Thursday, April 20, 2006

In New Job, Spymaster Draws Bipartisan Criticism - New York Times

You know, I had completely forgotten that this jackass is in charge of all intelligence within the U.S. I think my brain intentionally blocked it out, because the truth of Negroponte and what he's done is just too painful for me to bear. I do think it's hilarious that the same people who voted to create this terrible position now realize that it is what it is: another painful layer of bureaucracy that slows everything down. Quick thinking, folks!

In New Job, Spymaster Draws Bipartisan Criticism
Published: April 20, 2006

WASHINGTON, April 19 — The top Republican and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee have disagreed publicly about many things, but on one issue they have recently come together. Both are disquieted by the first-year performance of John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence.

Peter Hoekstra, a Republican, also believes that bureaucracy has been expanded.
The fear expressed by the two lawmakers, Representatives Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, and Jane Harman, Democrat of California, is that Mr. Negroponte, the nation's overseer of spy agencies, is creating just another blanket of bureaucracy, muffling rather than clarifying the dangers lurking in the world.

In an April 6 report, the Intelligence Committee warned that Mr. Negroponte's office could end up not as a streamlined coordinator but as "another layer of large, unintended and unnecessary bureaucracy." The committee went so far as to withhold part of Mr. Negroponte's budget request until he convinced members he had a workable plan.

The creation of Mr. Negroponte's post was Congress's answer to the failure to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks and to the bungled prewar reports on Iraqi weapons. The overhaul, the most sweeping reorganization of intelligence in a half-century, was intended to establish a primary intelligence adviser to the president, to ensure that 16 turf-conscious agencies share information and to see that dissenting views are not squelched.

Intelligence officials say there has been progress in information-sharing, particularly at the National Counterterrorism Center, the new hub for reports on terrorist threats. Aides to Mr. Negroponte insist that analysts are encouraged to offer divergent views to avoid the "groupthink" blamed for past failures.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday night, Mr. Negroponte strongly defended his record.

"If there's one watchword for what we've been about, it's integration," he said, noting that all agencies are supposed to feed threat information to the counterterrorism center and participate in three daily video conferences.

"I don't see us as another bureaucratic layer at all," he said. "What's changed is that for the first time, there's a high-ranking official in charge of managing the intelligence community."

Mr. Negroponte said that between the intelligence reform law and the recommendations of a presidential commission on weapons intelligence, his office had been given "about 100 tasks to do," and added: "We've just gotten started. A year is not a long time."

But some current and former intelligence officials and members of Congress express disappointment with the progress Mr. Negroponte has made since being sworn in a year ago this week, faulting him as failing to provide forceful direction to the $44-billion-a-year archipelago of intelligence agencies.

"I don't think we have a lot to show yet for the intelligence reform," said Mark M. Lowenthal, a former top C.I.A. official and Congressional intelligence staff member. "What's their vision for running the intelligence community? My sense is there's a huge hunger for leadership that's not being met."

Mr. Lowenthal said he spoke regularly with intelligence officers about Mr. Negroponte's office, and heard little praise.

"At the agencies, officers are telling me, 'All we got is another layer,' " he said.

Ms. Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House committee, said the success of the Intelligence Reform Act, which created Mr. Negroponte's office and was passed in December 2004, would depend "50 percent on leadership."

"I'm not seeing the leadership," she said in an interview, adding that Mr. Negroponte, who had a long career as a diplomat, is now a "commander" and must act like one.

"The title is director, not ambassador," Ms. Harman said. "The skill sets are very different. The goal is not to grow a bureaucracy."

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who played a central role in devising the intelligence overhaul, said she was worried about what she said was Mr. Negroponte's failure to confront the Defense Department over an aggressive grab for turf over the past year.

"I remain concerned about the balance of power with the Pentagon," Ms. Collins said Wednesday.

In particular, she said she believed that Mr. Negroponte should have responded more assertively to a Pentagon directive last November that appeared to assert control over the National Security Agency, which does electronic eavesdropping; the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which takes satellite and aerial photos; and the National Reconnaissance Office, which launches and operates spy satellites. All are part of the Defense Department.

"While those agencies are hosted in the Pentagon, they report to the D.N.I.," Ms. Collins said. "I think the directive confused the relationship and weakened the D.N.I."

But Ms. Collins praised the National Counterterrorism Center and said it was far too early to pass judgment on Mr. Negroponte. "We need to give him some time and cut him some slack," she said.

Mr. Negroponte said the Defense Department had not cut into his power. "I flatly reject the notion that somehow control of civilian intelligence is being gobbled up by the Pentagon," he said, adding that "there's a clear division of labor" and that his office works closely with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his under secretary for intelligence, Stephen A. Cambone.

Even the most outspoken critics acknowledge that Mr. Negroponte's job is dauntingly complex, requiring that he brief President Bush each morning while overseeing disparate agencies and creating his own office from scratch.

At a session with reporters last week, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, Mr. Negroponte's principal deputy, said intelligence tradecraft "has benefited from the introspection the community has undergone over the last couple of years."

General Hayden, who was director of the N.S.A. for six years, said he "didn't understand" the criticism from Representatives Hoekstra and Harman about excessive bureaucracy, "because in the same press briefing they said we need to do more."

He and other officials said Mr. Negroponte's office had requested money for 1,539 positions, but two-thirds of them were inherited from offices that already existed. The law permits the agency to create up to 500 new jobs, and plans call for stopping at 450, General Hayden said.

But reports from the agencies, especially the C.I.A., suggest they do not yet feel liberated. Officers complain about constant demands for information from Mr. Negroponte's office.

Senator Collins said Mr. Negroponte was under enormous pressure.

"All of us in Congress who are appalled at the intelligence failure that preceded the invasion of Iraq want to make sure the intelligence we get on Iran, for instance, is much better," she said. "He can't afford to fail, because the threats are too dire and the consequences are too great."

Posted by crimnos @ 10:17 AM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

McClellan Out

Now who will robotically stick to talking points??

McClellan Out as White House Press Secretary

By Nedra Pickler
The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 19, 2006; 9:59 AM

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday he is resigning, continuing a shakeup in President Bush's administration that has already yielded a new chief of staff and could lead to a change in the Cabinet.

Appearing with Bush on the White House South Lawn just before the president boarded a helicopter at the start a trip to Alabama, McClellan, who has parried especially fiercely with reporters on Iraq and on intelligence issues, told Bush: "I have given it my all sir and I have given you my all sir, and I will continue to do so as we transition to a new press secretary."

Bush said McClellan had "a challenging assignment."
(NOTE: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA, you can say that again.)

"I thought he handled his assignment with class, integrity," the president said. "It's going to be hard to replace Scott, but nevertheless he made the decision and I accepted it. One of these days, he and I are going to be rocking in chairs in Texas and talking about the good old days."

Posted by crimnos @ 10:18 AM :: (0) comments

The $104 Billion Refund

I don't have much to add here... just another example of how corporations are the only people who profit from this government.

The $104 Billion Refund
The most absurd corporate tax giveaway of 2005.

By Michelle Leder
Posted Thursday, April 13, 2006, at 12:33 PM ET

Feeling flush because you're getting a nice tax refund this year? You're not alone. Some of America's largest corporations—a virtual who's who of the Fortune 100—have been reporting their own hefty tax windfalls, thanks to an absurd provision of a law designed to create jobs.

IBM, for example, is banking a $2.8 billion refund—well, better to call it a "tax savings"—because instead of paying the normal corporate tax rate of 35 percent on $9.5 billion in profits it earned overseas, the company paid only 5.25 percent. That's the magic of the American Jobs Creation Act, a piece of legislation that passed with comfortable margins in both the House and the Senate and was signed into law by President Bush just two weeks before the 2004 elections.

The AJCA, which was pushed through during the last fit of panic about outsourcing, was ostensibly designed to encourage companies to add jobs here. It gave a small tax deduction to American manufacturers, and it offered a one-time tax holiday in 2005 when corporations could repatriate their foreign income at a massively reduced tax rate. This repatriation, the theory went, would encourage R & D and capital investment in the United States, leading to new positions down the road. But, like President Bush's creatively named Clear Skies initiative and Healthy Forest Restoration Act, the American Jobs Creation Act has not lived up to its title.

Take IBM. According to its annual report for 2005, the company added fewer than 400 jobs worldwide last year to its workforce of 329,000 people. At the same time, IBM shed 5 million square feet of space in the United States, making it highly unlikely that any of those jobs were added in the U.S. Indeed, numerous news reports, including this Business Week article, put IBM's head count in India at close to 40,000 at the end of 2005, more than a fourfold increase over the 9,000 reported at the end of 2003.

Analysts anticipate that American companies will have repatriated around $350 billion in 2005 as a result of the law. While it's hard to make a straight calculation because of the vagaries of the tax code, that works out to a savings of roughly $104 billion on corporate America's tax bill. At Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant that announced the single largest repatriation—$37 billion—the one-time windfall works out to approximately $11 billion. That kind of tax savings buys a lot of $600-an-hour lobbyists, though not, apparently, many scientists and salespeople. In its annual report, Pfizer doesn't list employees by region. But the company's total head count dropped to 106,000 at the end of 2005, about 8 percent fewer jobs than at the end of 2004.

"It basically gave money to corporations in return for corporate contributions," says Bob McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice. As for the law's name, McIntyre says that Congress was "just kidding." One of the few groups that believes the legislation has led to the creation of jobs is the American Shareholders Association, a spinoff of Americans for Tax Reform, led by conservative activist Grover Norquist. In a report last month, the American Shareholders Association said that stock buybacks, dividends and mergers, and acquisitions were up sharply because of the legislation and that this in turn had led to the creation of 500,000 high-paying jobs in the United States.

Not so far. Some companies taking advantage of the generous tax break haven't even tried to hide their layoffs. In January 2005, on the same day it announced it was cutting 6 percent of its workforce, National Semiconductor said that it was repatriating $500 million under the American Jobs Creation Act. Colgate-Palmolive, which in December 2004 announced plans to cut more than 4,000 jobs, brought back $800 million in overseas profits last year. The Wall Street Journal reported in December that the combination of repatriation and job cuts prompted Amalgamated Bank, which owns Colgate shares, to file a shareholder resolution arguing that the company's brand and reputation would be damaged by such moves. Julie Gozan, director of corporate governance for Amalgamated, said the resolution was withdrawn before Colgate filed its proxy on March 31 because the company agreed to provide more information to investors on the impact of the AJCA later this year. But Gozan said that Amalgamated is considering similar resolutions at several other companies where it owns stock.

In addition to lowering the tax rate, the AJCA required companies to rewrite all sorts of employment contracts. Mike Melbinger, head of executive compensation and employee benefits at Winston and Strawn, a large Chicago-based law firm, estimated that the typical large company might have 30 employment contracts, 10 change-in-control agreements, and various severance plans, all of which had to be changed as a result of the 2004 law. "It was a ton of work," says Melbinger. "As much as we like to get paid, it was terrible for the clients."

So at least the American Jobs Creation Act benefited one group of American workers: corporate lawyers.

Posted by crimnos @ 9:05 AM :: (0) comments

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

4 major networks, 800 affiliates sue FCC over inconsistent rulings

Networks Sue Over Indecency Rulings

I'm glad to see this, but...well, I can't see any way this won't result in the FCC controlling pay-TV content.

The four major television networks and more than 800 affiliated stations have sued to overturn recent indecency rulings from the Federal Communications Commission, saying the government "overstepped its authority" in the March judgments.

The lawsuits -- filed in several federal courts around the country by ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, their affiliate stations and the Hearst-Argyle Television Inc. chain Thursday and yesterday -- could become the test case long awaited by broadcasters who seek to challenge the government's ability to police the airwaves, the broadcasters acknowledge privately.

"We strongly believe that the FCC rulings issued on March 15 that we are appealing today are unconstitutional and inconsistent with two decades of previous FCC decisions," the networks said in a joint statement.

In March, the FCC issued a number of rulings, dismissing some of the more than 300,000 viewer complaints it had received about television shows, proposing fines against some shows and pronouncing episodes of other shows indecent, though the agency proposed no fines.

The FCC found that an episode of CBS's "The Early Show," several episodes of ABC's "NYPD Blue" and two music awards shows on Fox violated the agency's decency standards for broadcasting indecent language.

For example, Fox's Dec. 9, 2002, broadcast of the Billboard Music Awards including singer Cher using obscenity associated with sexual intercourse. In 2003, the FCC initially ruled that the same word uttered by U2 frontman Bono on live television was not indecent. The agency reversed itself the following year after lawmakers and advocacy groups complained, changing its rules to prohibit such language under almost all circumstances regardless of context.

All the shows named in the lawsuit aired before the agency's "Bono" decision. Therefore, the FCC ruled that the shows were indecent but decided it could not fine the stations for broadcasting them.

"In filing these court appeals we are seeking to overturn the FCC decisions that the broadcast of fleeting, isolated -- and in some cases unintentional -- words rendered these programs indecent," the network statement reads.

Under previous Republican chairman Michael K. Powell, the FCC proposed a greater dollar amount of fines than under all previous chairmen combined. Current Republican Chairman Kevin J. Martin hired a special consultant on indecency -- Penny Nance, formerly a board member of the conservative Concerned Women for America -- and has vowed to stay tough on indecency. He has a strong ally on the commission in Democrat Michael J. Copps.

In an indecency finding, the FCC proposes a fine and the broadcaster can appeal it to the agency. If the FCC upholds its ruling, it issues what is called a "forfeiture," meaning the broadcaster is obligated to pay. But because there was no fine proposed in these cases, the broadcasters had to appeal directly to the courts.

The FCC prohibits the broadcasting of material related to sexual or excretory functions on over-the-air radio and television--cable and satellite are outside the agency's purview--between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., or when children are most likely to be in the audience.

The government's ability to police the airwaves rests on two Supreme Court decisions -- the most recent of which is nearly 30 years old and narrowly carried by a 5-4 vote of the justices.

Broadcasters argue that the decency rules were put in place at a time when viewers had a choice of only a few television and radio stations and it made some sense that the government should regulate content.

But now, the broadcasters argue, viewers can choose from hundreds of stations and have technology such as the V-chip and other tools to block potentially offensive material.

Further, the broadcasters say, cable and satellite channels have an unfair advantage because they can show racier content than the networks, which has drawn viewers away. The major networks' prime-time audience has eroded steadily for two decades, and they blame in part the success of prime-time programs such as "The Sopranos," which includes language and nudity that the networks cannot broadcast.

Separately, CBS appealed more than $4 million in fines against its television stations over a broadcast of the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show and an episode of the CBS drama, "Without a Trace."

The FCC said yesterday that it would consider CBS's appeal, but that the network's argument about the Super Bowl incident -- in which one of singer Janet Jackson's breasts was briefly exposed -- "runs counter to commission precedent and common sense."

Posted by crimnos @ 8:58 AM :: (0) comments