Friday, July 29, 2005

Seeing is Believing: The Means of Control

Today I want to talk about, in my hamhanded way, something other than the news, something that goes on around the news and is built in to the news; specifically, the use of language to frame debate and set the terms of human reality.

I’ve always been interested in the topic, but I was recently reawakened to it when reading through Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles (an excellent comic series, by the way, and something I recommend to people who like esoterica and non-traditional storytelling. And not a cape in sight!). The scene is complex to set up, but the guy being questioned is the head of a “cell” of terrorists/freedom fighters who “battle against physical and psychic oppression using time travel, magic, martial arts, guns and transcendental meditation” and has been captured by some sort of Government/other force (I’m not far enough along to know, and please don’t spoil it) that is trying to crack him and learn the secrets of the Invisibles. During this session, we learn that the force has developed a new drug that enables them to show words written on a page and the victim’s mind interprets those words as the thing that the words represent. For example, they show him a bowl full of sheets of paper with the printed word “FINGER” on each one, and he sees a bowl full of his own, detached fingers.

But what’s really interesting to me is where Miles (the interrogator) talks about the means of control over English-speaking humanity. This is the scene:

Where am I going with all this? Well, I think it has something to do with “framing”, which has been a very hot topic with Democrats lately, and deservedly so. The truth is that the Republican Party has done a much better job selling itself in the last 40-odd years, and have become masters of the control of language, or rather the language of control. When you boil things down to simple concepts, people become simple. The thing is, this is all transparent, or “invisible”. Until you really stop and think about use of political language it won't occur to you how many times you've been a victim to long term campaigns to alter the way you think about things.

The point of all this is to get you here: This is an article from the New York Times called The Framing Wars (and yes, you do have to have a login to read it). Here’s a sample to entice you to do so:

After last November's defeat, Democrats were like aviation investigators sifting through twisted metal in a cornfield, struggling to posit theories about the disaster all around them. Some put the onus on John Kerry, saying he had never found an easily discernable message. Others, including Kerry himself, wrote off the defeat to the unshakable realities of wartime, when voters were supposedly less inclined to jettison a sitting president. Liberal activists blamed mushy centrists. Mushy centrists blamed Michael Moore. As the weeks passed, however, at Washington dinner parties and in public post-mortems, one explanation took hold not just among Washington insiders but among far-flung contributors, activists and bloggers too: the problem wasn't the substance of the party's agenda or its messenger as much as it was the Democrats' inability to communicate coherently. They had allowed Republicans to control the language of the debate, and that had been their undoing.

Even in their weakened state, Democrats resolved not to let it happen again. And improbably, given their post-election gloom, they managed twice in the months that followed to make good on that pledge. The first instance was the skirmish over the plan that the president called Social Security reform and that everybody else, by spring, was calling a legislative disaster. The second test for Democrats was their defense of the filibuster (the time-honored stalling tactic that prevents the majority in the Senate from ending debate), which seemed at the start a hopeless cause but ended in an unlikely stalemate. These victories weren't easy to account for, coming as they did at a time when Republicans seem to own just about everything in Washington but the first-place Nationals. (And they're working on that.) During the first four years of the Bush administration, after all, Democrats had railed just as loudly against giveaways to the wealthy and energy lobbyists, and all they had gotten for their trouble were more tax cuts and more drilling. Something had changed in Washington -- but what?

Democrats thought they knew the answer. Even before the election, a new political word had begun to take hold of the party, beginning on the West Coast and spreading like a virus all the way to the inner offices of the Capitol. That word was ''framing.'' Exactly what it means to ''frame'' issues seems to depend on which Democrat you are talking to, but everyone agrees that it has to do with choosing the language to define a debate and, more important, with fitting individual issues into the contexts of broader story lines. In the months after the election, Democratic consultants and elected officials came to sound like creative-writing teachers, holding forth on the importance of metaphor and narrative.

Republicans, of course, were the ones who had always excelled at framing controversial issues, having invented and popularized loaded phrases like ''tax relief'' and ''partial-birth abortion'' and having achieved a kind of Pravda-esque discipline for disseminating them. But now Democrats said that they had learned to fight back. ''The Democrats have finally reached a level of outrage with what Republicans were doing to them with language,'' Geoff Garin, a leading Democratic pollster, told me in May.

By the time Washington's attention turned to the Supreme Court earlier this month, rejuvenated Democrats actually believed they had developed the rhetorical skill, if it came to that, to thwart the president's plans for the court. That a party so thoroughly relegated to minority status might dictate the composition of the Supreme Court would seem to mock the hard realities of history and mathematics, but that is how much faith the Democrats now held in the power of a compelling story. ''In a way, it feels like all the systemic improvements we've made in communications strategy over the past few months have been leading to this,'' Jim Jordan, one of the party's top strategists, said a few days after Sandra Day O'Connor announced her resignation. ''This will be an extraordinarily sophisticated, well-orchestrated, intense fight. And our having had some run-throughs over the past few months will be extremely important.''

Posted by crimnos @ 9:01 AM :: (0) comments

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Oh Tom DeLay, When WON'T You Screw the American Taxpayer?

Psst, Delay's trying to slip in extra pork to the Energy Bill after it's passed commitee, pass it on.

Politics News Article | "A vote in the Senate is tentatively set for Friday."

Posted by crimnos @ 9:13 PM :: (0) comments

Oh what glorious shit! Liberality: Oliver North as Superhero

This shit has to be seen to be believed. This is a comic that envisions a world where the US has entered into a world government with the UN through the leadership of President Clinton and Vice President Moore. The 'Talk Show Host Freedom Squad,' still broadcasting from various locations to "speak for those who can't," have to save the world because everyone else is blinded to the problems of this New World Order.

Here's the promo for the first issue:

LIBERALITY FOR ALL #1 It is 2021, tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of 9/11 It is up to an underground group of bio-mechanically enhanced conservatives led by Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North to thwart Ambassador Usama Bin Laden's plans to nuke New York City...And wake the world from an Orwellian nightmare of United Nations dominated ultra-liberalism. all means, check out the preview.

Posted by crimnos @ 3:10 PM :: (0) comments

The Fat of the Land: One Subcontractor's Tale of Profit from 9/11

I found this story pretty fascinating. I was tied up in the defense contracting biz when 9/11 went down and ended up in the middle of the mad scramble for the shower of dollars spilling from on high in DC during the period following. It seems that the chickens are now coming home to roost and someone is looking for accountability for it all. This is the story of just one of the subcontractors, selected without any eye toward qualifications, who built their fortune on the bodies of the victims of 9/11, the and how the winds of change can reverse such fortunes.

Or something like that. This one's from the Washington Post and fairly long, but worth the time. Read on...

Subcontractor's Story Details Post-9/11 Chaos
New Company Had Little Oversight

By Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Scott Higham
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 28, 2005; Page A01

Three years ago, Sunnye L. Sims lived in a two-bedroom apartment north of San Diego, paying $1,025 in monthly rent. Then she landed a dream job, with $5.4 million in pay for nine months of work.

Now she owns a $1.9 million stucco mansion with lofty ceilings on a hilltop, featuring sun-splashed palm trees and a circular driveway.

"She really went uphill," said Jerry Collins, a maintenance man at her former apartment complex who recalled Sims talking about her ambitions.

Sims is not a Hollywood starlet. She is a meeting-and-events planner who built her fortune on a U.S. government contract. In 2002, her tiny company secured a no-bid subcontract to manage logistics on an urgent federal project to protect the nation's airports in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Sims, now 42, recruited hundreds of people to help hire a government force of 60,000 airline passenger screeners on a tight deadline. With little experience, her tiny company was asked to help set up and run screener-assessment centers in a hurry at more than 150 hotels and other facilities. Her company eventually billed $24 million.

The company, Eclipse Events Inc., was among the most important of the 168 subcontractors hired by prime contractor NCS Pearson Inc. The cost of the overall contract rose in less than a year to $741 million from $104 million, and federal auditors concluded that $303 million of that spending was unsubstantiated.

Spurred by that audit, federal agents are examining the entire contract and focusing on Eclipse, according to government officials and Pearson. Investigators at the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General are trying to determine how and why Eclipse obtained the work and whether the company overcharged the government or submitted false claims.

The story of how Sims vaulted from relative obscurity into a key role overseeing tens of millions of dollars in government spending is still unfolding. A deeper examination of the Eclipse subcontract illustrates the chaos that accompanied homeland security initiatives after the terrorist attacks and shows how contractors were allowed to operate with little government oversight.

Eclipse came out of nowhere, starting as a one-woman operation based in Sims's apartment. She was hired in a hurry, through word of mouth, recommended by someone who did not review her background in detail. She had worked for more than a decade as an event planner for the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. But her company, Eclipse, did not exist as a corporation until Sims got the Pearson subcontract; two weeks later, she filed incorporation papers. Over the next several months, Sims hired hundreds of freelance meeting planners, many of them sight unseen.

As the number of hotel assessment sites expanded -- the Transportation Security Administration doubled the number of screeners to be hired -- Eclipse's subcontract grew to $24 million from $1.1 million. The company's authority to spend money on behalf of Pearson and the government also expanded -- in addition to its direct billings, Eclipse approved millions of dollars more in hotel charges by Eclipse employees and spending by other subcontractors, the audit shows.

"Eclipse did not have any other work, before, during, or after the completion of this subcontract," according to the Defense Contract Audit Agency, which was hired by the TSA to examine spending under the contract. A copy of the audit was obtained by The Washington Post.

Eclipse was hired as a field manager to coordinate with hotels for meeting spaces, conference rooms and food, as well as to act as the go-between with hotels and other vendors and subcontractors, such as local security companies. Eclipse employees later said they did the best they could under the most difficult of circumstances. But they also said Sims and her colleagues seemed overwhelmed.

"Did I think money was being spent wisely?" asked Christopher Bryson, an aspiring filmmaker who worked as an Eclipse logistics coordinator. "My answer is no. It just wasn't well managed."

The auditors said $15 million in expenses submitted by Eclipse could not be substantiated. For example, auditors were able to find supporting documents for only $326,873 of the $5.8 million that Eclipse spent directly on accounting, administration, consulting, management and contract labor.

The auditors noted that Sims not only paid herself $5.4 million in compensation as "President/Owner" but also that she gave herself a $270,000 pension.

In addition to focusing on the direct Eclipse expenses, auditors raised concerns about expenses Eclipse employees charged to separate accounts at the hotels chosen by Pearson. Auditors highlighted scores of other expenses run up or approved by Eclipse: hundreds of thousands of dollars for valet parking, unexplained cash advances, dry cleaning and other spending at the hotels, many of which were high-end or resort-style establishments.

Sims and her business associate, Eclipse Vice President Nita Sullivan, declined repeated requests for interviews. A Washington lawyer hired to help the women respond to questions from federal auditors said they have cooperated with authorities and have nothing to hide. The lawyer, Pamela J. Mazza, declined to discuss the contract or the current investigation.

"Eclipse Events completed its work on time and to the satisfaction of the prime contractor at the fixed price negotiated between Eclipse Events and NCS Pearson," Mazza said in a statement.

Pearson officials said they "believed that Eclipse's rates were reasonable" and "that Eclipse did a good job." In response to the audit, Pearson said, "However, TSA's frequent changes and revised requirements greatly impacted [Pearson] and its subcontractors as they both struggled to meet TSA's ever-changing demands and schedule changes."

But Pearson officials also had concerns about the Eclipse bills. Pearson officials negotiated a $1.5 million discount from Eclipse after a Pearson contracting official questioned Eclipse's expenses. Pearson officials pointed out to The Post that $6 million in Eclipse expenses were "recognized or reimbursed by the government." The Pearson officials also said that the $15 million in expenses highlighted by the auditors was factored into negotiations with the government that resulted in a reduction of Pearson's final contract amount to $741 million.

On the specific point of Sims's $5.4 million compensation, the company said that it did not have access to Eclipse's records and that it "cannot validate how much Eclipse paid to its principal. If [the $5.4 million] is accurate, the personal enrichment is outrageous."

Former Eclipse associates interviewed by The Post in recent weeks described Sims as bright, charming and capable. Her friends dismissed the possibility of impropriety, saying she and Sullivan are both devout Christians who would never take advantage of the government for personal gain.

Sullivan, who lives near Orlando, and Sims have known each other for years. Corporate records show that they have operated at least six related companies in Florida and California in the past five years, all of them registered at their home addresses or post office boxes.

When Sims got the Pearson subcontract, she turned to Sullivan and made her vice president of Eclipse, the audit said. Midway through the work, Sullivan created a new company, WJS Consulting Inc., out of her Florida home. WJS received $5.2 million in consulting fees from Eclipse, the audit said. Sullivan said she used the money to hire labor for the project.

Kathy Artandi worked with Sullivan on the passenger-screener contract out of Sullivan's Florida home. She said Sullivan now works as a youth mentor at a church and lives with her ailing mother.

"It's not like she went out and bought a million-dollar place," said Artandi, who called Sullivan one of her best friends. "That's not Nita. She's very old-fashioned."
Today, Sims helps run a program for recovering alcoholics and drug abusers at Seacoast Community Church, an Evangelical Free church by a freeway in Encinitas, Calif. Pastor Dave Simonson credits Sims with changing the lives of some church members.

"She's an extremely competent, caring and compassionate person," Simonson said. "She's very good at what she does: organizing, handling things, following through. She's very gifted. People like her. She's humble. I would characterize her as a servant-leader."

'Two or Three Names'

Sims grew up in Texas and graduated from Texas State University in San Marcos in 1988 with a degree in interior design and architecture. For more than a decade, she worked for the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, starting as an assistant lounge manager in Austin.

In the early 1990s, she went to work for the Four Seasons in Hawaii. She then transferred to the Four Seasons Aviara resort north of San Diego. In 1998, she moved into a two-bedroom apartment at a complex in northern San Diego County, not far from where she worked, apartment records show.

"I found California by way of Texas then Hawaii," Sims said in a biographical sketch posted on the Seacoast Community Church Web site. "My whole family still lives in Texas and they visit as often as they can. Seems there is never a shortage of visitors when you live in Southern California. I have lived in Carlsbad for 8 years and in that time God has blessed me with a special 'California family' that I have come to love as my own."

(Blogger's note: The referenced site is Here. As a bonus, here's a picture of the lovely, upstanding Christian who fleeced us of our tax money)

"I feel so fortunate to live so close to the Pacific Ocean and spend as much time as possible enjoying the beach and the year round sunshine!" she wrote in the sketch. "I love hiking, skiing, concerts and travel."

Sims left the Four Seasons and in 2000 began doing business as a meeting planner under the name Eclipse Events.

In early 2002, Sims was contacted by Pearson, an educational-testing division of Pearson PLC, a media and publishing company based in England.

Pearson was in a jam. It had just received a contract to test, fingerprint and medically evaluate candidates for jobs as federal airport passenger screeners. Originally, Pearson had planned to use hundreds of its own testing facilities to screen the candidates. But within weeks, TSA officials decided to change the contract and told Pearson to create assessment centers from scratch at hotels and other facilities close to airports, according to Pearson company documents and federal auditors.

Pearson suddenly needed help to carry the huge logistical load.

Sims and Eclipse were among "two or three names" passed on to Pearson by David Gallagher, an executive at HelmsBriscoe Inc., which was helping Pearson book hotel space. Gallagher said in a recent interview that he had heard Sims was sharp and that she had access to a large database with names of meeting planners around the country.

The database was the core element of a business the two women ran called the International Travel Directors Association. For a $100 fee, the association's Web site said, travel and event planners could sign up to be listed in the association's directory of member profiles.

"Established to unite Travel Directors & Meeting Planners -- worldwide!" said the Web site.

The site said the association was located in Suite 147 at 10151 University Blvd. in Orlando. The actual address was at P.O. Box 147 in the UPS Store at 10151 University Blvd. State incorporation records show the company's address at Sullivan's home outside Orlando.

Because he was pressed for time, Gallagher said, he did not thoroughly check Sims's credentials before passing her name along to Pearson officials. At the time, in March 2002, Pearson and HelmsBriscoe had to open passenger-screener assessment centers in Los Angeles, Chicago and Memphis on tight deadlines.

"I honestly don't remember who recommended her," Gallagher said.

Pearson said it tried out both Eclipse and one other recommended company at a few sites and selected Eclipse based on cost and performance. Pearson officials said they did not hire Eclipse to meet any obligation to include businesses owned by women.

Auditors describe Eclipse's subcontract as a no-bid arrangement.

On March 13, 2002, Pearson struck a deal with Sims estimated at the time to be worth $1.1 million.

According to the government audit, the assignment was to "provide on-site logistical support for each assessment location," including "managing arrangements with hotel staff, ground suppliers and other vendors" and "services for security, communications, and supplies."

It was a tall order. Eclipse did not yet exist as a corporation. Sims formally incorporated the company as Eclipse Events Inc. on March 28 -- two weeks after she had the subcontract in hand. On state incorporation papers, she used her apartment north of San Diego as the company's address.

'The Pressure Was On'

Over the course of the nine-month project, as the work expanded beyond the first three assessment-center cities, Eclipse hired more than 700 freelance event and meeting planners to help manage more than 150 centers where 328,051 passenger-screener candidates were assessed and 63,681 were hired.

Several Eclipse employees said in interviews that Sims seemed polite, caring and attentive. When someone needed to go home, Sims made sure he got a ticket and had a job upon return, they said.

Patrick Murray, a meeting planner in San Francisco, said he was impressed with Sims, though he never met her face to face. Murray said Sims dealt with extraordinary demands with aplomb and was always available to talk on the phone about logistical troubles.

"The pressure was on," said Murray, who oversaw logistics at 40 assessment centers. "She was asked to get all these staff, and she got them. I have nothing but the highest respect for her."

Others described the project as chaotic and lacking in oversight and accountability. Some of the workers had years of experience, but others had little or none. One former employee, Andrea Schulte, said the circumstances created opportunities for waste and abuse. Schulte worked in Ohio, Kansas and Michigan. She said some of the hotels took advantage of the situation.

"There's a lot of blame to go around," Schulte said. "There was too much pressure, and there was a lot of money flying around."

Bryson, the aspiring film director and former Eclipse employee, was among those who said Sims hired him over the phone. Although he was happy with the money he made working seven-day weeks, Bryson said he was not impressed by Eclipse's management.

He also said the hotels added charges at every turn: for setting up banquet rooms, for sodas that had not been ordered, for unnecessary podium rentals and cleaning crews. One hotel tried to charge Eclipse $800 in rental fees for a slide projector, a charge Bryson said he refused to accept.

"It was crazy," Bryson said.

Others said they were uncomfortable with Sims's tendency to approve first-class tickets and other apparent extravagances, such as the valet parking and dry cleaning bills, cited in the audit report.

"It was like Roosevelt's New Deal," said Roger Manson, an Eclipse contract employee from California. "The tech bubble burst. 9/11 happened. No one was flying. Hotels were empty. This was a way to put a lot of people back to work. It wasn't really done in the best possible way, but it sure was good to be working again."

For Manson, the passenger-screener contract couldn't have come at a better time. He had been laid off by an information technology company and received a call from a friend about a logistics firm that was hiring hundreds of people.

Manson had experience in the customer service field, so he called an Eclipse representative and sent over his résumé. "He called me back and said, 'When can I put you on a plane?' There was no background check. No formal interview. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Birmingham, Alabama."

Manson said some Eclipse workers would fly home for weekends and keep their hotel rooms, billing the company, and ultimately the government, for unused rooms. He said Eclipse workers were permitted to take out cash advances from the hotels.Eclipse workers charged the advances against a government account and used the cash as tip money for hotel staffers and others.

Some former Eclipse workers said that the practice is commonplace in the events-planning business and that they were careful to account for the cash. But Manson and others said they were not sure that others were as vigilant with the advances because there were so few financial controls.

Midway through the Pearson contract, Sims, Sullivan and several of their colleagues decided to leverage their new contacts and experience to create a more ambitious meeting-and-planning company. Called Eclipse Partners Inc., the new company was registered in January 2003, listing the company address as a post office box north of San Diego.

Richard Weaver, who listed himself as "chief inspiration officer" of his own company, was hired as a consultant to help guide Eclipse Partners into the future. Weaver said in a recent interview that he arranged for the founders of Eclipse Partners to meet at a "dreams and vision" session in San Diego in 2003, months after the work on the passenger-screener contract had been completed.

But he said that Sims seemed to lose interest and that the new company never got off the ground.

"She wanted to go in another direction," Weaver said. "I had heard she wanted to focus on her life in her church."

Posted by crimnos @ 9:04 AM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Those Bad Apples Just Keep Showing Up: American Soldiers in Iraq Run a Protection Scam

I only wish the title was hyperbolic. The meat of the story:

Among the allegations now under investigation is that at least six soldiers from the battalion took part in a scheme to extort money from Iraqi shopkeepers, apparently in exchange for protection from insurgents.

The payments allegedly exceeded $30,000, two sources said, and were made in U.S. currency, according to one member of the battalion who has been briefed on the investigation. Another soldier said the scheme allegedly was carried out during night patrols in the Baghdad area.

It is unclear whether any soldier has been charged in connection with those allegations.

The military revealed earlier this month that 11 U.S. soldiers have been charged with dereliction of duty in connection with the alleged mistreatment of detainees in Iraq but did not identify their names or unit. Baldwin confirmed on Tuesday that the soldiers are members of Alpha Company of the 1st Battalion of the 184th Infantry Regiment.

Boylan said some of the soldiers were also charged with mistreatment of a person under their control, assault and making a false statement. One soldier was charged with obstruction of justice.

The Army's Criminal Investigation Division will determine whether the soldiers will face court-martial.

Two members of the battalion who spoke on condition of anonymity said that as many as 17 soldiers are now under investigation in connection with the alleged mistreatment of detainees. All but one of the detainees who were allegedly abused have been released from custody.

The alleged abuse took place after an attack by insurgents in June on a Baghdad-area power plant, military officials said. The bulk of the investigation appears to be focused on an incident in which an electric stun gun was used to abuse or torture Iraqi detainees, several sources within the battalion said.

"They did a pretty good job on them," one soldier said.

The use of a stun gun to abuse one detainee — a man who had been handcuffed and blindfolded — was captured on videotape, one soldier said. A soldier happened upon the tape while using the computer, a member of the battalion said.

OH, Gee, more mistreatment. More video of mistreatment. But this shit is in no way systematic! Give me a fucking break. The whole story:

Army Probes Guard Unit

Posted by crimnos @ 9:12 AM :: (0) comments

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Gonzales: Caging People Forever is A-Okay!

So just when I think Alberto Gonzales is hiding his agenda well enough, he explodes onto the scene with more humanity-hating nonsense.

Of course, he's giving the bluster that Roberts would most likely vote to overtun Roe, something we out here in "sane land" already pretty much knew. But he's also still flogging the dead horse of indefinite detention at Gitmo as the right decision. All these months later and the idiot still doesn't get why it's fucking reprehensible. Here's the best thing about this interview:

The Guantanamo facility keeps terrorist suspects from resuming their fight and affords them humane treatment. "I take issue with folks who say people are being mistreated in Guantanamo," he said, adding, "I don't know what I say to Mom and Dad if their son or daughter is killed by someone we once held at Guantanamo."

How about YOU FUCKING CREATED THEIR ANGER, you idiot? Gee, I can't imagine why someone detained by this country might want to lash out at it.

I fucking give up with these people. Here's the link:

AG: High Court Not Bound by Roe V. Wade - Yahoo! News

Posted by crimnos @ 9:59 PM :: (0) comments

Democrats? With Ideas? Why, I Never!

My God, I've badmouthed the DLC before, but I think they just might be on to something here with the concept of creating a set of ideas for reform that actually stand for something, rather than a vague defending of the status quo. Maybe this way we can show that we're actually ABOUT something, rather than just looking like we're trying to block everything. Of course the Republicans will cry bloody murder about it (ESPECIALLY the cuts in corporate subsidies, oh noes, what will the multi-nationals ever do?) and try to find a way to spin every idea here, but I'm generally for the list, excluding the call to expand the military yet again (although I can concede that there's a need). I really like the sound of the Universal Pension. Here's the important stuff:

The DLC's blueprint for change, distributed in Columbus, includes proposals for:

-- Increasing the size of the U.S. military by 100,000 personnel and assuring the services can recruit on college campuses.

Taxes, Energy

-- Altering the tax code to provide a $3,000-a-year college tax credit, a universal home mortgage deduction for people who don't itemize their taxes, an expanded family tax credit for couples with children and a universal pension that replaces 16 existing IRA-style accounts with one portable retirement account.

-- Cutting oil imports by 25 percent by 2025 and converting government vehicles to the use of hybrid engines by 2010.

-- Reducing congressional and non-defense federal government staff by 10 percent, cutting government consultants by 150,000, slashing ``excessive'' highway spending 50 percent and bringing back limits on discretionary spending.

-- Enacting tax cuts that encourage investment and setting up a Corporate Subsidy Reform Commission that cuts $30 billion in business subsidies at year for the next decade.

-- Lowering health care costs by investing in technology and research to find cures for diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

-- Adopting a uniform ratings system for ``entertainment media'' that market products to children.

-- Cracking down on government corruption by forbidding members of Congress and administration officials from becoming lobbyists when they leave office.

The entire article is at Bloomberg.

Posted by crimnos @ 10:42 AM :: (0) comments

Well, Ain’t This a Dandy Surprise: Bush to Sidestep Congress

Advise and consent unless, you know, it’s something you don’t want to hear. Or reveal. That’s right, the Bush White House, in its never-ending zeal to never look bad for anything it’s ever done ever (power granted them by the People, who still refuse to hold their feet to the fire), has decided that, rather than doing the right thing and handing over the papers that Congressional Democrats have asked for, would rather go for an end-run around the Constitution in their zeal to dismantle the UN.

This is a little different. There was talk of a recess appointment a few months ago, but that was stalled as Senate Republicans tried to make a deal with Democrats. It would seem that deal is as dead an innocent Iraqi who happened to be in Baghdad at the wrong time, so we get this movement.

Scott McClellan’s line here really summarizes the whole approach of this morally void Administration: White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush has used his power for temporary appointments when "he has to get people in place that have waited far too long to get about doing their business." He said that "sometimes there's come a point" when Bush has decided he needs to act.

Nice. “Their business” being the dismantling of not only any sort of global consensus but also the means to ascertain what that global consensus is. Divide and conquer is what I’m talking about here. They’ve managed to divide and conquer the American People by fracturing communications and making them such a mess, and now they’re looking to do it on a global scale. What Scotty is saying here is, we have an agenda that we mean to ramrod through and we have to do it quickly before the People take notice.

Here’s the worst part: this appointment will last over a year: Under the Constitution, the appointment would last until the end of the next session of Congress — no later than January 2007.

Here’s the whole article. I’d be disgusted, but honestly, nothing this administration does anymore surprises me. I’d like to know who they’re representing, because it sure as hell isn’t the American People.

WASHINGTON - Frustrated by Senate Democrats, the White House hinted Monday that President Bush may act soon to sidestep Congress and install embattled nominee John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations on a temporary basis.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush has used his power for temporary appointments when "he has to get people in place that have waited far too long to get about doing their business." He said that "sometimes there's come a point" when Bush has decided he needs to act.

Bolton's nomination has been stalled for months. Critics say Bolton, who has been accused of mistreating subordinates and who has been openly skeptical about the U.N., would hurt U.S. efforts to work with other countries on global matters. The administration says the tough-talking Bolton is ideally suited to lead an effort to overhaul the U.N. bureaucracy and make it more accountable.

Bush could put Bolton on the job by exercising his authority to make a recess appointment, an avenue available to the president when Congress is in recess. Lawmakers are expected to leave Friday for a summer recess and not return until Sept. 7.

Under the Constitution, the appointment would last until the end of the next session of Congress — no later than January 2007.

Republicans have twice attempted — and failed — to break a Democratic filibuster against Bolton's nomination. The White House has ruled out withdrawing Bolton's name, and has called repeatedly for a vote on his nomination.

Some in Washington had expected Bush to give Bolton a recess appointment over the Senate's July Fourth break. But Republicans said negotiations with Democrats were ongoing, and a recess appointment, should it come to that, probably wouldn't occur until August. There has been no sign of a breakthrough in recent days.

You know I said Roberts was the Antichrist? Jesus, was I ever wrong. Look at this picture of Bolton and tell me he doesn’t belong somewhere in Hell’s pantheon.


Posted by crimnos @ 8:22 AM :: (0) comments

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Wages of Fighting a War on “Evil”

I wanted to go with something more contemplative, because, fuck it, it’s Monday morning, and I’m tired and was sick all day long yesterday. My vitriol is all used up and blown away, at least for this morning, so I thought I’d offer something from Counterpunch. Having studied the British Imperialist era at some length, I’m interested in what this article is saying about the politics of Imperialism and “orientalism” that seem to be making a comeback, that we see ourselves as some sort of cultural crusaders bringing the light of “reason and democracy” to the benighted masses.

It also examines what goes on in the mind of someone who turns into a suicide bomber, how the dichotomy between the culture they were raised in and the culture they live in can rip them apart. It pretty much makes sense.

Here’s a sample of “‘Something Happened Between "I Love You" and the Click of the Phone,’” By Robert Fisk. I highly recommend going to Counterpunch to read the entire article.

That fine French historian of the 1914-18 world conflict, Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau, suggested not long ago that the West was the inheritor of a type of warfare of very great violence. "Then, after 1945," he wrote, "... the West externalised it, in Korea, in Algeria, in Vietnam, in Iraq... we stopped thinking about the experience of war and we do not understand its return (to us) in different forms like that of terrorism... We do not want to admit that there is now occurring a different type of confrontation..."

He might have added that politicians - and here I'm referring to Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara - would deliberately refuse to acknowledge this. We are fighting evil. Nothing to do with the occupation of Palestinian land, the occupation of Afghanistan, the occupation of Iraq, the torture at Abu Ghraib and Bagram and Guantanamo. Oh no, indeed. "An evil ideology", a nebulous, unspecified, dark force. That's the problem.

There are two things wrong with this. The first is that once you start talking about "evil", you are talking about religion. Good and evil, God and the Devil. The London suicide bombers were Muslims (or thought they were) so the entire Muslim community in Britain must stand to attention and - as Muslims - condemn them. We "Christians" were not required to do that because we are not Muslims - nor were we required as "Christians" to condemn the Christian Serb slaughter of 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica just over 10 years ago. All we had to do was say sorry for doing nothing at the time. But Muslims, because they are Muslims, must ritually condemn something they had nothing to do with.

But that, I suspect, is the point. Deep down, I wonder if we do not think that their religion does have something to do with all this, that Islam is a backward religion, un-renaissanced, potentially violent. It's not true, but our heritage of orientalism suggests otherwise.

It's weird the way we both despise and envy the "other". Many of those early orientalists showed both disgust and fascination with the East. They loathed the punishments and the pashas, but they rather liked the women; they were obsessed with harems. Westerners found the idea of having more than one wife quite appealing. Similarly, I rather think there are aspects of our Western "decadence" which are of interest to Muslims, even if they ritually condemn them.

On a side note, I’m going to do something rare, and plug a CD. I happened to chance by a Best Buy this weekend looking for copies of Hootie and the Blowfish CDs for tonight’s concert at Wolftrap (the wife is getting to meet the band, that’s an entirely different story altogether, however). And no, I am not plugging any Hootie CDs. I’m not even a fan. What I am plugging is Mike Doughty’s Skittish/Rockity Roll, which I happened upon while I was in the shop. I was always a big Soul Coughing fan, and while this sounds much different than his work with Soul Coughing, it’s definitely worthwhile as a standalone CD set. The first disc, which he recorded while he was with Soul Coughing and didn’t fit in with the sound of the band, is a mostly acoustic piece, and sets the stage well for Rockity Roll, which mixes the acoustic sound with electronica. I’m doing a terrible job describing the CD, so just go to Amazon and check out a few tracks, it’ll definitely be worth your time.

Posted by crimnos @ 8:55 AM :: (0) comments

Sunday, July 24, 2005

A Contingency Plan for Another 9/11 Includes Nuking Iran?

Where the hell is this in the news? Hopefully this is just a contingency plan and not as wild as it seems. Otherwise, holy Christ, we would be a new Nazi Germany.

I hate to quote people verbatim, but I found this Pesty13480 posted on the Something Awful Forums pretty thought-provoking:

The world will be a far more interesting place when we eventually violate the nuclear taboo once and for all. It'll start small, bunker busters and such, until people realize that they could use slightly bigger versions to wipe out enemy divisions and fortifications. Then why not a little bigger? And bigger than that? I think it's one case where the slippery slope is a valid possibility. It will also be cute to see the reactions on the faces of everyday Americans when someone eventually works up the courage to use their own nuclear device on US troops. I can imagine the screams of bloody murder already, and demands for blood; I can also see the right screaming about the "blame America first" crowd when someone brings up, inevitably, that we started it first by doing it to them.

I can't imagine what will happen to the world if this happens. I can only hope that we remain one of those crazy people you don't quite dare to provoke, at least until we get some saner politicians in charge. Some frightening shit to contemplate.

Oh, here's the original story:

TPMCafe || Politics, Ideas & Lots Of Caffeine

Posted by crimnos @ 1:35 PM :: (0) comments

Am I missing something here?

Didn't we already have this discussion, Mr. Bush? Isn't social security reform pretty much a non-starter?

Well, give the jackass points for persistance:

Bush, Mom Pitch Social Security Overhaul - Yahoo! News

Posted by crimnos @ 1:26 PM :: (0) comments

The New Way to Shoot the Messenger

So a Congressman now wants to poke into the personal lives of climatologists in the hopes of...I don't know, exposing a terrorist or a gay or something. Who the fuck knows with these people anymore? I guess the idea is that, if you shoot enough messengers, eventually you stop getting the message you didnt want to get in the first place.

You know what the problem is? It's goddamn science and its "facts" and "reports". Maybe if science and facts weren't so biased against this administration we wouldn't have to pop it in the face to remind it of its place in the affairs of government! Goddamn liberal science and facts are just as present and popular as the liberal media bias!

Hunting Witches

"THIS IS HIGHLY usual," declared a spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee when asked this week whether the request by committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) for information from three climate scientists was out of the ordinary. He and his boss are alone in that view. Many scientists and some of Mr. Barton's Republican colleagues say they were stunned by the manner in which the committee, whose chairman rejects the existence of climate change, demanded personal and private information last month from researchers whose work supports a contrary conclusion. The scientists, co-authors of an influential 1999 study showing a dramatic increase in global warming over the past millennium, were told to hand over not only raw data but personal financial information, information on grants received and distributed, and computer codes.

Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Science Committee, has called the investigation "misguided and illegitimate." Raymond S. Bradley of the University of Massachusetts, one of the targets, calls it "intrusive, far-reaching and intimidating." Alan I. Leshner, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said that although scientists "are used to answering really hard questions," in his 22 years as a government scientist he never heard of a similar inquiry, which he suspects could "have a chilling effect on the willingness of people to work in areas that are politically relevant."

Mr. Barton's attempt to dismiss all this as turf-battling on the part of Mr. Boehlert, like his spokesman's claim that such demands for data are normal, is disingenuous. While the Energy and Commerce Committee does sometimes ask for raw data when it looks at regulatory decisions or particular government technology purchases, there is no precedent for congressional intervention in a scientific debate. As Mr. Bradley pointed out in his response to Mr. Barton, scientific progress is incremental: "We publish a paper, and others may point out why its conclusions or methods might be wrong. We publish the results of additional studies . . . as time goes on robust results generally become accepted." Science moves forward following these "well-established procedures," and not through the intervention of a congressional committee that is partial to one side of the argument.

If Mr. Barton wants to discuss the science of climate change, there are many accepted ways to do so. He could ask for a report from the Congressional Research Service or the National Academy of Sciences. He could hold a hearing. He could even read all of the literature himself: There are hundreds of studies in addition to the single one that he has fixated on. But to pretend that he is going to learn something useful by requesting extensive data on 15th-century tree rings is ludicrous; to pretend that it is "normal" to demand decades worth of unrelated financial information from scientists who are not suspected of fraud is outrageous. The only conceivable purpose of these letters is harassment. This bizarre episode deserves much wider condemnation from congressional leaders.

Posted by crimnos @ 11:10 AM :: (0) comments