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Happy New Year, folks.
"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper
On the deadline for filing complaints, the number of alleged violations which could swing results in the 275-seat parliament was "well into double figures", an accredited international election observer, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
In January there were only five of these "red" complaints, the observer added. Red complaints are alleged breaches serious enough to potentially hand a seat to a party or election bloc unfairly. The election commission has declined to say how many such complaints it has received, but several parties handed in dossiers listing breaches allegedly seen by their monitors.
Secular Arab parties have accused the Shia religious bloc, which dominates the current government, of intimidating voters in Baghdad and many southern cities.
The Iraqi National List, headed by the former prime minister Ayad Allawi, filed more than 60 complaints yesterday. They alleged that at several polling stations policemen, national guard troops, or men from the major crimes unit were chanting for the Shia religious list, known as 555.
At the Sharqia high school in central Baghdad, which was used as a polling station, a senior election official was said to have asked voters if they were going to vote for 555. Unless they said yes, they were not given ballot papers.
A source close to Mr Allawi's campaign said that in one Baghdad polling station "around 600 men, some with walkie-talkies and purple ink on their fingers showing they had already voted, forced their way in. When the manager tried to stop them asking for ballot papers, they threatened to put him in a car boot and drive him away ... He let them in."
He declined to be identified, citing the fact that an Allawi candidate and five campaign workers were murdered before the poll. All complaints have to be signed by a witness, which created risks, he said.So while the right-wing shills loudly shout that the means have been justified and all is well, the rest of us will sit and watch nervously, hoping that in spite of everything, Iraq really is taking a step forward. Not just a shift from one totalitarian regime to another.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it's an insult for Republican leaders to exploit the Pentagon bill that way.
"Just when you think you have seen it all, they've taken drilling in the ANWR off the budget bill and now they want to put it on the Department of Defense bill," she said. "Nothing is sacred to them."
Her Senate counterpart, Harry Reid, called it "outrageous" that Republican leaders "would abuse their power by holding our troops hostage at a time of war."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., called it a "desperate scheme" and said it is "not right by our fighting men and women." (. . .)
The bill funds the military, which is hard for any lawmaker to oppose, especially with troops fighting overseas. The legislation will be extra appealing this year because it will contain money for the states damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and for fighting avian flu. It will also have a rider Sen. John McCain has demanded that aims to ban U.S. troops from torturing foreign detainees.
Alaskan Representative Ted Stevens has already scored hundreds of millions in pork-barrel projects this year for his home state, but demonstrates that the GOP isn't in the game for the betternment of the country-- they're just in it to win at an cost.
President Bush's corporate champions see the spoils of his administration in coal. And timber. And credit-card payments, Afghan electric lines, Japanese bank transfers and fake crab.
America's business leaders supplied more than $75 million to return Mr. Bush to the White House last year -- and he has paid dividends.
Bush administration policies, grand and obscure, have financially benefited companies or lobbying clients tied to at least 200 of the president's largest campaign fund-raisers, a Toledo Blade investigation has found. Dozens more stand to gain from Bush-backed initiatives that recently passed or await congressional approval. (. . .)
The beneficiaries span industries and the nation. Examples include:
Timber barons who pay lower tax rates on logging sales and face fewer barriers to harvesting trees in national forests because of administrative changes and laws Mr. Bush signed.
Energy producers who dodged potential legal fees and cleanup costs after federal officials revised clean-air standards.
Heads of stock brokerages and other multinational firms, which, under a special tax incentive in the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, are bringing hundreds of millions of dollars they earned or stored abroad back into the United States this year at reduced rates.
Executives of defense contractors United Technologies and The Washington Group, which won contracts potentially totaling more than $6 billion to supply American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and rebuild both countries' infrastructure. The same contractors won far less government work under President Bill Clinton.
Mining executives who tapped new veins of coal, thanks to administrative rule changes that opened swaths of hills and forests to their backhoes and left once-protected streams vulnerable to pollution.
Dangerous, un-American, and certainly not democratic. But nothing's going to change until we win back the House and Senate.
The security agency surveillance of telecommunications between the United States and Afghanistan began in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, the officials said.
The agency operation included eavesdropping on communications between Americans and other individuals in the United States and people in Afghanistan without the court-approved search warrants that are normally required for such domestic intelligence activities.
The president used his weekly Saturday morning address to the country to talk about the growing furor over the NSA secret eavesdropping program. In a sign of the interest in the speech, instead of the usual taped radio speech, the president spoke live this morning and it was carried on television. The speech ran about seven minutes, slightly longer than his usual radio addresses.
He chastised the news accounts, saying, "The existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk."
Bush said that he authorized the program "using constitutional authority vested in me as commander-in-chief." He argued that the program is consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, and used "to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations."
"The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time," Bush said. "And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad."
What sort of fiendish terrorist activities are being prevented by the curtailing of civil liberties? Term papers... of DOOM!
Item Two: Hey, I realize that right-wing ideologues are convinced that our nation's educational facailities are secretly radical brainwashing compounds, but there's something distinctly Orwellian about kids studying fascism being detained and questioned by the government of the land of the free.
A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."
Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.
The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.
The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.
"I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it."
Growing up at the end of the Soviet era, I remember the gasps of my fell0w students as we learned of life under a totalitarian regime. People weren't able to speak openly of politics under suspicion of treason. The press was seen as an enemy of the state to be controlled and manipulated. And educated people were anathema. Fortunately, it can only happen here under executive order.
UPDATE: (Jan. 5) It's come to my attention that the story about the Dartmouth student visited by federal agents might just be phony. An item in a recent newsletter by physicist Robert Parks alerted me to this, and I wanted to be sure to post it in the interest of honesty. If I see any more information about the story I'll post another update.
The U.S. Senate, in a rebuff to its Republican leaders and President George W. Bush, refused to clear the way for renewal of the anti-terror USA Patriot Act.
The Senate fell seven votes short of shutting off a filibuster that threatens to block an extension of much of the law, including expanded power for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Bush has called for approval of the measure, saying it is vital in preventing terrorist attacks.
The vote was the second legislative setback for Bush in as many days. Yesterday, Bush reversed course and accepted a ban on torture crafted by Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican.
Today's development left in doubt the immediate future of the Patriot Act, which was first enacted soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist insisted he wasn't giving up and repeated his opposition to a three-month extension of the act.Good to see Frist back to playing White House lapdog on the issue. Every time a reactionary fundamentalist's run for the presidency goes ka-blooey, an angel gets its wings.
‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the House
No bills were passed ‘bout which Fox News could grouse;
Tax cuts for the wealthy were passed with great cheer,
So vacations in St. Barts soon would be near;
Katrina kids were nestled all snug in motel beds,
While visions of school and home danced in their heads;
In Iraq our soldiers needed supplies and a plan,
Plus nuclear weapons were being built in Iran;
Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell;
Americans feared we were on a fast track to…well…
Wait--- we need a distraction--- something divisive and wily;
A fabrication straight from the mouth of O’Reilly
We can pretend that Christmas is under attack
Hold a vote to save it--- then pat ourselves on the back;
There's more at the Congressman's site. Check it out. I've mentioned before that I think more Democratic officials should hire comedy writers. With the GOP pulling clownish horseshit like this "Preserving Christmas" resolution, they don't merit anything more than derisive dismissal. Not to mention the things that happen when you pit a comedian against the likes of a Bill O'Reilly or Ann Coulter-- they're completely out of their rhetorical league, and the subsequent attempt to shout down the opposition looks all the more ridiculous. And I'm for hire, you Democrats out there.
Klein, quoting Dean, wrote the following:
The party chairman, Howard Dean, was not inaccurate when he said, "The idea that we are going to win this war ... is just plain wrong." If Dean had added the word militarily, most generals would agree with him. The trouble is, Dean—as always—seemed downright gleeful about the bad news. He seemed to be rooting for defeat."Here’s what Dean actually said:
The idea that we’re gonna win this war is an idea that unfortunately is just plain wrong.Note the word "unfortunately." Clearly, those ellipses are awfully useful. After all, how can you be “gleeful” about something when you’re saying it’s unfortunate?
NC 11th district Congressman Charles Taylor, famed for his disappearing vote against CAFTA, has won a Golden Galaxy Award from theAmerican-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry for furthering economic relations between the two countries.
No mention of the award at Taylor's website. Maybe that's because many North Carolinians are not impressed by Taylor's business dealings in Russia, where his partner is a former KGB officer.
According to the News & Observer (8/22/2000), "Taylor's closest associate in Russia - the man who has introduced him to business partners there - is Boris Bolshakov, a former Soviet KGB colonel.
"Bolshakov later worked as a senior officer in a bank that has been identified by US authorities as a participant in an alleged international multibillion-dollar money-laundering scheme."
Last year (8/29/04) the Charlotte Observer reported on ethical questions facing Taylor, including unpaid taxes and a staffer's sweet lobbying deal -- and also the wealthy Congressman's Russian connections. "Eyebrows were also raised when Taylor's bank acquired a bank in Russia in September 2003.
"A U.S. congressman with his own bank in the former Soviet Union?"
In August of this year, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that Taylor "has spent $25,0000 in taxpayer money since the end of 1999 visiting Russia seven times."Follow the hyperlink for the original piece, with plenty of links of its own. Congratulations, red-state voters. Republicans sell you "guns, gays and God," but neglect to add that they'll pocket the "goods."
The decision followed a wave of criticism from gay rights groups, who had accused Ford of bowing to the threat of a boycott from the American Family Association.
Ford's announcement, which gay advocates immediately praised, also included other steps to broaden the automaker's relations with gay consumers and repair damage from the initial decision to stop advertising.
In a letter Wednesday to gay advocacy groups, Ford said that in addition to its current advertising campaigns in gay media, it would expand the ads to encompass all eight Ford brands. Previously, only Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo ran ads in gay publications. Now, the company has said it will advertise its Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mazda and Aston Martin brands in the gay press.A spokeswoman for the American Family Association said the group had no comment. A Ford spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the company's letter.
Ford's letter did not repudiate its relationship with the association, which it met with after the group's boycott was announced in May. But Mr. Laymon wrote, "We expect to be measured not by the meetings we conduct but by our conduct itself."
Ford now hopes to end an embarrassing public relations problem that left many puzzled. Ford has long sponsored gay rights groups and provided the same health care benefits to homosexual couples as it does to heterosexuals.One thing, though. Ford definitely shouldn't be selling Aston Martins to gay guys. It would break James Bond's heart.
By thumbing his nose at Massachusetts after less than three-quarters of one term as its chief executive, Mitt Romney, yesterday surrendered his clout and squandered his legitimacy. If, as it appears, his heart and mind are no longer in Massachusetts, he should resign.
Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey is inexperienced. But the state would be far better off in the hands of someone focused on state problems, rather than someone touring the country ridiculing the people he was elected to serve. Romney has joked in several states that, as a Republican here, he feels like ''a cattle rancher at a vegetarian convention."
Romney's decision was no surprise, as he admits to presidential aspirations and has increasingly taken conservative positions that would appeal far more to GOP activists in the South and West than to Massachusetts voters. Romney said he would keep his commitment to finish his term, but there is no reason to. He might as well follow Paul Cellucci, who went to Ottawa, and Bill Weld, who left for Mexico City (though he never arrived).
A secret 400-page Defense Department document obtained by NBC News lists the Lake Worth meeting as a “threat” and one of more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” across the country over a recent 10-month period.
“This peaceful, educationally oriented group being a threat is incredible,” says Evy Grachow, a member of the Florida group called The Truth Project.
“This is incredible,” adds group member Rich Hersh. “It's an example of paranoia by our government,” he says. “We're not doing anything illegal.”
The Defense Department document is the first inside look at how the U.S. military has stepped up intelligence collection inside this country since 9/11, which now includes the monitoring of peaceful anti-war and counter-military recruitment groups.You've gotta feel some sympathy for those Quakers. They can't seem to catch a break in this country, from the Puritans to the Bushies. Highly recommended reading and viewing.
Under federal law, only a conviction for a crime against the United States, such as treason or espionage, can cause a member of Congress or other federal employee to lose his or her government pension.
That means Cunningham, a California Republican, will keep his pension despite admitting taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors and others in exchange for government contracts.
Cunningham's congressional pension would be around $40,000 per year, according to an Office of Personnel Management formula. He resigned last month and faces 10 years in prison when he's sentenced in February.Oh,well. That's the government for ya.
"It's not a question of the poor not being important or that meeting their needs is not important," said Paul Hetrick, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, Dobson's influential, Colorado-based Christian organization. "But whether or not a baby is killed in the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy, that is less important than help for the poor? We would respectfully disagree with that."
Jim Wallis, editor of the liberal Christian journal Sojourners and an organizer of today's protest, was not buying it. Such conservative religious leaders "have agreed to support cutting food stamps for poor people if Republicans support them on judicial nominees," he said. "They are trading the lives of poor people for their agenda. They're being, and this is the worst insult, unbiblical."
At issue is a House-passed budget-cutting measure that would save $50 billion over five years by trimming food stamp rolls, imposing new fees on Medicaid recipients, squeezing student lenders, cutting child-support enforcement funds and paring agriculture programs. House negotiators are trying to reach accord with senators who passed a more modest $35 billion bill that largely spares programs for the poor.Classic right-wing theology. They'll go to jail and commit murder to make sure a child is born, but once it's out there in the world, come poverty, abuse or disease, you're on your own.
OTTAWA/SURREY, British Columbia (Reuters) - The United States made an unprecedented foray into Canada's election campaign on Tuesday, warning politicians not to bash Washington in their bid to win the January 23 election.
But an unapologetic Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin responded immediately by saying "c'est la vie" -- that's life -- if the United States did not like his remarks, and he would not accept anyone telling him he cannot defend his country.
In a hard-hitting speech in Ottawa, U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins lamented what he called relentless and incessant criticism of his country, which he speculated might begin to sow doubt about the strength of the binational relationship.
"Canada never has to tear the United States down to build itself up," Wilkins said.
"It may be smart election politics to thump your chest and constantly criticize your friend and your No. 1 trading partner. But it's a slippery slope and all of us should hope it doesn't have a long-term impact on our relationship."I'm no expert on international relations, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that our reputation with Canada isn't going to be improved by veiled threats. It's like the time the principal in my high school decided to get involved in the student body elections by pointing out what dopes two of the candidates were. If she had kept her mouth shut, the students would have made a sensible choice. Instead, the dopes won in a landslide.
This is how pathetic and corrupt it has gotten in Washington. The nation's capital has become a place where corporate-funded institutions like the DLC can one day viciously stab courageous progressives, and then the next day turn around and claim they are actually for "inclusion" - all without batting an eye, or thinking twice about how dishonest and hypocritical such behavior really is. What an insult to the public's intelligence.
Apparently to the DLC, "inclusion" is defined as being in lockstep with their far-out-of-the-mainstream views, and the only thing important to them is preserving their status on the D.C. cocktail party circuit by issuing press releases touting their "friendship" with those who undermine the Democratic Party.This nicely illustrates the DLC's ersatz "Big Idea." The GOP has managed to keep all their Congressmen in line by talking inclusion and savaging any party members who don't follow the policy dictated to them by the Karl Roves and Tom DeLays of the party. Screw you, DLC. Your day is over.
Phillips: Is it a war on Christmas, a war on Christians, a war on over-political correctness or just a lot of people with way too much time on their hands?
Seder: I would say probably, if I was to be serious about it, too much time on their hands, but I'd like to get back to the operational ties between Santa Claus and al-Qaida ... We have intelligence, we have intelligence.
Phillips: You have intel. Where exactly does your intel come from?
Seder: Well, we have tortured an elf and it's actually how we got the same information from al-Libi. It's exactly the same way the Bush administration got this info about the operational ties between al-Qaida and Saddam.
At which point, Bob Knight from Concerned Women of America's Culture and Family Institute cut in in an effort to get serious about his cause. He said Seder's routine would be funny if "a lot of people" weren't seeing "their faith cleansed from the public square systematically." Seder asked Knight to name one person in America who isn't allowed to celebrate Christmas. Knight couldn't do that, of course, ultimately sputtering instead into the obligatory discussion of how the Nazis banned Christmas, too. Happy holidays.
The announcement came just weeks after the company said it would slash 30,000 jobs and scale back production in the United States.
GM previously had announced plans to increase production in India from more than double the 25,000 cars a year it currently produces in the country. Lawrence Burns, vice president for research and development, said Tuesday that the number of vehicles made in India would eventually reach 80,000. (. . .)
GM said in November that declining sales and rising health care costs would force it to close 12 North American manufacturing facilities by 2008 and cut 30,000 jobs, which represent 17 percent of GM's North American hourly and salaried work force of 173,000.
The plan will cut the number of vehicles GM is able to build in North America by about 1 million a year by the end of 2008. GM will be able to build about 4.2 million vehicles a year in North America, down 30 percent from 2002.
"The board of directors and Wally [O'Dell] mutually agreed that his decision to resign at this time for personal reasons was in the best interest of all parties," the company's new chairman said in a statement.
O'Dell's resignation comes just days after reports from BradBlog.com that the company was facing imminent securities fraud litigation surrounding charges of insider trading. It also comes on the heels of a Raw Story interview with a Diebold insider, who raised new allegations of technical woes inside the company, as well as concerns that Diebold may have mishandled elections in Georgia and Ohio.
A week ago it was reported that Justice Department lawyers had concluded at the time that the DeLay redistricting plan of 2003 violated the Voting Right Act, but that senior DOJ officials overruled that finding and okayed DeLay's plan anyway.
Justice Department officials have now instituted a policy to assure this never happens again. They have, as reported in today's Post, "barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act cases, marking a significant change in the procedures meant to insulate such decisions from politics."Note that the policy instituted isn't to prevent the politicization of redistricting, but to ensure that people like DeLay are free to redraw the electoral map to favor their own party.
Population of New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina: 500,000
Present population: 60-70,000
Black population pre-Katrina: 65 per cent; post-Katrina it is predicted by the US Secretary for Housing and Urban Development to be 35-40 per cent
Concentration of poverty pre-Katrina: 18.4 per cent, making it the second highest concentration in a US metropolitan area. For African-Americans, the rate pre-Katrina was 35 per cent
UPDATE: An op-ed in Sunday's NY Times provides further evidence that the GOP simply doeesn't give a shit about New Orleans.
The price tag for protection against a Category 5 hurricane, which would involve not just stronger and higher levees but also new drainage canals and environmental restoration, would very likely run to well over $32 billion. That is a lot of money. But that starting point represents just 1.2 percent of this year's estimated $2.6 trillion in federal spending, which actually overstates the case, since the cost would be spread over many years. And it is barely one-third the cost of the $95 billion in tax cuts passed just last week by the House of Representatives.
Total allocations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror have topped $300 billion. All that money has been appropriated as the cost of protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. But what was the worst possible case we fought to prevent?
Losing a major American city.
''The American people are eager to hear the president's plan for success in Iraq, rebuilding the country and bringing our troops home,'' Reed said. ''Instead, the president continues to offer vague generalities and rhetoric with no specifics about what needs to be done.''
The Rhode Island senator, saying the current course in Iraq is a mistake, called on Bush to offer a more candid appraisal of how the war-ravaged nation can be stabilized and put on a surer path to democracy.
''If the president has any hope of regaining the nation's support for operations in Iraq and justifying the growing cost in lives and taxpayer dollars ... he must be candid and honest about the current situation.''
Reed, a former Army Ranger who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, accused the Bush Administration of assailing the patriotism of Iraq war critics.
''I have found it disturbing that the Bush administration has attacked the patriotism of those who question the administration's policies in Iraq,'' Reed charged. ''Baseless partisan attacks won't help us win the war, won't help the troops and won't protect our nation from our enemies.''
Reed, unlike some Democrats, does not support an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. His criticism comes in the wake of two major speeches on Iraq by Bush in the past two weeks aimed at rallying slumping public support for his war policies.It's crucial that Dems keep pointing out that while they might not be in lockstep over how to deal with the problems in Iraq, the only position that really matters is the president's-- and he doesn't seem to have any plan at all.
The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members and others detained as part of American counterterrorism efforts. The Bush administration used Mr. Libi's accounts as the basis for its prewar claims, now discredited, that ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda included training in explosives and chemical weapons.Now let's head over to Bush's appearance at a fundraiser today in Minnesota:
Very serious -- 51
Somewhat serious -- 37
Not too serious -- 8
Not at all serious -- 3
Not sure -- 1
In general, which elected officials would you say are more ETHICAL?
Democrats -- 36
Republicans -- 33
Both equally -- 10
Neither is ethical -- 15
Not sure -- 6