Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Parliamentary Calvinball

In 1995, soon after the Republicans gained the majority, Speaker Newt Gingrich declared his intention to make sure that votes would consistently be held in the 15-minute time frame. The "regular practice of the House," he said would be "a policy of closing electronic votes as soon as possible after the guaranteed period of 15 minutes." The policy was reiterated by Speaker Dennis J. Hastert when he assumed the post.

But faced with a series of tough votes and close margins, Republicans have ignored their own standards and adopted a practice that has in fact become frequent during the Bush presidency, of stretching out the vote when they were losing until they could twist enough arms to prevail. On at least a dozen occasions, they have gone well over the 15 minutes, sometimes up to an hour.

The Medicare prescription drug vote -- three hours instead of 15 minutes, hours after a clear majority of the House had signaled its will -- was the ugliest and most outrageous breach of standards in the modern history of the House. It was made dramatically worse when the speaker violated the longstanding tradition of the House floor's being off limits to lobbying by outsiders (other than former members) by allowing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson on the floor during the vote to twist arms -- another shameful first...

Democracy is a fragile web of laws, rules and norms. The norms are just as important to the legitimacy of the system as the rules. Blatant violations of them on a regular basis corrode the system. The ugliness of this one will linger.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Bush Brother Greased by the Taiwanese

Maybe the president of Taiwan did pay presidential younger brother Neil Bush a million bucks for a recent 30-minute meeting in New York.

I expressed skepticism in a recent column, but that was before I saw Exhibit 24 in the files of Bush's contentious divorce.

I didn't realize Bush's advice was so valuable.

The exhibit is a two-page contract between Bush and Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., which recently opened a $1.6 billion computer chip production plant in Shanghai.

9/11 Panel Gets Tough With City, but Not Bush

The independent commission probing the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has decided to get tough.

Not with George W. Bush, who was commander-in-chief on the morning the United States was attacked and 3,000 Americans were murdered. With Michael Bloomberg, who didn't take office as New York City mayor until three months later.


We now know there were months and months of warnings that terrorists were planning an attack designed to inflict mass casualties. Some were so specific they referred to hijacking airliners for use in a deadly scheme. These warnings are included in the president's "daily brief" from intelligence agencies.

And the president simply refuses to give the briefs to the panel, though each of its 10 members has the proper security clearance.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Iraq Picks American as Ambassador to U.S.

Uh-huh. And they want America to take care of that nasty oil for them too.
Carlyle Group Buying in with Bilderburgers

A powerful banking group with close links to the Pentagon, which has also invested money on behalf of the Bin Laden family, is in talks to bail out beleaguered Daily Telegraph owner Conrad Black.
The revelation suggests that Britain's bestselling broadsheet - coveted by rival newspaper barons because of its political influence - may not go under the hammer after all, as Lord Black tries to quell a shareholder rebellion in the face of allegations that he and several acolytes pocketed millions of dollars that was not theirs to take.

. . .

The Carlyle Group, known as the Ex-Presidents Club because of the number of former world leaders it employs, is considering taking a stake in Hollinger International, which owns the Telegraph titles, the Jerusalem Post and the Chicago Sun-Times, according to those close to the firm.

. . .

If Carlyle - which, despite being only 15 years old, manages more than $14 billion in funds on behalf of investors such as George Soros and the Bin Laden family (who are estranged from their son Osama) - does take a stake in Hollinger, questions are bound to be asked over the links between the two firms, both of which have powerful links to the military.

Leading foreign policy hawks Richard Perle and Henry Kissinger sit on the Hollinger board. Black himself is a member of the secretive Bilderberg group, an organisation comprising the world's leading businessmen and politicians, which some have accused of being an alternative world government.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Photo-Op Visit to Australian Soldier's Grave by Bush Excludes Widow

"Government bureaucrats have been adding to their picture of why the widow of SAS Sergeant Andrew Russell was left out of the wreath laying ceremony dedicated to him by George W. Bush.

The Prime Minister has had to dispel concern that the Government deliberately snubbed war widow Kylie Russell because of her complaints of the compensation for the loss of her husband's life.

But today officials from the Prime Minister's Department said the first they knew of the decision to single out Andrew Russell was George W. Bush's mention of him in the Australian Parliament."

Monday, November 17, 2003

Stronger and more deadly, the terror of the Taliban is back

The hi-tech onslaught that followed the 11 September attacks in America appeared to have consigned the Taliban to the overfull dustbin of Afghan history. But in recent months they have crawled out again. The Taliban are back. And if for the moment they are confined to a few isolated, inaccessible, lawless mountain valleys, their power, military and political, is growing.

Last week the resurgent Taliban began striking into the cities and against heavily armed coalition troops. Their efforts were once limited to hit-and-run attacks on far-flung government outposts or aid projects and the assassination of moderate clerics. But in the past eight days they have attacked a column of armoured vehicles near the Pakistani border, killing a Romanian soldier, and detonated a series of bombs in Kandahar city itself and in Qalat, capital of Zabul province. The Taliban's leaders are also refusing to surrender a Turkish engineer who was kidnapped two weeks ago while working on the key road from Kabul to Kandahar. Instead, they issued threats to kidnap Western journalists.

Bush Denied 'Shoot-to-kill' demand by Britain

Home Secretary David Blunkett has refused to grant diplomatic immunity to armed American special agents and snipers travelling to Britain as part of President Bush's entourage this week.

In the case of the accidental shooting of a protester, the Americans in Bush's protection squad will face justice in a British court as would any other visitor, the Home Office has confirmed.

The issue of immunity is one of a series of extraordinary US demands turned down by Ministers and Downing Street during preparations for the Bush visit.

These included the closure of the Tube network, the use of US air force planes and helicopters and the shipping in of battlefield weaponry to use against rioters.

Maybe if we ignore them they will go away?

The White House has adopted a determined strategy of keeping Bush from being connected to the messy parts of the war. This is a Vietnam lesson misunderstood. The Bush people apparently believe it was the pictures of body bags, not the fact of them, that caused public opinion to shift on the war. But the out-of-sight tactic is showing the commander in chief as callous and indifferent to our deployed soldiers and their stateside families.

Unlike Presidents Reagan, Bush I and Clinton, who all attended memorial ceremonies for troops killed in overseas terrorist attacks, Bush II declines to be present at services for soldiers who have died in Iraq. The pictures wouldn't be helpful.

This tight control over news includes renewed enforcement of a policy closing the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and the air base at Ramstein, Germany, to reporters and cameras when the caskets arrive, and a refusal to give daily accounts of soldiers wounded in clashes where there are no fatalities.

Haven't you noticed how sanitized this war has been? We have seen no pictures of our men and women returning with limbs gone and other disfigurements. The wounded are kept cloistered at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and at Fort Stewart, Ga.

Time for Plan "B"

A pretty, blonde soldier ambushed by the Iraqis, courageously firing until her ammo runs out, shot and stabbed and carried off by the enemy who, after taking time out to rape her, deposit her unconscious body in a hospital, where she is slapped around by evil medical staff, then, nine days later, is rescued in a daring, nighttime raid that is videotaped and can be shown repeatedly around the world and who, as soon as she recovers, will tell what it's like to be an all-American hero. It was a gift from the propaganda gods.

Just two problems: It didn't happen that way, and the designated hero, Pte. Jessica Lynch, refuses to say it did.

In fact, Lynch is telling anyone who asks that she is no hero: 'That wasn't me. I'm not about to take credit for something I didn't do ... I'm just a survivor.' Okay so far, modesty and all.

But Lynch is also a mite angry about the Pentagon's manipulation of events and can't seem to stop correcting the record.

. . .

"Yikes. Time for Plan B: It isn't our fault.

A senior military official tells Time magazine that, contrary to appearances, the Saving Private Lynch story was not, no way, a calculated PR ploy, but more a "comedy of errors," based on patchy battlefield intelligence. The media just ran with it.

Uh-huh. And the Navy made up the "Mission Accomplished" banner. Tell me about personal responsibility again, Unka Dick.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

The Dirty business of a Bush Environmental disaster coverup

(Mining Engineer Jack Spadaro) was selected to be one of eight members of an accident investigation team to determine the causes of the nation's largest coal slurry spill at the Martin County Coal Company in Inez, Kt., on Oct. 11, 2000.

A coal slurry impoundment is a reservoir of thick liquid waste from coal processing that is constructed by damming the mouth of a valley with rock and earth. To residents living near these impoundments, they are disasters waiting to happen. The EPA called the Inez spill the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of the Eastern United States. Far more extensive in damage than the widely known 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska, the Martin County Coal slurry spill dumped an estimated 306 million gallons of toxic sludge down 100 miles of waterways.

Jack Spadaro has made it his life's work to figure out why these spills happen and how to stop them. But right now he is awaiting final word from officials at the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), a wing of the U.S. Department of Labor that is a lead regulatory agency for the coal industry, as to whether he will retain his job as the superintendent of the National Mine Safety and Health Academy, MSHA's training facility. His superiors are accusing him of a raft of misbehaviors -- including "abusing his authority" and "failing to follow instructions." But as far as he's concerned, the reason he's facing dismissal is very simple: He's been in hot water since January 2001 -- when Bush administration officials took control of the Martin County Coal investigation.

U.S. troops fired on car containing Iraqi Governing Council member

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) U.S. troops opened fire accidently on a car carrying a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, the Iraqi administration said Wednesday. The council member escaped injury but the driver was hurt.

Mohammed Bahr al-Uloum, a Shiite Muslim cleric, was traveling inside the U.S.-guarded compound, known as the ''green zone,'' when the shooting took place. The statement did not give a time, and U.S. officials at the military press center said they knew nothing of the incident.

US wants ban on protests in UK during Bush visit

"Anti-war protesters claim that US authorities have demanded a rolling 'exclusion zone' around President George Bush during his visit, as well as a ban on marches in parts of central London.

The Stop The War Coalition said yesterday that it had been told by the police that it would not be allowed to demonstrate in Parliament Square and Whitehall next Thursday - a ban it said it was determined to resist. The coalition says that it has also been told by British officials that American officials want a distance kept between Mr Bush and protesters, for security reasons and to prevent their appearance in the same television shots."
U.S. soldiers fire on truckload of civilians

FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) — U.S. troops opened fire on a truck carrying live chickens near the tense town of Fallujah, killing five civilians aboard the vehicle, including a father and his two sons, relatives said today.

The shooting took place at a roadblock Tuesday night, they said. Fallujah is the site of numerous anti-American attacks and U.S. soldiers in the area have been on high alert.

"They went to bring chickens ... and they came back at 9 or 10 at night," said Khalid Khalifa al-Jumaily, whose two nephews were killed on the truck. "The Americans fired on them."

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

U.S. Troops More Hostile With Reporters

BAGHDAD, Iraq - With casualties mounting in Iraq (news - web sites), jumpy U.S. soldiers are becoming more aggressive in their treatment of journalists covering the conflict.

Media people have been detained, news equipment has been confiscated and some journalists have suffered verbal and physical abuse while trying to report on events.

. . .

"The effect has been to deprive the American public of crucial images from Iraq in newspapers, broadcast stations and online news operations," wrote Stuart Wilk, managing editor of The Dallas Morning News.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

US admits troops shot Iraqi mayor

"The US military has confirmed that one of its soldiers shot dead the mayor of a highly volatile Baghdad district.
Mohannad Gazi al-Kaabi, who was appointed by the US authorities to run the largely Shia Muslim area of Sadr City in Baghdad, died on Sunday.

He was shot during an altercation with US troops at the local council's compound.

US Central Command says it is still investigating the incident in the area where US-Iraqi tensions are high. It appears that the American soldiers stopped the mayor from driving into the Sadr City council compound, in line with rules to prevent car bombings.
The mayor took exception and began to fight with one of the guards. Another soldier fired warning shots and finally shot the mayor in the upper leg. He bled to death."

From BBC Online
The Bush Administration's Next Federal Judge Appointment?

NEW ORLEANS — A white judge is under fire for going to a Halloween party costumed in blackface makeup, an afro wig and a prison jumpsuit with shackles around his wrists and ankles.

State District Judge Timothy C. Ellender's costume stereotyped blacks as criminals and convicts, said Jerome Boykin, president of the NAACP's branch in southern Louisiana's Terrebonne Parish, where Ellender's court is located.

"For a judge to take the time to paint his face black with shoe polish, put on an afro wig, a prison jumpsuit and shackles ... and walk around in public, I feel he ain't fit to be a judge," Boykin said Monday.

Ellender acknowledged that he wore the costume but said it was a harmless joke.

"It's a tempest in a teapot," he told The Courier of Houma.

The Judge and his clerk then regaled reporters with their "Bones and Tambo" routine.

The Genesis of a Slimejob on Clark

From R. Prichard, Table Talk

There's a hit piece on Clark in The New Yorker by Peter J. Boyer, General Clark's Battles.

You may remember Boyer for the infamous Once Upon A Time In Arkansas, the Frontline distortion of Whitewater as told by Viet Dinh, Federalist Society biggie, greatly rewarded by Bush Inc.

Boyer also wrote the endlessly-quoted New Yorker profile of Al Gore depicting him as a poor little rich kid growing up in a swank hotel. Richie Rich Al was clearly a disturbed man.

Boyer does the same for Clark. When Boyer sees Clark catnapping on a plane he warns us that Clark is such a weirdo that he sleeps with "his arms clinched across his chest, tightly wound even in slumber."

As Boyer tells it, Cohen and the Pentagon barely lucked out in getting through the Kosovo nightmare without Clark, an ambition-crazed misfit, dragging the free world into an unnecessary quagmire that he was mostly responsible for instigating. No mention of the lack of allied casualties. No mention of the extraordinary diplomacy involved in preventing another meltdown of the tribes of Europe in response to genocide in the Balkans. Instead, Boyer presents Kosovo as Clark's folly, which he unethically badgered the White House into.

When Boyer quotes Shelton's assertion that Clark was fired for "integrity and character issues," he doesn't mention Clark's response that Shelton's refusal to explain himself amounts to McCarthyism -- which seems to me to be the minimal requirement for any pretense of objectivity.

Boyer has previously written a heroic profile of Tommy Franks, who participates in this slamfest.

This is Cohen's, Shelton's, and Rove's work. Boyer states as fact, "Before Clark became a candidate, he said that he was leaning toward the Democratic Party because Karl Rove never returned his calls," -- and he doesn't even source the story to the two helpful Republicans some elf hooked up with Howard Fineman and other Bush oppo stenographers.

The thesis of the piece is "The comments of Franks, Shelton, and others in the Clinton-era military and defense establishment suggest a paradox in Wesley Clark’s candidacy for President: his military career, the justification for his candidacy, may also be a liability."

You can be sure that Tim Russert will quote extensively from this piece when he interviews Clark on Meet The Press next Sunday. My bet is that the invitation to MTP was timed to the release of this piece.

Monday, November 10, 2003

White House fights POWs for Iraq fund

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is seeking to block a group of American troops who were tortured in Iraqi prisons during the Persian Gulf War in 1991 from collecting any of the hundreds of millions of dollars in frozen Iraqi assets they won last summer in a federal court ruling against the government of Saddam Hussein.

In a court challenge that the administration is winning so far but is not eager to publicize, administration lawyers have argued that Iraqi assets frozen in bank accounts in the United States are needed for Iraqi reconstruction and that the judgment won by the 17 former U.S. prisoners should be overturned in its entirety.

If we give that money to the troops, how will we pay Bechtel and Halliburton?

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Republican COngressmen Greenlight War Profiteering

"The final version of the $87 billion spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan is missing provisions the Senate had passed to penalize war profiteers who defraud American taxpayers. House negotiators on the package refused to accept the Senate provisions.

. . .

"When the Senate Appropriations Committee considered this supplemental request, Senators Leahy, Feinstein, and I joined together to criminalize war profiteering -- price gouging and fraud -- with the same law that was passed during World War II. Yet this amendment, was stripped out of the final bill," said Senator Durbin. "I fail to understand how anyone can be opposed to prosecuting those who want to defraud and overcharge the United States government and the American taxpayers."

Patriot Act Used to Bust Tittie Bars

The investigation of strip club owner Michael Galardi and numerous politicians appears to be the first time federal authorities have used the Patriot Act in a public corruption probe. Government officials said Tuesday they knew of no other instances in which federal agents investigating allegations such as racketeering and bribery of politicians have employed the act.

'I don't know that it's been used in a public corruption case before this,' said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Justice Department.
An attorney for one of the defendants in the Galardi case said he researched the matter for hours Tuesday and came to the same conclusion. 'I have discussed this with lawyers all over the country, and if the government has done this before, then this is definitely the first time it has come to light,' said Las Vegas attorney Dominic Gentile, who represents former Clark County Commissioner Lance Malone, Galardi's lobbyist.

Two of Nevada's lawmakers blasted the FBI for employing the act in the Galardi probe, saying the agency overstepped its bounds.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Congress intended the Patriot Act to help federal authorities root out threats from terrorists and spies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Layoffs rise 175% in October

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - U.S. job-cut announcements rose in October to their highest level in a year, according to a report Tuesday by an outplacement firm that keeps track of job cuts.

U.S. businesses announced 171,874 job cuts in October, up 125 percent from September's level of 76,506, according to Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas. It was the greatest number of job cuts since 176,010 in October 2002.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Study finds cronyism in Iraq, Afghanistan contracts

Many of the companies that have received government contracts to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan have collectively contributed more money to President Bush's election campaigns than to any other candidate in more than a decade, according to a study released yesterday.

In one of the most detailed studies of postwar contracts, the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit government watchdog, found that at least 70 companies have been awarded a total of $8 billion in contracts in the past two years.

While some of the contractors were previously known to have ties to White House officials -- such as Halliburton, formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney -- the group found several lesser-known firms that also are linked to senior government officials. One small company's sole employee is married to a deputy assistant secretary of defense, the study found.