Kilgore, is no hope, no vision, no plan, no roads, no schools, just no. Every time we try to pin him down on just what are your plans and how are you going to pay for it, we get is broad platitudes like 'oh we're going to grow out of this problem' or 'when we're there, we'll address it.'"
- Potts says he's we should not eliminate the car tax, but should return the issue back to the localities "where it was for some 60 years."
- Potts believes we need to "put everything on the table" to solve Virginia's transportation problems. This includes a possible hike in the state's gas tax.
- Potts points out that, to win this November, "we just have to get to 34 [percent]." Compares himself to Lowell Weicker, Angus King, and Jesse Ventura, but with "more experience" than most of them.
- As to whether or not Potts is garnering GOP support, he points out that, just recently, a "promiment Republican in New York State" stepped forward and is going to host a major reception for Potts in New York. Potts claims that, although he won't raise the most money in the race, he can "raise enough to win."
More at Citizen Kaine.
Finally, your quote of the day:
The 20th century has been characterised by three developments of great political importance. The growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda against democracy. ~ Alex Carey, Australian social scientist.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
This post does lift liberally (heh) from an email I received, but the numbers were new to me. I take State and local issues very seriously, and I'm angered to see how these cuts are going to affect us.
Here are just a few of the cuts Virginia faces under Bush's 2006 budget:
- The Bush 2006 budget cuts $420 million to state and local funding for homeland security, including a $23.9 million cut for Virginia. These cuts will take police and firefighters off your streets.
- The Bush budget cuts the COPS program, which has put 2,461 officers on Virginia streets, by 96 percent.
- The Bush budget cuts $45 billion from Medicaid, enough to provide health care to 1.8 million children. Virginia's share of these cuts is $587 million.
- Bush's budget cuts the very same community and rural health care programs he touted during the campaign, even though more than 148,000 Virginia residents have lost their health care coverage since Bush took office due to his failures.
- Bush underfunds his own No Child Left Behind Act by $13.1 billion in his budget. In Virginia, that means a shortfall of $227.1 million, leaving behind 46,786 Virginia children.
- Bush promised to fund Pell Grants in his State of the Union address, but his budget is $6.6 billion short. That's $121.9 million less than what's needed in Virginia, a real burden for the 91,501 students in Virginia who receive the grants.
- The Bush budget would require many veterans to pay a new $250 annual "user fee" to use the Veterans Administration health care system, and would double the prescription drug co-payment for the 786,359 Virginia veterans.
- Bush cuts Virginia clean water programs by $7.9 million.
- Bush's 2006 budget also cuts the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program -- which helps low-income families afford heating fuel in the winter -- by $234.4 million, including $4.5 million cut for Virginia residents.
And Bush's irresponsible budget is a record $427 billion in the red, increasing each Virginia family's share of the federal debt by $38,910.
Take action today to help stop Bush's disastrous budget in its tracks. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper explaining why Bush's budget is such a disaster for America.
Be sure to include some of the facts about Virginia above, or download our full report here for even more useful information.
Write your letter here:
And be sure to tell your friends to join in. Forward this email to all your friends in Virginia, or tell them to find the report for their own state here:
The DNC Grassroots Action Team
For me, the biggest news is the Supreme Court disallowing the execution of minors. It’s too bad the Supreme Court had to drag us kicking and screaming into the 20th (never mind the 21st) century, but I applaud them for doing so. It’s no mystery that I’m opposed to the death penalty in all instances (because of the possibility of errors leading to executing innocent people), but I was especially opposed to murdering teenagers. Yes, they may understand that murder is wrong, but they don’t have the same impulse control that an adult does. They don’t have the same large-scale thinking that an adult does. It’s arguable as to how much of this is engendered by the prison system that we call high school, but it’s a fact nevertheless.
I don’t like to take any one paper’s coverage of an item, though, so I thought I’d take Slate’s rundown of how the papers are covering it and post that, instead:
Major Minor Decision
By Eric Umansky
Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2005, at 12:48 AM PT
Everybody leads with the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision forbidding the death penalty against those who committed their crimes while still minors. About 70 death-row inmates in 12 states will have to be resentenced.
"From a moral standpoint, it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor's character deficiencies will be reformed," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the court's majority opinion. As the Washington Post emphasizes, Kennedy also cited global sentiment and international laws. That prompted Justice Scalia to shoot back that the court was overturning laws based on "the subjective views of five members of this court and like-minded foreigners." (Slate's Will Saletan catches Scalia flip-flopping.)
The WP fronts and others tease Secretary of State Rice and France's foreign minister jointly calling for the "immediate withdrawal" of Syrian forces from Lebanon. Rice also said there was "firm evidence" Islamic Jihad in Syria was responsible for the recent bombing in Tel Aviv. "Syrians have a lot to answer for," said Rice. (Last week, the group's HQ in Damascus claimed responsibility for the bombing.) Rice also hinted that the U.S. might support the deployment of peacekeepers to Lebanon. "We have to look at what can be done in terms of helping them to stabilize the situation should that become necessary," she said.
More at http://slate.msn.com/id/2114251/
Here’s the Post’s take:
5-4 Supreme Court Abolishes Juvenile Executions
By Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 2, 2005; Page A01
The Supreme Court abolished capital punishment for juvenile offenders yesterday, ruling 5 to 4 that it is unconstitutional to sentence anyone to death for a crime he or she committed while younger than 18.
In concluding that the death penalty for minors is cruel and unusual punishment, the court cited a "national consensus" against the practice, along with medical and social-science evidence that teenagers are too immature to be held accountable for their crimes to the same extent as adults.
The court said its judgment, which overturned a 1989 ruling that had upheld the death penalty for 16- and 17-year-old offenders, was also influenced by a desire to end the United States' international isolation on the issue.
More at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62584-2005Mar1.html?referrer=email
I’ve never hidden my disdain for Antonin Scalia, and yesterday he just showed his true colors. I had to share this…
Scalia exposes a flip-flop on the competence of minors.
By William Saletan
Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2005, at 10:34 PM PT
Dissenting from Tuesday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the execution of juveniles, Justice Antonin Scalia ridicules his colleagues for switching sides on the basis of "evolving standards." He calls the majority opinion a "mockery" for supposing that the Constitution's meaning "has changed over the past 15 years." It's an unfortunate complaint, because the justice most flagrantly guilty of changing his position on the moral responsibility of juveniles in the last 15 years is Antonin Scalia.
In the current case, Roper v. Simmons, Scalia goes after his favorite target, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Never mind that she's on his side. "She is nonetheless prepared (like the majority) to override the judgment of America's legislatures if it contradicts her own assessment of moral proportionality," he writes in a footnote. "The votes in today's case demonstrate that the offending of selected lawyers' moral sentiments is not a predictable basis for law."
More at http://slate.msn.com/id/2114219/
Let’s hope this is a good sign: they’re saying that social security deform…er…I mean reform won’t hit Congress until 2006, and probably won’t include the personal accounts. I hope this is just a way to sweep it under the carpet and let it die. Let it happen…please? Of course, I’ve learned not to trust anything Frist says, so this could just be a ruse.
Social Security Vote May Be Delayed
Critics Could Force Proposal to Change
By Mike Allen and Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 2, 2005; Page A01
The Senate's top Republican said yesterday that President Bush's bid to restructure Social Security may have to wait until next year and might not involve the individual accounts the White House has been pushing hard.
The comments of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), made as GOP lawmakers returned from a week of trying to sell the plan to voters, underscored the challenge facing the White House, especially in light of unbroken Democratic opposition.
"In terms of whether it will be a week, a month, six months or a year, as to when we bring something to the floor, it's just too early," Frist said.
Frist is reluctant to put off a vote until 2006, when lawmakers will be focused on midterm congressional elections and the atmosphere will be more politically charged, aides said. But with polls showing widespread skepticism of Bush's proposal and some Republicans opposed to the approach, GOP leaders signaled yesterday that they may have no choice but to put off action.
More at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A64253-2005Mar1.html?referrer=email
Bush doesn’t seem very happy. He’s also busy touting his faith-based crap…eh welfare, whatever it is, that leaves out a good majority of Americans. But hey, it’s private, so it must be inherently good, or something. I don’t know, I’m too busy in the “reality-based” world over here.
Bush Stresses Support for 'Faith-Based' Agenda
By Peter Baker and Alan Cooperman
Washington post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 2, 2005; Page A04
President Bush renewed his commitment yesterday to promoting social welfare through religious groups with taxpayer funds, calling on a balky Congress to lift its "roadblocks" and implicitly rebutting critics who say he has shirked his "compassion agenda."
Setting out a second-term blueprint for advancing his faith-based initiative, Bush highlighted legislation, heading to the House floor today, that would allow religious charities to hire and fire based on religious beliefs even while receiving federal funding. If Congress does not follow his lead, Bush warned that he would try to circumvent lawmakers by using executive powers.
Bush aides hope the president's appearance at a White House conference on faith-based and community initiatives at a time when he has been consumed with Social Security and foreign policy would help quell the discontent among religious supporters who feel abandoned. Two weeks ago, a former Bush aide published a rare attack on the White House, complaining that the president's "promises remain unfulfilled in spirit and in fact" in part because of "minimal senior White House commitment to the faith-based agenda."
More at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A62802-2005Mar1.html?referrer=email
Oh hey, security’s still going great in Iraq. In fact, one of Saddam’s judges just got assassinated! Oh, wait, that’s not good, is it?
Saddam tribunal judge assassinated
Gunmen have assassinated a judge on the special tribunal to try Saddam Hussein and his top lieutenants.
In a separate incident insurgents killed six soldiers with a car bomb outside an army recruitment centre in Baghdad.
A further 38 people were injured. The centre was one of Saddam's former military bases now used by the new Iraqi army.
Judge Barawiz Mahmoud and his son, who also worked as a lawyer, were shot dead as they left their home in the Adhamiya district of the capital, Interior Ministry officials said.
More at Telegraph
Finally, I can’t believe the miscarriage of justice being done in this trial. Regardless of whether the man did plan this or didn’t, how can they use evidence that was produced by torture? Especially on American citizen? If he ends up being convicted, this will set a terrible, terrible precedent.
N.Va. Man Admitted Terror Plot, Agent Says
By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 2, 2005; Page A01
A federal judge denied bail yesterday for an American student charged in an alleged conspiracy to kill President Bush after an FBI agent testified that the man had admitted plotting with al Qaeda to conduct a Sept. 11-style terror attack in the United States.
Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, 23, of Falls Church, told FBI agents that he and other members of an al Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia planned to hijack airplanes overseas and crash them into targets on the East Coast, according to testimony. They also discussed plans to kill members of Congress, blow up ships in U.S. ports and aircraft at U.S. military bases, and free terrorist prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, FBI counterterrorism agent Barry Cole told a federal judge in Alexandria.
Abu Ali's attorney called the allegations "preposterous."
But Cole testified that while Abu Ali was detained in Saudi Arabia for 20 months, he told the FBI several times that he wanted to carry out the assassination plot personally by getting close enough to Bush to shoot him or blow him up. When al Qaeda asked him for a list of U.S. targets where "mass casualties" could be inflicted, such as stadiums and amusement parks, Abu Ali provided it, Cole said.
More at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A64200-2005Mar1.html?referrer=email
Finally, your quote of the day: "Can we smile at him?" – A family member of Abu Ali, upon being told that they would be forbidden to communicate with Abu Ali when he entered the courtroom.
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens said Tuesday he would push to apply broadcast decency standards to subscription television and radio services like cable and satellite.
"Cable is a much greater violator in the indecency area," the Alaska Republican told the National Association of Broadcasters, which represents most local television affiliates. "I think we have the same power to deal with cable as over-the-air" broadcasters.
"There has to be some standard of decency," he said.
Stevens told reporters afterward that he would push legislation to apply the standards to cable and satellite radio and television. Truthout.
There are thousands of them, all around us, only we don’t know it because they’re standing on the side of the street with a sign in their hand and we walk around them. Oh, we feel guilty for doing it, but we do it just the same because what’s the guarantee that he won’t take that money and go get plastered instead of taking care of himself? How are we to know what he did forty years ago in some far-away jungle, or just a year ago in the sands of Iraq?
And yes, it will happen with this generation, just as it did the last:
“John Staresinich is a Purple Heart veteran who has slept in cracks in highway overpasses and abandoned cars, camped out in thin tents next to railroad tracks and fought off rats and bugs in Chinatown flophouses.
In December, he was diagnosed with severe combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder -- 32 years after returning from Vietnam -- and is now getting help from the federal Veterans Affairs in Chicago. He says it took more than a year of begging that agency.
"Soldiers from Iraq are going to come back with PTSD," said Staresinich, 54. "I hope they treat them sooner than they did me."
Mental health experts are predicting that as many as one-third of all Iraqi veterans will suffer from PTSD, a disabling disorder characterized by flashbacks and war nightmares. A similar percentage of Vietnam veterans have been diagnosed with the disorder -- although it took decades for the government to recognize, treat and compensate those veterans.” (Chicago Sun-Times)
The horrors of war take a terrible toll. Of those two men that I knew, one would never speak of his experiences in Korea and Vietnam; the other suffered from terrible nightmares, so much so that he slept tops four hours a night (he swore he just didn’t need the sleep). Now imagine a war that’s just as horrific. There are a lot of parallels between Vietnam and the current war in Iraq, at least as Gary used to tell it. Just like in Vietnam, there is downtime punctuated by horrific violence. Just like in Vietnam, they can’t tell the enemy from the allies. Just like in Vietnam, they wonder what they’re fighting for. I can’t imagine how we can’t experience a do-over of the psychological problems that confronted soldiers returning from Vietnam.
And, of course, the government will likely continue to do nothing about the problem:
“The VA officially maintains there's no connection between military combat and homelessness. But people who work with veterans believe otherwise.
“’Many people will tell you that military service is not a significant contributing factor to homelessness. But it clearly is a factor,’ said Pete Dougherty, national director of the VA's homeless veterans programs. ‘There are more veterans who have shown up in the ranks of the homeless than their average age cohort.’
“There are 93,000 homeless Vietnam veterans, VA officials say. Illinois has the nation's third-largest population of homeless vets -- about 20,000.” (Chicago Sun Times)
There are already about 100 soldiers from Iraq at our homeless shelters. Will the VA reach out to these people and help treat their symptoms, or let them suffer while the wheels of bureaucracy grind them to a pulp? Unfortunately, America is not a nation that learns from its mistakes, so I expect we will see the same thing we always do: more of the same.
For GOP, Urgency On Social Security
White House Plans Six-Week Push
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 1, 2005; Page A03
White House officials are telling Republican lawmakers and allies on K Street that they must begin to overcome opposition to President Bush's proposal for changing Social Security within six weeks, GOP strategists said yesterday.
The GOP strategists stressed that the six-week goal is not a hard deadline for a political breakthrough, but they said the public's tepid view of Social Security change cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. The directive raises the possibility that Republicans will have to reconsider whether legislation can be passed this year, as Bush wants.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will conduct a confirmation hearing for appellate court nominee William G. Myers III today, and Democrats are expected to attempt to block his nomination. What is currently the longest standing vacancy in the federal judiciary?
• Social Security
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Polls show widespread skepticism of Bush's proposal for creating individual Social Security investment accounts for younger workers, and Democratic lawmakers have voiced nearly uniform opposition. The Washington Post reported over the weekend that some allies of the president are focused on possible split-the-difference deals that would significantly scale back Bush's proposal, yet enable him to claim an incremental victory.
The Treasury Department yesterday announced the formation of a Social Security "war room" and the hiring of three full-time employees to help coordinate and refine the administration's message on the issue. The war room, which the administration is calling the Social Security Information Center, will track lawmakers' remarks to their local news outlets, to help the White House detect signs of Republican concern or Democratic compromise.
The office, modeled after the Coalition Information Centers that promoted the administration message around the world during the war in Afghanistan, will also help target speaking trips by top administration officials.
Party officials said that with Republican lawmakers getting at best a mixed response to the idea in meetings with constituents last week over the Presidents' Day break, the White House believes it is important for lawmakers to hold hearings and conduct high-profile bipartisan meetings that will help build momentum for the plan that has proved so elusive thus far. The stepped-up activities will fall far short of introduction of a detailed plan or bill, since Bush has remained vague about his plan and neither House nor Senate leaders are anywhere near agreeing on a direction.
White House communications director Nicolle Devenish said that the administration is making "great progress" on the issue and that the president has always said people need to understand the problem first.
"Members of both parties have started to acknowledge the nature of the problems facing Social Security, but we've always maintained there's more work to be done in educating the public," Devenish said. "We'll stay focused on making sure that people understand the challenges facing the system before we move on to discussing possible solutions."
Officials said the information center was planned before Bush's State of the Union address on Feb. 2 and has nothing to do with the reception his plan is receiving from rank-and-file Republican lawmakers. The officials said meetings about the center have been going on for at least two months.
Rob Nichols, the Treasury Department's chief spokesman, said three communicators have been hired for the center and that officials "plan to hire others."
"The president has made it clear that fixing Social Security is his top priority, and this office reflects that commitment," Nichols said.
The center is to be headed by Mark Pfeifle, an administration veteran who has been a spokesman for the Interior Department and last summer's Republican National Convention. Working with him will be Shannon Burkhart and Jill Willis, both of whom worked on the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. The three were hired about two weeks ago.
Also yesterday, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) issued a report showing changes made to government publications about Social Security that he said were designed to promote Bush's spin.
For instance, he released a copy of a 2000 primer of Social Security that said, "Will Social Security be there for you? Absolutely." A version from last year said: "Social Security must change to meet future challenges." The Social Security Administration said in a statement that Waxman's report is "a gross misrepresentation."
Monday, February 28, 2005
115 Dead After Iraq Suicide Blast
10 minutes ago
By ALI AL-FATLAWI, Associated Press Writer
HILLAH, Iraq - A suicide car bomber blasted a crowd of police and national guard recruits Monday as they gathered for physicals outside a medical clinic south of Baghdad, killing at least 115 people and wounding 132 — the single deadliest attack in the two-year insurgency.
Torn limbs and other body parts littered the street outside the clinic in Hillah, a predominantly Shiite area about 60 miles south of Baghdad.
Monday's blast outside the clinic was so powerful it nearly vaporized the suicide bomber's car, leaving only its engine partially intact. The injured were piled into pickup trucks and ambulances and taken to nearby hospitals.
The deadliest previous single attack occurred Aug. 29, 2003, when a car bomb exploded outside a mosque in Najaf, killing more than 85 people, including Shiite leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim. Although officials never gave a final death toll, there were suspicions it may have been higher.
On March 2, 2004, at least 181 people were killed and 573 were wounded in multiple bombings at Shiite Muslim shrines in Baghdad and Karbala, although those were from a combination of suicide bombers, mortars and planted explosives.
Outside the concrete and brick building in Hillah, people gingerly walked around small lakes of blood pooling on the street. Scorch marks infused with blood covered the clinic's walls and dozens of people helped pile body parts, including arms, feet and limbs, into blankets. Piles of shoes and tattered clothes were thrown into a corner.
Angry crowds gathered outside the hospital chanting "Allah akbar!" — Arabic for "God is great!" — and demanded to know the fate of their relatives.
"I was lined up near the medical center, waiting for my turn for the medical exam in order to apply for work in the police," Abdullah Salih, 22, said. "Suddenly I heard a very big explosion. I was thrown several meters away and I had burns in my legs and hands, then I was taken to the hospital."
Babil province police headquarters said "several people" were arrested in connection with the blast, the biggest confirmed death toll in a single attack since the fall of Saddam Hussein (news - web sites). Insurgents have repeatedly targeted recruits for Iraq (news - web sites)'s security forces, and the attack comes at a time when Iraqi politicians are trying to form a new government following landmark Jan. 30 elections.
Iraq's interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Monday that Iraq still needed international forces on the ground while the effort was under way to rebuild Iraqi security forces.
"But we will continue to need and to seek assistance for some time to come," he wrote.
Maj. Gen. Osman Ali, an Iraqi National Guard commander in Hillah, put the toll at 115 dead and 132 wounded. A health official in Babil province said the death toll could rise.
Dia Mohammed, the director of Hillah General Hospital, said most of the victims were recruits waiting to take physicals as part of the application process to join the Iraqi police and national guard.
"I was lucky because I was the last person in line when the explosion took place. Suddenly there was panic, and many frightened people stepped on me. I lost consciousness and the next thing I was aware of was being in the hospital," said recruit Muhsin Hadi, 29. One of his legs was broken in the blast.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites) condemned the attack and pledged to help the Iraqi government track down those responsible.
"All civilized people should feel nothing but revulsion for the terrorists who can kill innocent Iraqis who only want to help build a new democracy and a better society," he said.
A second car bomb exploded Monday at a police checkpoint in Musayyib, about 20 miles north of Hillah, killing at least one policeman and wounding several others, police said on condition of anonymity.
In Baghdad, the U.S. military said it was investigating the death of a U.S. soldier who was shot while manning a traffic checkpoint in the capital a day earlier. Nearly 1,500 U.S. troops have died since the war began in March 2003.
Iraqi troops blocked main avenues leading to and from Firdous Square, the roundabout in central Baghdad where Iraqis toppled a statue of Saddam on April 9, 2003. Occasional shots and bursts of automatic weapons fire could be heard during the sweep of the Battaween area, know locally as the Sudanese district.
Several people believed to be Sudanese were seen being arrested by police. Some of Baghdad's past suicide bombers have in the past been identified as Sudanese.
In al-Mashahda, 25 miles north of Baghdad, police found three unidentified corpses with their hands tied together with plastic cuffs, police commissioner Abbas Abdul Ridha said.
The Hillah suicide bombing came one day after Iraqi officials announced that Syria had captured and handed over Saddam Hussein's half brother, a most-wanted leader in the Sunni-based insurgency, in the latest in a series of arrests of important insurgent figures that the Iraqi government hopes will deal a crushing blow to violent opposition forces.
The arrest of Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan also ended months of Syrian denials it was harboring fugitives from the ousted Saddam regime. Iraq authorities said Damascus acted in a gesture of goodwill.
Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, who shared a mother with Saddam, was arrested along with 29 other fugitive members of the former dictator's Baath Party in Hasakah in northeastern Syria, 30 miles from the Iraqi border, officials said Sunday on condition of anonymity. The U.S. military in Iraq had no comment.
In an interview published Monday in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Syrian President Bashar Assad denied U.S. accusations his regime lets militants slip across the Iraqi border. He said Washington blames Damascus in order to cover for its strategic mistakes in Iraq.
"Washington accuses us of failing to cooperate, of nurturing the guerrilla," he said. "But in reality they are asking us to remedy to their mistakes: the dissolution of the state, of military forces."
Syria is under intense pressure from the United States, the United Nations (news - web sites), France and Israel to drop its support for radical groups in the Middle East, to stop harboring Iraqi fugitives and to remove its troops from Lebanon.
A week ago, authorities grabbed a key associate and the driver of Jordanian-born terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaida in Iraq and believed to be the inspiration of the ongoing bombings, beheadings and attacks on Iraqi and American forces. Iraqi officials said they expect to take al-Zarqawi soon.
From Yahoo News
Now the images....
Next, today's entries are being simultaneously posted at my old site, http://livejournal.com/~crimnos.
Now, on to the meat: Gonzales watch updates!
Hey, good to see the guy who believes in torture also doesn't believe in free speech. At least we know where we stand, not unlike our Dear Leader.
Gonzales: I'll prosecute obscenity cases
By MARK SHERMAN
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Monday he would move aggressively to prosecute obscenity cases, and he laid out a broader agenda much like that of his predecessor, John Ashcroft.
In his first lengthy address since becoming attorney general in early February, Gonzales said people who distribute obscene materials do not enjoy constitutional guarantees of free speech.
"I am committed to prosecuting these crimes aggressively," he said to a Washington meeting of the California-based Hoover Institution.
The Justice Department is appealing the dismissal of an obscenity case in Pittsburgh in which a federal judge said prosecutors went too far in trying to block the sale of pornographic movies over the Internet and through the mail. The case initially was prosecuted under Ashcroft.
More at the Seattle Intelligencer.
Second item, and this is great, the governor of Arionza has sent invoices to Gonzales asking for $118 million to care for "criminal undocumented immigrants." Right on! It's about time the states stood up for themselves. The article itself is a humor piece, but that bit of news is real enough...
Excuse us, sir, but we need a solution on prison costs of undocumented immigrants
Feb. 28, 2005 12:00 AM
Gov. Janet Napolitano has sent a pair of invoices to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to the tune of $118 million for the cost of incarcerating criminal undocumented immigrants in Arizona over the past 18 months. We'd like to take her cue and send this letter to another Washington bigwig.
More at The Arizona Republic.
Sunday, February 27, 2005
This week’s update is a little more personal, but still contains pieces of the politics that I am examining these days. If you’re not interested in a personal story, I can understand, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and wanted to get out in the open. My decision to post about it began with the kernel of something I read on Truthout: A Day in the Life of the Homeless in America, which can be found here. The most pertinent bit of information that I found in the article was this:
“Americans are troubled by this issue: An Associated Press poll taken Feb. 11-13 found 53 percent consider homelessness a very serious problem, while 36 percent say it's somewhat serious. Some 56 percent see the long-term homeless as victims of circumstances beyond their control, according to the survey. It was conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs among 1,001 adults and had a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.”
The issue of poverty and homelessness cuts close to the bone for me, and has colored my political stances for the past eight years or so. It’s not entirely compassion that drives me, though compassion is an important motivating factor. The truth is, I lived the life of poverty. While I’ve never been homeless, I have known people who were, and I have had to make do with minimum wage jobs and unemployment. I am fortunate to have risen to a higher economic level, but I have never forgotten what it means to be poor in America: the looks when you’re wearing the same clothes you’ve been wearing all week, the comments when your family is too poor to afford to wash the clothes for that week, being too poor to afford a haircut or a decent meal, and all the social problems that it causes.
I’ve probably stated here before that I was born in a poor rural Virginia farming community, where just about everybody worked in a manufacturing position of some sort, whether it was poultry or (what was then) the brand-new Coors plant, or distribution. In Rockingham County, poultry is king; hell, when you enter the country from one end there’s a bronze statue of a turkey welcoming you to the county. College is denied to all but the most fortunate who are usually either children of retailers or college faculty or who push their brains to earn scholarships and grants. High school educations are the norm, though it’s no unusual to see people with no high-school diploma on the job.
My father falls into the latter, though it’s not for a lack of intelligence, but rather one of opportunity. When he was growing up in rural North Carolina, education was not highly prized and a young boy with epilepsy was seen as even less of a prospect for higher education, so he eventually left school in eighth grade and was stuck with the consequences ever after. You see, my father is one of those people that Republicans love to say should have gone to college and learned marketable skills and who must be happy with whatever scraps he can earn, but my father is also a proud man who was knocked down by circumstances but kept on coming. He could have spent his life on disability, drawing off the government teat, becoming another target for Republican ire, but he got off his ass, and earned what he could. Most times it wasn’t a lot, but he knew what responsibility meant.
Given such a background, even given my struggles, you can see how I would come to oppose the Republican idea of responsibility, because I understand that good people can work hard and be hobbled by circumstance. I understand that it’s not always your fault that you’re poor or homeless, that you can spend your entire life slaving away for a company and they can throw all that time away with merely the flick of a pen on paper. We need to be responsible for each other, to keep each other from hitting bottom. We need to hold the companies and corporations accountable for their malfeasance. We need to find way to help the poor, homeless, and marginalized, wherever they are.
It’s a popular tactic among Republicans to call the left the extremist fringe, that we represent marginal thinking, but I have to wonder what kind of a country we live in where the idea of decency, fair play, and compassion have become marginal sentiments, where greed is good above all else. The problem is that so many people do not recognize poverty when they see it, or when they do, they think of it as something disgusting, a culture, rather than a result. Hence the rise of the term “white trash”. Hence the demonization of the poor.
And why? Because it keeps the upper classes secure. It makes them feel safe, knowing that these awful animals won’t come for their stuff. As long as there is a bottom of the barrel, they know that they’re not there, at least not yet. But if things keep going the way they are, a whole lot of people are going to find out the pain my father and my family have lived through. I just hope we can reverse course soon enough to help them.