The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Tuesday, January 31, 2006

SOTU Wrap-Up-- and freedom on the frogmarch for Cindy Sheehan

If you couldn't bear to tune in tonight, I've boiled it down into all the specifics.

Prologue: Cindy Sheehan was given an invitation. She took off her coat to reveal a shirt listing the number of Iraq casualties and sat down. She was arrested by Capitol police. Follow the link above for breaking news on the story.

1. I want to remind you of how frightened you should be of terrorism. Criticism of the war is tantamount to throwing a slumber party for al Qaeda. (Pimps the parents of a slain soldier.)
2. Wiretaps without warrants are necessary, so enough with the legality question.
3. Our economy is great. So we have to make the tax cuts permanent.
4. Let's encourage kids to study more, especially math. Encouragement is free!
5. Social Security privatization got nowhere*, so let's call it health savings accounts and see if that works.
6. Bipartisan spirit is important-- please don't complain about our agenda.

Epilogue: Bush supports education, although he's cut funding. He also supports alternative energy sources, although he's cut funding. He also supports fiscal responsibility, although he hasn't vetoed a single earmark for increased pork barrel spending.

* This was the high point. W unwittingly gave the Dems an 'in' when he pointed out that Congress didn't act last year on his Social Security plan. If they didn't turn it into the biggest moment of applause of the night, they came close.

The Majority Report coverage was actually pretty weak. Sam Seder (the only one present with comedy skills) was on top of it, but the wonkier participants just weren't fast enough on the draw. Maybe next time, guys.

If you can't catch the sarcastic riff on the SOTU speech...

...then be sure to watch this clip from last night's Daily Show, which was very well done.

Jon Stewart compares Oprah Winfrey's grilling of John Frey over his best-selling memoir with some typical examples of how 'journalists' treat corrupt politicians with kid gloves. As Stewart points out, Frey just spiced up a book-- the GOP regime has bankrupted the nation, lied us into war, ignored the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane season, illegally wiretapped citizens, detained people without counsel or pressing charges for years at a time, promoted torture as an acceptable method of intelligence gathering, ruined relations with a huge number of traditional allies, allowed government contractors to steal billions in taxpayer money, given us the lowest job growth rating in decades, watched as more high-level officials are indicted at any time in more than 125 years-- and fought tooth and nail for it every step of the way.

Hope I haven't ruined the comedy for you...

Tune in to Air America's take on tonight's SOTU

The Majority Report will be doing a Mystery Science Theater version of Dubya's speech tonight (starting at 9 pm Eastern), which I highly recommend. It isn't my favorite show, but the speech is going to be an exercise in sheer pain.

If you aren't in one of their 87 markets, follow the link to their site above and listen online. Anything that makes the speech tolerable will help, and it is important to see where the next fight will be coming from.

Most predict another attempt at demolishing Social Security by re-selling it as 'health savings accounts.' As adept at the White House handlers are at lying to the public, it'll be interesting to see the latest take on a SOTU speech. They're usually about bold new initiatives and spending programs. But the country is broke, the GOP is tainted by scandal, and Bush's unpopularity is on a par with Nixon. So do we face new lies, or just a repackaging of the same old lies?

ALSO: I'd like to point out that Utah Senator Orrin Hatch just referred to the treatment of Alito as "despicable," in spite of the fact that he was confirmed by a smaller margin than any other modern Supreme Court Justice, including Clarence Thomas. Needless to say, Hatch didn't provide any examples of mistreatment, but it makes a handy sound bite for the candyassed media. And it sets the GOP up to call any serious questioning of any Bush appointee as off-limits. Debate ist verboten.

Monday, January 30, 2006

One small step

...toward a neo-fascist state. It looks like we haven't managed to come up with enough votes to stop the cloture vote the GOP has been pushing like hell for ahead of the State of the Union address. Alito will be confirmed, and starting tomorrow every right-wing hack out there will be clubbing Democrats for their attempts at "obstruction," by which they mean reasoned debate.

My fear is that a few wimpy Dems will have, through their unwillingness to stand strong against the Bushies, succeeded only in further souring the base on their own party. Even as they further consolidate Bush's power. Only 25 or so senators voted against cloture. Four Democrats have announced that they will vote to confirm Alito tomorrow morning, apparently having adopted the motto "We will not go down without a whimper."

UPDATE: Markos Moulitsas has a post up that makes me feel a little better about the whole thing. Follow the title link to read it. The GOP has been working on this for thirty years (and spending those hundreds of millions to do it), but we have to hang in there for the elections this fall. We didn't have much of a chance on this one, shameful as the Alito nomination is, but we did demonstrate that the netroots have a voice and our actions can make a difference.


Sorry about the lack of posts. I've got a touch of whatever bug is going around lately. Hopefully I'll be back up to snuff soon.

In the meantime, a roundup of interesting stories courtesy of Mil Apodos and Vigil-Auntie.

Exxon-Mobil reports record profits, showing that times aren't tough all over. Just for the working man, as Kraft announces that it will lay off 8% of its employees.

U.S. Army undertakes Project: Gannon. Are servicemen on online gay porn sites?

Gore Vidal mixes some metaphors and writes about all the scary stuff that's happening under this administration. No wonder I'm feeling ill.

And finally, since every other blog has linked to this parody of Bush's upcoming SOTU speech, I will too. It's funny, but not exactly brilliant. Although some of the 'Bushanese' in the speech is inspired, I thought the high point was watching House Majority Leader Denny Hastert enjoy a nosh or three.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Santorum still, quote, lying.

Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum continues to demonstrate how inept the whole Bush Republican pantheon seems when they've been cut off from a docile media and look like damaged goods to their fellow conspirators. You can almost think of the entire administration as a real-live version of a Hollywood caper-gone-wrong genre. Except that this one's costing us hundreds of billions.

Santorum, speaking on Thursday: I had absolutely nothing to do — never met, never talked, never coordinated, never did anything — with Grover Norquist and the — quote — K Street Project.

Oooooh, that's awkward. Because the fabled 'Internets' hosts some video of li'l Rickie and Grover Norquist exchanging pleasantries at a press conference.

To me, the most amusing part of the story is the mental image of Santorum learning of the video and thinking to himself, "What the f***?!? I'm not supposed to be called out on lying!"

There have been all sorts of reports of Santorum completely blowing his cool in the last two weeks or so, and it's pretty apparent that he doesn't have much chance of re-election. So how long do we have to wait for him to start ratting out his partners in corruption a la Abramoff and Cuuningham?

How to meet recruitment levels... in Bizarroworld

There's a sort of insane genius to this, in an insane sort of way. Branches of the military have had a pretty hard time meeting recruitment over the last year (any guesses as to why?), so the White House has an ingenious solution that both avoids a draft and gets those recruiting goals met:

President Bush will use his new budget to propose cutting the size of the Army Reserve to its lowest level in three decades and stripping up to $4 billion from two fighter aircraft programs.

Under the plan, the authorized troop strength of the Army Reserve would drop from 205,000 — the current number of slots it is allowed — to 188,000, the actual number of soldiers it had at the end of 2005. Because of recruiting and other problems, the Army Reserve has been unable to fill its ranks to its authorized level.

Army leaders have said they are taking a similar approach to shrinking the National Guard. They are proposing to cut that force from its authorized level of 350,000 soldiers to 333,000, the actual number now on the rolls.

Some in Congress have vowed to fight the National Guard cuts. Its soldiers and resources are controlled by state governors unless Guard units are mobilized by the president for federal duty, as Bush did after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Naturally, this doesn't address some pretty important points-- what about the inability of the Reserve to cope with the Gulf Coast disasters? And troop levels stretched to the breaking point in Iraq? And doesn't this sort of go against the idea of 'Homeland Security?' I realize that all of those American flag lapel pins the GOP favors are doing a cost-effective job of keeping us protected, but...

Friday, January 27, 2006

If you can't beat 'em, promote 'em.

Sometimes writing about the corruption of this adminstration gets a little tiresome. Especially on weeks like this, when-- in spite of public opposition to Alito's positions-- Senate Democrats can't seem to pull themselves together.

In the latest breathtaking example of the Bushies' devotion to non-accountability, the investigation into the dealings of corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff took a turn for the sinister.

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- The chief prosecutor in the investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff is stepping down because President George W. Bush has nominated him to the federal bench.

The Justice Department announced Thursday that Noel Hillman, chief of the department`s public integrity division, would no longer be involved in the investigation of Abramoff, the disgraced Republican lobbyist. The administration called the appointment routine and said it would not affect the investigation, the New York Times reported.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the timing of Hillman`s nomination 'jaundices this whole process' and called for the appointment of a special prosecutor. White House spokesman Scott McClellan rejected the suggestion.

This isn't the first time someone's tried to derail investigations into Abramoff, either. In 2002, the US attorney in Guam investigating Abramoff's questionable dealings there. The day after he issued subpoenas for records involving Abramoff... he was fired.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Alito update

Just heard: Robert Byrd has decided to vote in favor of Alito. No further explanation is available yet. Meanwhile, John Kerry has openly declared his support for a filibuster.

Robert Byrd and Mary Landrieu should both know better-- Byrd for having been pilloried over his criticism of the treatment of (uncharged) detainees at Gitmo, and Landrieu for the appalling job that's being done to help her state in the aftermath of Katrina.

If there's one lesson the Democrats should've learned by now-- especially those who've been worked over by the neo-fascists-- it's that we'll never get a fair shake from this administration. Every effort to appease their tyranny is met with bolder attempts to claim even more power for themselves.

Bush might be a lame duck whose policies are massively unpopular, but after five years we've seen that there is no deterrent to the GOP's relentlessly pro-corporation and anti-civil liberty agenda.

The Alito nomination should be the last straw. After much thought, I've decided that this should be the line in the sand. The bullying tactics of the Republicans are just like those of any playground thug. The only solution is to stand up for ourselves and expose their greed and cowardice.

Even the creeping-ever-rightward New Republic is opposed to this nomination. The center-right Democratic Leadership Council is opposed. There's no excuse for any Democratic senator to break ranks on an issue with such grave implications for the future of the nation.

Please keep writing letters and calling senators. It matters.

UPDATE: I've just heard one explanation of Robert Byrd's unwillingness to oppose Alito's nomination. Although he might be under pressure from Senate Republicans holding the purse strings that could mean no aid for the mining accidents in West Virginia, a caller to the Randi Rhodes show pointed out that the religious right has run an intensive ad campaign on right-wing talk shows urging listeners to demand that Byrd support Alito. My reaction was to write a letter of my own to Byrd. Any takers?

UPDATE: John Kerry is seeking signatures on his website from those in favor of a filibuster of Alito. Follow the title link to sign on, then pass it on to everyone you know. We're up against a cloture vote proposed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (currently under investigation for criminal actis). It'll take you all of one minute, and it could change history.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Last Stand

I just wrote a letter to one of the last Republicans to avoid taking a public stance on the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. The link above will take you to a page that will allow you to write him. Please do so. Here's the text of my letter:

The pending vote on the nomination of Samuel Alito represents a potential sea change in American politics. Recalling your emotional reaction to the nomination of John Bolton to the United Nations, I felt compelled to write to you as a man of principle who is more interested in the good of the nation than partisan gain.

As you are well aware, the Republican party is currently mired in charges of corruption and incompetence. The burden of such charges weighs even more heavily upon the state of Ohio.

Now the nation is faced with a would-be lifetime appointee to the highest court in the nation whose most likely contribution to history will be the furtherance of power placed in the hands of a ruling party that increasingly appears to prize power and wealth above the rule of law or the welfare of the nation.

Although I am not one of your constituents, I implore you to vote your conscience on this issue, and stand against Alito's publicly declared support for a 'unitary executive' who operates outside the law. Fight for the vision of our nation's founders and say no to a president who functions as a monarch. Senator, please say no to the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Other good people to write are Senators Olympia Snowe, Jim Jeffords (who I've also written), and Mary Landrieu (I've written her, too). You can find their websites in just seconds through Google.

White House blocking Katrina investigation

It makes senses, in a way. Especially in the week after it was revealed that the White House, contrary to Bush's previous claims, was warned about the potentially catastrophic results of the hurricane several days before it struck Louisiana.

The White House is crippling a Senate inquiry into the government's sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina by barring administration officials from answering questions and failing to hand over documents, senators leading the investigation said Tuesday.

In some cases, staff at the White House and other federal agencies have refused to be interviewed by congressional investigators, said the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. In addition, agency officials won’t answer seemingly innocuous questions about times and dates of meetings and telephone calls with the White House, the senators said.

You'd think they might come clean and try to set things right. Instead, they choose to add another paragraph to history books' discussion of the most corrupt and dishonest administration in the nation's history.

UPDATE: Senator Joe Lieberman actually stated that some officials are telling the investigation committee that they have been instructed by the White House not to co-operate.

Support our troops the GOP way!

Rick "Spreading" Santorum isn't likely to remain in the Senate after this year's election. Which is a good thing for his state, not to mention the country. On the other hand, Santorum is a paragon of patriotism. Or at least patridiotism. At a recent fundraiser, he decided to show that he's all about the right stuff:

"And yet we have brave men and women who are willing to step forward because they know what's at stake. They're willing to sacrifice their lives for this great country. What I'm asking all of you tonight is not to put on a uniform. Put on a bumper sticker. Is it that much to ask? Is it that much to ask to step up and serve your country?"

There's even a punchline. Santorum wasn't even talking about a 'Support Our Troops' bumper sticker. He was talking about serving your country with a 'Rick Santorum for Senate' bumper sticker.

Video at the link. Have a look and just try to keep your jaw off the floor. (You might also have a look at comment #20, which gives a rundown of the service records of prominent Demcrats and Republicans.)

Wednesday Funny

"Vice President Cheney is on an extended tour of the Middle East. They love him over there. He's known as Lawrence of Arrhythmia."
---David Letterman

"Osama bin Laden released his first new audiotaped message in over a year. While there is some new material in the message, insiders say it's mostly a Greatest Threats collection. A White House spokesman says they plan to check out the message in its entirety, but they're too busy listening to your phone calls."
---Tina Fey

"According to a study at the University of Colorado, researchers say morning grogginess can give you a feeling of being legally drunk and unable to think straight. They say this condition can last anywhere from a few minutes in some people to as long as two entire terms in office."
---Jay Leno

"A Texas paper is reporting that lobbyist Jack Abramoff charged a client $25,000 to have lunch with President Bush. Not surprisingly, this is the most anyone has ever paid for lunch at Chuck E. Cheese."
---Conan O'Brien

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The wave?

The enigmatic Shallow Larynx passed Charlie Cook's latest column my way, and it's got more good news than usual for Democrats.

Virtually no one argues against the proposition that the potential for a big wave for Democrats exists. Those who focus on the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, see President Bush's low, though somewhat improved job-approval ratings, or scrutinize the latest national generic Congressional ballot poll numbers the way a horse racing fan seizes on the Daily Racing Form are more likely to see a change of control. A more nuanced view held by some veteran Republican strategists involves turnout. In looking at the 2005 gubernatorial race in Virginia, those strategists point to a Republican and conservative base in Virginia that was unmotivated, causing the party to lose a race they had once thought they had in the bag. They fear a low turnout on the GOP side could be devastating, while Democrats, who are hungrier from being out of power, may be more likely to show up on Nov. 7.

Cook states that Bush's numbers have been rising, but the latest polls show them dropping again to his all-time love of 36% approval, which is dismal. The election is still a long way off, but Abramoff, domestic spying, Iraq, the economy, and bread-and-butter issues like education and health care aren't helping the GOP one bit.

To make a long article short, he currently seems to agree with this (admittedly conservative) assessment-- the Dems are likely to pick up about 6 House seats and 4 Senate seats. But this assumes that all things are equal, and don't take into account factors like Abramoff or domestic spying.

So we find ourselves in a position where we stand to make substantial gains, but with a strong grassroots/netroots effort, it could turn into a rout. It should give you some comfort as we brace for the fight.

In Jesus' name we divide

Here's a bizarre nugget from Nebraska, proving once again that devout creationists never committ crimes. Or apparently that no one committed a crime before the advent of Darwin's theory of evolution. Now that's big news.

Church and state collided in the Capitol Tuesday when the opening prayer in the Unicameral asked forgiveness for abortions and the teaching of evolution.

Morning prayers typically are general in nature and do not touch on hot-button social, political or religious issues. Guidelines given to those who are asked to deliver the prayer, sent by the clerk of the Legislature's office, forbid talking about issues that are on that day's agenda for debate, or expressing any sentiment that could be considered political in nature.

The prayer was delivered by Tom Swartley, a minister at First Christian Church in Elm Creek. Standing at the front of the legislative chamber with his comments broadcast statewide, Swartley asked God for forgiveness for abortion, which he called a, "33-year-long nightmare."

"We go to work and school and come home and watch TV while genocide, infanticide and homicide is being committed against our own children," he said.

Swartley also asked forgiveness for "teaching the religion of evolution to our young citizens."

"We put our children in the same category as other mammals and then we wonder why some act like animals," he said.

Nothing like a message of love to start the day's legislation.

What, me reform?

California Representative John Doolittle is one of the Congressmen tainted by the Abramoff scandal. He's received $4,000 from Abramoff himself, and almost $140,000 from Abramoff clients and associates. But Doolittle is still a fan of the disgraced lobbyist, saying of his pal, "I liked him, frankly, because he was a partisan, conservative Republican activist."

Doolittle not only claims to have done nothing wrong (much like Frist, DeLay and Cunningham), but thinks this whole business of reforming money in politics is, frankly, a waste of time.

"Our leaders think we have to show that we're doing something," Doolittle said. "This is about appearance. Those ethics reforms that are being proposed in my opinion have almost no bearing on whatever happened in the Abramoff matter, and I'm not sure they're terribly wise things to do."

With friends like these, who needs Democrats? Liberals should be quoting Doolittle on this the way the righties quote Lieberman on their pet issues.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Will your insurance company pay you-- or sue you?

This comes from Randy Cassingham's True Stella Awards, Vol. 69, dated December 21, 2005. While reading it, consider the Bush administration's insistence on the need for 'tort reform' so that corporations won't have to keep shelling out big bucks for small-time hucksters who try to game the system.

This strikes especially close to home because the most common defense of Wal-Mart I hear from conservatives I know is that 'they're just doing what any company does in a free market.' Of course, one of the first things you learn in business courses is that corporations are, in effect, people. And people can't get away with this sort of con game. Unless they're really, really rich people. In any case, it amounts to an argument for 'social Darwinism.' Something that most conservatives profess to hate, what with their devotion to moral values and all.

It's a long piece, but highly recommended reading.

After a collision between her minivan and a tractor-trailer
five years ago, Debbie Shank now spends her days in a
wheelchair in a nursing home, able to move only one arm and
two fingers. Brain damage and memory loss has drained most
meaningful content from her conversations with her husband
of 30 years.

"She'll ask about the boys, she'll ask about the cat," says
Jim Shank. "Whenever I'm there, she thinks it must be a
mealtime. We don't really hold a conversation."

Her 17-year-old son is in the Army, which she knows, but he's
scheduled for deployment to Iraq next year, which she
doesn't know. She also doesn't know that there is a war
in Iraq.

To help compensate for the terrible injuries she received
in the accident, Shank and her husband sued G.E.M. Trucking
and James David Shivers, the driver who hit her, in U.S.
District Court in 2000. According to that lawsuit, Shank
suffered damage to her brain stem and other injuries, and
was in a coma after Shivers' tractor-trailer struck her
near Cape Girardeau, Mo.

The lawsuit was settled for $900,000; after attorneys' fees
and other costs, Shank's share was less than half -- just
$417,477. The court set up an irrevocable trust for the
money so it could only be used to pay for her long term
care, and the money was sent directly there. Her husband
received just over $119,000, presumably for his loss of

Before the accident, Shank had worked the night shift
stocking shelves at a Missouri Wal-Mart so she could spend
her days with her sons so she could be a "better mother".
"It's all she ever wanted to be," her husband says. Luckily,
she had gotten health insurance through her employer. It
paid for her huge medical bills after the accident.

But because she later got a settlement from her lawsuit,
Wal-Mart's health plan administrators demanded she repay the
money her health insurance paid toward her care. To press the
case, the retail giant's health plan is suing the Shanks in
U.S. District Court in St. Louis. The lawsuit, filed by the
Administrative Committee of the Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Associates' Health and Welfare Plan, claims that her total
medical expenses exceed $469,216, and it demands that amount
in return. Plus court costs to get it. Plus interest.

But wait; while Shank's settlement was $900,000, she only
actually got $417,477. Shouldn't that be the limit? No, the
company says: it wants all $469,216, as spelled out in its
policy. So if the company wins, the amount in Shank's trust
will not be enough; the family could conceivably have to come
up with nearly $52,000 more than what they won in court.

Jim Shank had anticipated and feared just such an outcome.
He received a letter two weeks after the accident that, he
recalls, said the insurance would not cover his wife's care
unless he signed over their right to lawsuit proceeds. Not
surprisingly, he signed it so his wife could get the care
she desperately needed to survive.

Lawyers familiar with this type of suit says it's not
really uncommon. In fact, according to the insurer's
lawsuit, the terms are explicit in Wal-Mart's health plan,
which is to be reimbursed first from lawsuit proceeds up
to 100 percent of the medical costs.

According to the lawsuit, the health plan also places the
burden of attorney's fees and court costs on the employee.
So the health plan also wants the Shanks to pay for the
costs the health plan is incurring to sue them.

Maurice Graham, one of the lawyers for Debbie Shank, says
only part of the money she received was used to pay
medical bills. Since the settlement money was placed in a
trust created by the federal court, he says, it never came
into the couple's hands and is supposed to be used only
for her ongoing support.

Marty Hires, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, says filing the
lawsuit was just a way for the company to preserve its
legal options and that the health plan has not decided
whether to pursue the case.

Regardless, the lawsuit left Shank's lawyer, Graham,
incredulous. "I can't believe that they've done this,"
he said. "The cost to care for her in the future is
going to be literally millions. She is confined to a
nursing home, has a normal life expectancy, and requires
full-time care."

If the insurance company does pursue the case and
succeeds, Debbie Shank's already dire circumstances likely
would turn even more bleak. Jim Shank says she'd probably
lose her caretaker and the wheelchair-accessible van they
bought for her. Wal-Mart spokesman Marty Hires said the
company isn't sure whether it will actually pursue the
lawsuit now that it's been filed; it was filed before the
statute of limitations expired to "preserve our options,"
he said. "This is kind of a standard procedure." He refused
further comment, citing federal health privacy laws.

How comforting that must be for Jim Shank to know Wal-Mart
is only "preserving its options." He also fears the
prediction made years earlier by a lawyer who specializes
in elder care might come true: that if the money runs out,
Shank might have to divorce his wife so that she can become
eligible for Medicaid.

Lawyers familiar with insurance law say such measures are
not unusual for health plans that, like Wal-Mart's, are
self-financed -- that is, funded by employers and/or
employee unions -- to recoup medical expenses. "Wal-Mart
has certainly been one of the more aggressive and assertive
in doing this," says Sheldon Weinhaus, a St. Louis lawyer.
In his opinion, courts are starting to "recognize the
unfairness of this, and they're looking for reasons to stop
Wal-Mart and others from doing this."

On the other side of the coin is attorney Jim Singer, who
has faced Weinhaus in court over such issues. He says such
lawsuits helps employers from having to cut benefits or ask
workers to contribute more. "You need to put the money back
in the trust so it will be available for other people," he
said. But that generally only works for self-financed
insurers; in most cases state law prohibits regular insurance
companies from attacking such settlements.

But don't make your mind up yet: this is far from a cut and
dried issue. The question becomes, was Mrs. Shank's lawsuit
settlement in compensation for her past medical bills, or
for her future care? It's an important question, since if it
was for her medical bills, she shouldn't be able to collect
twice -- first from the insurance company, and again from the
lawsuit -- for that loss. And if that's the case, Wal-Mart's
health insurance subsidiary is well within its rights to
recover after it paid out for its client, even when a third
party was apparently at fault for her injuries.

Yet it was the court that set up her trust fund-- in an
irrevocable trust at that-- for her long-term care. That is
a strong indication that the settlement money was for future,
not past, expenses. And if so, the insurance company simply
needs to swallow its losses, just like regular insurance
companies would have to do.

The issue of long-term care for critically injured people--
insured or not-- is a big one that needs to be worked on.
Meanwhile, insurance companies suing their clients who paid
their premiums in good faith to protect themselves and their
families from catastrophic losses is not a reasonable
solution to the problem, nor is making someone sign away
their rights when they're in the most stressful situations possible.

So if you think you're covered, you might want to think again.
And think about pulling out your policy and actually reading
the fine print to see if you've agreed to let them sue YOU
after a catastrophic loss.

Halliburton sends contaminated water to troops in Iraq

There's still no Congressional oversight on the billions of US taxpayer dollars that have gone missing in Iraq. So you shouldn't expect to hear anything being done about reports like this.

Troops and civilians at a U.S. military base in Iraq were exposed to contaminated water last year and employees for the responsible contractor, Halliburton, couldn't get their company to inform camp residents, according to interviews and internal company documents.

Halliburton, the company formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, disputes the allegations about water problems at Camp Junction City, in Ramadi, even though they were made by its own employees and documented in company e-mails.

"We exposed a base camp population (military and civilian) to a water source that was not treated," said a July 15, 2005, memo written by William Granger, the official for Halliburton's KBR subsidiary who was in charge of water quality in Iraq and Kuwait.

Hey, what's a little diarrhea between brothers-in-arms? It's a bonding experience! Made all the more pleasant by the plushy softness of KBR Bathroom Tissue(TM). Now only $27.95* per roll.

Not available in some wars. Prices subject to increase exponentially without notice. May or may not be manufactured in China of recycled copies of The People's Daily. KBR accepts no liability for medical conditions that may result from the prolonged use of our product, including extended use by those suffering from diarrhea, dysentery, the hershey squirts, the green apple quickstep, the runs, trouser chili, or Mogo on the go-go-go due to exposure to contaminated water provided by Halliburton or any subsidiaries. Negative remarks concering KBR Bathroom Tissue(TM) may result in prosecution under whatever law we damn well please.

Ohio Dispatch: In spite of corruption charges, business as usual

Thanks to OD1 for keeping me abreast of events in Ohio, home of the most noxious cauldron of neo-fascist politics in the nation today.

Item One: When it came time for the public to comment at the end of last week’s state Board of Education meeting on controversial science standards, it wasn’t the board that got grilled — it was the public.

The badgering and berating of witnesses by some board members on Jan. 10 came after the panel narrowly rejected an effort to delete portions of the curriculum guidelines — and after reporters and television crews had left.

It sounds like the way the GOP runs the show on Capitol Hill. Make nicey-nice for the cameras, but as soon as they're turned off it's time to break out the shivs. The issue at hand here? Creationism. Yes, in the face of a history of unanimous court rulings against the teaching of religion in the nation's science courses, they're still carrying on the fight. Not that any of us thought the Dover, PA, decision would stop them. But the board members fighting for religious control of school curriculum are all appointees of corrupt Ohio politicians. Let's hope that more and more evangelicals wake up to the reality that they're being used as disposable pawns by the corporatist right.

Item Two: Ken Blackwell (the secretary of state who would be governor), at the center of the Ohio scandal of vote suppression, gleefully plans his "Today Ohio, tomorrow the world" strategy of politics. It's suspiciously similar to Dubya's unpopular reign. (OD1 mentions that Blackwell's approval rating is also at about 35%.)

There are times when I think that the tonality of rhetoric [from religious right organizations] is overly harsh or strong, and it creates a perception that there is an intolerance that does not really exist. And so what I tell people on many occasions when I have the occasion to talk about faith and politics is that I'm pretty clear that where I draw the line in the sand is against those political, cultural and social forces that try to run faith, God and religion out of the public square. I think that's inconsistent with our political and cultural heritage, and I think that we put our culture on a path of slow decline if in fact we don't realize that what really gives us the possibility of community and civility is a shared moral universe, where we respect the human dignity of all people.

This statement is filled with more holes than Spongebob's square pants. Straw men, false dichotomies, and outright lies. All present and accounted for.

Item Three: I'll let OD1 speak for himself here: Smoke and mirrors shell game to remove legislative control of school funding. Remember that in the last 13 years, an entire K to 12 period for kindergartners entering school in 1993, the Ohio Supreme Court (Republican dominated) has four times declared the Ohio School Funding Formula to be unconstitutional, and four times the Republican legislature and Governor have colluded to create unconstitutional formulas. This is a failure of education for an entire generation of Ohio children. Fact: 40% of students entering Ohio State-supported colleges and universities must take remedial courses in math or English or both. I estimate that this costs each student for which the Ohio educational system has failed, at least $50,000 in lost wages because they will need 5 years to graduate instead of 4, and they will have to spend another year on tuition, books, dormatories, meals etc. to graduate because the Ohio public education system is inadequate, and fails to properly educate because if great measure, they do not fund education properly. Blackwell attempts to intimidate the legislature to do his bidding first, and then his fundy right wing political machine gathers enought signatures to put the measure on the ballot, and, Voila!, wedge issue on the ballot.

I see much the same method of governance in Missouri. Governor Matt Blunt is an inexperienced and incompetent boob whose entire platform has been to re-create the Bush agenda on a state level.

The policies of the Bush Republicans are wreaking havoc with the future of the nation. Education is suffering, jobs are being lost, and the environment is being destroyed-- all in the name of a specious 'free market.' The GOP will gladly regulate the market if it means more profits for CEO's. Remember the airline bailout after 2001?

Somehow we've wound up with a Republican party that has nothing to do with conservatism and everything to do with money and power. A political outlook which irritated a significant number of American colonists in the 18th century.

Thanks again to OD1 for watching my back.

Power to the Peephole

There isn't a lot of fresh news out there today, so why not a little humor? The link above is to a brief cartoon about the ultimate vision of George II. And it's mildly amusing.

Will the Dems unite against Alito? They just might, and you can help.

It's good to see that just a week after the filibuster was declared dead, Democratic senators are now starting to act against the nomination. Hopefully part of it was the recent Supreme Court ruling that pitted Scalia, Roberts and Thomas against the others in a case they should have been behind-- limiting federal power over state governments. But they went the other way on this one, demonstrating their committment to ideology rather than the Constitution.

John Kerry has just posted an online petition that he means to circulate among the senators. Follow the link above and sign on. And contact your own senators. I have, but they're both publically against Alito at this point.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Oh, and how's the watermelon crop looking this year?

I'm getting pretty tired of writing stories about what complete jackasses prominent 'journalists' are shown to be on a regular basis. You'd think that this sort of fish-in-a-barrel story would be welcome easy pickings for a blogger, but this is just the sort of stupidity I wish I didn't have to write about. I honestly think that most of my conservative friends would be embarrassed by hearing the facts in the case of this story, minor though it may be. It's just one more example of the tone-deafness and pro-status quo thinking that goes into our corporate news.

What the hell is Tim Russert asking Barack Obama to express his opinion about Harry Belafonte for? Harry Belafonte said George Bush was the "greatest terrorist in the world" this week, but it was virtually identical to a comment he madetwo weeks ago in Chile. Russert has had two weeks to ask anybody on his show about it; why does he save this particular question for Obama? What sort of special expertise does Obama have about Harry Belafonte, a private citizen with no connetion to the Democratic party, that none of Russert's other guests would have?

It's interesting to note that the only other time Russert questioned anyone about Harry Belafonte before, according to what Gleen [sic] Greenwald (via email) could find was when he asked Colin Powell. I doubt if Timmeh thinks of himself as a racist. It doesn't mean he isn't one.

Is Russert a racist? Couldn't say. I think this is simply about one more blow-dried, primped and preening pseudo-journalist doing the bidding of his heafvily-invested and connected higher-ups. And they're the ones who suck butt. Although he sucks, too. Don't get me wrong.

FBI: We've gone too far in spying on the nation

I've written about this issue before, but it ties in all too well with the president's NSA wiretapping story. And apparently even members of the intelligence community are willing to admit that a return to Nixonian investigations of peaceful citizens is becoming dangerous for the future of the nation.

The demonstration seemed harmless enough. Late on a June afternoon in 2004, a motley group of about 10 peace activists showed up outside the Houston headquarters of Halliburton, the giant military contractor once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. They were there to protest the corporation's supposed "war profiteering." The demonstrators wore papier-mache masks and handed out free peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to Halliburton employees as they left work. The idea, according to organizer Scott Parkin, was to call attention to allegations that the company was overcharging on a food contract for troops in Iraq. "It was tongue-in-street political theater," Parkin says.

But that's not how the Pentagon saw it. To U.S. Army analysts at the top-secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), the peanut-butter protest was regarded as a potential threat to national security. Created three years ago by the Defense Department, CIFA's role is "force protection"—tracking threats and terrorist plots against military installations and personnel inside the United States. In May 2003, Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy Defense secretary, authorized a fact-gathering operation code-named TALON—short for Threat and Local Observation Notice—that would collect "raw information" about "suspicious incidents." The data would be fed to CIFA to help the Pentagon's "terrorism threat warning process," according to an internal Pentagon memo.A Defense document shows that Army analysts wrote a report on the Halliburton protest and stored it in CIFA's database. It's not clear why the Pentagon considered the protest worthy of attention—although organizer Parkin had previously been arrested while demonstrating at ExxonMobil headquarters (the charges were dropped). But there are now questions about whether CIFA exceeded its authority and conducted unauthorized spying on innocent people and organizations.

The tragedy is that a story that should shock every citizen to his or her core is now routine, and unworthy of headlines in our media culture. Pretty much everyone knows of the abuses of power that occurred during Nixon's presidency-- and now they're being outdone by the Bush administration in every sense. 60% of the American public disapproves of the White House's policies. But there's still no talk of making a change.

Bush judicial nominee ruled on companies he invested in

No, it isn't Samuel Alito, although he's done the same thing. Actually, now-Chief Justice Roberts has done it, too. Reactionary darling Antonin Scalia refused to recuse himself from a case involving good buddy Dick Cheney, who had treated him to a hunting vacation. No, Salon has uncovered yet another right-wing judge who had no problem breaking the law in the name of... enforcing the law.

A judge nominated by President Bush to one of the highest courts in the nation apparently violated federal law repeatedly while serving on the federal bench. Judge James H. Payne, 64, who was nominated by Bush in late September to join the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Denver, issued more than 100 orders in at least 18 cases that involved corporations in which he owned stock, a review of court and financial records shows.

Federal law and the official Code of Conduct for U.S. judges explicitly prohibit judges from sitting on cases involving companies in which they own stock -- no matter how small their holdings -- in order to uphold the integrity of the judicial system. (Judges' financial filings typically don't differentiate ownership between the judge and immediate family members.) The clear-cut, objective standard aims to prevent even the appearance that a judge may be taking into consideration his or her personal financial interests.

Payne's financial filings show holdings of up to $100,000 in SBC Communications stock, up to $50,000 in Wal-Mart stock and up to $15,000 in Pfizer stock, among others, while he presided over lawsuits involving the companies or their subsidiaries. In fact, it appears that since he was appointed by Bush in 2001 as a federal district judge in Oklahoma, Payne has been sitting inappropriately on at least one case at any given moment for nearly his entire federal judgeship. (. . .)

"If I was suing Wal-Mart and I knew the judge held stock in Wal-Mart, I'd be concerned about that," said professor Leslie W. Abramson, a legal ethics expert at the University of Louisville's law school, after reviewing Payne's cases. While there is no proof of malfeasance on Payne's part, Abramson says, the letter of the law is clear on judicial conflict of interest -- and Payne's conduct, he says, leaves the impression that Payne has run his court in a "sloppy" fashion. "He took an oath to follow the law. The judge is supposed to recognize these things himself. If he owned the stock, he shouldn't have been sitting on the case. That to me is a clear call," Abramson said. "I think it speaks to whether a judge has been doing his job responsibly and is likely to do his job responsibly in the future."

"There's no wriggle room here," says professor Stephen Gillers, a scholar of legal ethics at the New York University School of Law. "It's not just an ethics rule, it's a congressional statute -- a law." Even if he doesn't make any orders during the proceedings, he can't be the judge on such a case, Gillers says. "He's disqualified, period."

There you have it. A crook sits on one of the nation's highest courts. Just the sort of story that should make an impact upon the Alito nomination. But you know as well as I do that it won't. Once again, the Bush Republicans are shown to be not only uninsterested in the welfare of the nation, but committed to consolidation of power above all else. The only thing is, you can't get a corrupt judge off the court the way you can get a corrupt Frist, Cunningham, DeLay or Ney off Capitol Hill. That's one aspect of the law these swindlers know all about.

Required reading. I just wish it weren't the sort of news that will cause a furor on the blogs and go ignored by the mainstream press. Its impact will only come from citation in letters to the editor or to Congressmen. And that's what we have to do. 2006 is going to be a year when we all have to fight for the future of the nation.

Time confirms Bush/Abramoff photos

The five photos reported by the Washingtonian that feature Bush meeting on various occasions with Jack Abramoff and his family have been confirmed as the genuine article. And Time also claims to have seen a sixth.

"The President does not know him, nor does the President recall ever meeting him," McClellan said.

The President's memory may soon be unhappily refreshed. TIME has seen five photographs of Abramoff and the President that suggest a level of contact between them that Bush's aides have downplayed. While TIME's source refused to provide the pictures for publication, they are likely to see the light of day eventually because celebrity tabloids are on the prowl for them. And that has been a fear of the Bush team's for the past several months: that a picture of the President with the admitted felon could become the iconic image of direct presidential involvement in a burgeoning corruption scandal like the shots of President Bill Clinton at White House coffees for campaign contributors in the mid-1990s.

Gracias to Mil Apodos for bringing this to my atención.

Bread and circus. Mainly circus.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, currently under investigation for insider trading and chief bozo of the Terri Schiavo affair, made a grave mistake in front of a bunch of his fans-- he told the truth.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told Republican Party activists on Friday night that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito was the "worst nightmare of liberal Democrats."

Frist, a Tennessee Republican, made the remark to fellow Republicans during a private tour he gave them of the Senate chamber when the Senate was not in session.

Frist's spokesman quickly went into damage control and explained that Frist's remarks don't represent what Frist actually thinks. So one thing is certain. Either Alito is an 'activist judge' out to foist his ideology on the nation, or Bill Frist is an imbecile who just talks out of his ass. I think the smart money is on 'all of the above.'

Bush caught in another lie. When will the press start caring?

While Washington Post reporter Deborah Howell continues to reject criticism of her mealy-mouthed "objective" reporting that the Abramoff scandal tars just as many Dems as Republicans, evidence comes to light of just how connected Abramoff was-- to the president himself.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan admits that the White House has been on a search mission for any photos showing President Bush with toxic lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is cooperating with the Justice Department on its investigation of a wide-ranging lobbying scandal.

At a press conference, McClellan said if there were pictures, which officials hadn’t found, they might have been taken at a Christmas-party line, where the President poses with hundreds of people. “The President does not know him, nor does the President recall ever meeting him,” McClellan said.

The comment about searching raised images in the press room of a “White House plumbers” operation looking for incriminating photos.

If the White House can’t find the photos, prosecutors already know where to look. The Washingtonian has seen five photos of the President with Abramoff or his family. One photo shows the President and Abramoff shaking hands at a meeting in the Old Executive Office Building, where a bearded-Abramoff introduced Bush to several of the lobbyist’s native-American clients.

Abramoff was named a “pioneer” in the Bush presidential campaign, collecting more than $100,000, in $2,000 maximum increments, for his campaign in 2004. Bush has returned $6,000 of Abramoff’s contributions, the part that would represent the legal limit for Abramoff; his wife, Pam; and a client.

Sources say the photographs are being kept safe. Abramoff would tell prosecutors, if asked, that not only did he know the President, but the President knew the names of Abramoff’s children and asked about them during their meetings. At one such photo session, Bush discussed the fact that both he and Abramoff were fathers of twins.

And there you have it. The capitol is burning, but the press is too busy trying to burnish their image to take notice. Chris Matthews is giving the WaPo a run for their money in this department, trying to claim that his comparison of Michael Moore to Osama bin Laden was "misunderstood." Just report the news, you dumb sons of bitches, and stop trying to sell me on your personality.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Science Saturday: Shamiflu

That's the name physicist Robert Park has given to the flu vaccine being hoarded by the federal government. Tamiflu is owned by Gilead Sciences. Not too long ago, Gilead's chairman was none other than Donald Rumsfeld, who still owns millions in company stock. So the administration has managed to find a way to benefit one of their own again as demand soars and Gilead's stock price climbs.

But at least we've got a mound of effective flu vaccine, right? Not really.

Park writes in his latest newsletter:

We said earlier that there is little evidence that Tamiflu can stop a pandemic. A study published yesterday in the medical journal Lancet comes to the same conclusion. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, demand continues to soar as nations stockpile the drug. The Defense Department has also stockpiled Tamiflu.

The Defense Department? Isn't that the operation Rummy's in charge of?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Insider trading on the Hill

This story is just bubbling up from the sewers of Capitol Hill-- the word is that people in the offices of Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, (both under investigation for corruption) and possibly others have been passing on information that has allowed some investors to make a killing on the stock market. Simply put, they're passing information about legislation that's about to pass. Legislation that will benefit certain publicly-traded companies, but hasn't hit the news yet.

Day traders were confused. On Tuesday, Nov. 15, they couldn't figure out why there was so much action in USG Corp. (), a Chicago building-materials company whose subsidiary is mired in asbestos lawsuits. The stock was trading at double the normal daily volume and would gain $2.12 to close at $61.55. But there wasn't any major news to power the run-up.

Public news, that is. Behind the scenes, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) had decided to override the qualms of Budget Committee leaders and press ahead with a bill to create a $140 billion fund to relieve companies such as USG of their asbestos liabilities. Frist wouldn't announce his move until Nov. 16. But the news got to key Wall Street players a day early via a little-known pipeline: a small group of firms specializing in "political intelligence" that mine the capital for information and translate Washington wonkspeak into trading tips.

Jack Abramoff's pop can beat up your pop

Mil Apodos sent me this latest dispatch from Bizarroworld. In that strange land, the real victim in all this corrupt D.C. money-grubbing is the man at the center-- Jack Abramoff!

The Rancho Mirage father of controversial Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff is responding to actor George Clooney for what he’s describing as a “glib and ridiculous attack” on his son.

Frank Abramoff, in a letter addressed to Clooney and sent to The Desert Sun this morning, said he was watching the Golden Globes Monday night when Clooney, during his acceptance speech for best supporting actor, thanked Jack Abramoff “just because” and made a comment about the lobbyist’s name.

“Who would name their kid Jack with the last words ‘off’ at the end of your last name? No wonder that guy is screwed up,” Clooney said during the internationally televised awards show.

In the letter, Frank Abramoff furiously defends the name, saying his son is named after Frank’s father. In the two-page letter, he calls Clooney’s acts a “lapse in lucidity” and an “obscene query.”

In a telephone interview with The Desert Sun this morning, Frank Abramoff said Clooney was “an idiot” and described the actions as “pure, unadulterated stupidity.”

“You want to make fun. You can do that, but you don't make fun of someone else's hardships and misery,” the 78-year-old Abramoff said. “We’ve gone through quite a bit in our family. But the political end of it and the media end of it and all the other areas are one thing. When you see something like that on a show for 500 million people, it was not only a slap in my son’s face but in my father’s.”

Clooney's remark may well have been sophomoric (and not very funny, either), but there's something a little disingenuous about a man claiming his son-- the Washington fixer who's stolen millions from his clients and helped turn Washington into a pay-to-play cesspool-- is the real victim here.

Isn't that what we liberals are always accused of? Coddling criminals? Ohhhh, they meant impoverished black criminals. Got it.

Chris Matthews compares Michael Moore to Osama. Kerry fires back fast.

Following the link above will take you to Crooks & Liars, where you'll find the video from Hardball featuring host Matthews (not-so-affectionately known on some blogs as 'Tweety') drawing a comparison between the two. Which is insane, of course. What do you suppose the reaction would be if a 'journalist' compared Fox propagandist John Gibson to bin Laden? The right-wing would be howling bloody murder. Unfortunately, Matthews' guest, Democratic Senator Joe Biden, actually laughed.

Here's what Senator Kerry had to say:

"You'd think the only focus tonight would be on destroying Osama Bin Laden, not comparing him to an American who opposes the war whether you like him or not. You want a real debate that America needs? Here goes: If the administration had done the job right in Tora Bora we might not be having discussions on Hardball about a new Bin Laden tape. How dare Scott McClellan tell America that this Administration puts terrorists out of business when had they put Osama Bin Laden out of business in Afghanistan when our troops wanted to, we wouldn't have to hear this barbarian's voice on tape. That's what we should be talking about in America."

Now I've heard that Joe Scarborough did much the same on his show tonight-- comparing Osama bin Laden to Democratic leaders like Senator Ted Kennedy.

This is an absolute embarrassment to the media. A disgrace. And these ersatz journalists owe the nation an apology for cracking jokes about a man responsible for the murder of thousands of innocents.

Press still getting the Abramoff story all wrong

I was reading an article in the latest Nation by David Sirota, which points out the rash of interviews by Newt Gingrich in which he decries the corruption of Congressmen. And various outlets have in return mentioned what a reformer he is, a uniter (as opposed to a divider), and of course a gutsy guy. Which is all very strange, because he has always been dogged by questions of unethical conduct on the Hill and in his own home. Not to mention a ruthless partisan and one of the architects of the K Street Project. It's Gingrich who opened the curtains on this era of GOP corruption and abuse of power.

Yet the press still insists on being 'objective' about the corruption stories, still suggesting that Jack Abramoff was an equal opportunity fixer. No one bothers to point out that a Democrat accepting campaign contributions from an Indian tribe that was bilked out of millions by Abramoff and Co. isn't unethical. It's more like being attacked for receiving money from the Widow & Orphan's Society when they've been evicted by Snidely Whiplash. This is a Republican scandal, and the reporting on it has just plain sucked.

Here's how an AP story puts it:

The Abramoff investigation threatens to ensnare at least a half dozen members of Congress of both parties and Bush administration officials. Abramoff, who has admitted to conspiring to defraud his Indian tribe clients, has pleaded guilty to corruption-related charges and is cooperating with prosecutors.

With the midterm elections 10 months away, Democrats have tried to link Abramoff to Republicans, the main recipients of his largesse.

Josh Marshall points out everything wrong with these statements-- and there's plenty wrong here.

But to the best of my knowledge no credible claim has been made that any Democrat is even under investigation in the Abramoff scandal, let alone facing potential indictment. At least half a dozen Republicans have been so named in press reports, with varying degrees of specificity. The sentence is a plain statement of misinformation posing as news reportage.

Then comes the next line -- (. . .) Link [Abramoff] to Republicans? He's been a professional Republican and major GOP power-player for a quarter-century.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Cheney uses bin Laden tape to attack Democrats

Yes, the emergence of an audiotape that is supposed to feature Osama bin Laden gave the vice president just what he needed to talk tough about America's most wanted criminal: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Apparently he's responsible for the continued failure of the government to bring the terrorist group to justice.

You know the drill-- bad news strikes, and the White House immediately twists it into an explanation of how they would be doing a great job if we gave them free rein to do whatever the hell they want. And claim that illegal for anyone else is legal for them. They're the grown-ups, after all, and though they may seem incompetent and criminal, it's all part of some brilliant plan.

[Cheney] insisted the U.S.-led war in Iraq was essential to combating [the terrorist] threat and said American military presence there would be determined by military commanders, "not by artificial timelines set by politicians in Washington, D.C."

But much of the vice president's speech addressed the warrantless surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"A spirit of debate is now underway, and our message to the American people is clear and straightforward: These actions are within the president's authority and responsibility under the constitution and laws, and these actions are vital to our security," Cheney said.

Another trip to the nepotism well

One thing you can say about this administration-- they reward their loyal cronies. If only they cared about the consequences. The latest recipient of their benevolent munificence? Grover Norquist's kid brother. And no, they'll never learn.

The man President Bush nominated Wednesday to be the new chief financial officer for the Department of Homeland Security faces a steep climb at the troubled agency, where a plan to modernize its financial management systems has stalled.

David Norquist, currently deputy undersecretary of defense for budget and appropriations affairs, and the younger brother of conservative activist and lobbyist Grover Norquist, will replace Andrew Maner, the department's current chief financial officer.

The depth of corruption in our government

Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann wrote a pretty good op-ed for today's New York Times. It's good to see some political thinkers start cutting loose on the GOP. Even if it did take a few years to many. But at last we're seeing people use a public forum to call the ruling party out as the charlatans and cheats that they are.

The two of us have been immersed in Washington politics for more than 36 years. We have never seen the culture so sick or the legislative process so dysfunctional. The plea deals of Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, the indictment of Tom Delay and his resignation as House majority leader, and the demise of Representative Randy Cunningham notwithstanding, this is not simply a problem of a rogue lobbyist or a pack of them. Nor is it a matter of a handful of disconnected, corrupt lawmakers taking favors in return for official actions.

The problem starts not with lobbyists but inside Congress. Over the past five years, the rules and norms that govern Congressional deliberation, debate and voting - what legislative aficionados call "the regular order" - have routinely been violated, especially in the House of Representatives, and in ways that mark a dramatic break from custom. (. . .)

We saw similar abuses leading to similar patterns of corruption during the Democrats' majority reign. But they were neither as widespread nor as audacious as those we have seen in the past few years. The arrogance of power that was evident in Democratic lawmakers like Jack Brooks of Texas - the 21-term Democrat who was famed for twisting the rules to get pork for his district - is now evident in a much wider range of members and leaders, who all seem to share the attitude that because they are in charge, no one can hold them accountable.

Recommended reading.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A fair and unhinged look at the media

Salon has a couple of funny-yet-disturbing video clips up today. Both are sadly indicative of the sort of complete shit that takes the place of journalism when you're out to sell the public on a pet idea or two.

Clip One
: We're warned of the dangers that can affect a small town when liberals are in charge. Terrible, nightmarish dangers along the lines of, uhhh..... possible shifts in shopping habits and the de-thumbing of a statue.

Clip Two: Bill O'Reilly invites the faithful to have a sit-down. But be warned-- his forensic skills are such that he might be forced to lie or cut you off if you disagree! Ooooohhh, this could very well reshape journalism as we know it. Especially according to the O'Reilly toadie du jour.

Clip Three
: Actress Felicity Huffman suggests that suggesting that she might not be worthy of a "World's Greatest Mom" coffee mug might not be a capital offense. Somebody get Britney Spears on the phone.

Help. Please.

Lobbying reform, the GOP way

Just as the Republicans appear poised to tap Tom DeLay's right-hand man, Roy Blunt, to become the new Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, they're ready to install the biggest beneficiary of lobbyist dollars, Pennsylvania's Rick "Spreading" Santorum, as the front man on *ahem* lobbying reform. My Irony-O-Meter is still in the shop, so I can't give this one an accurate rating.

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., appeared beside a longtime lobbying reform proponent, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to announce the Senate reform package Tuesday, but he was besieged by questions about whether he was the right person to lead the effort. Santorum, who chairs the Senate Republican Conference, holds twice-monthly meetings with representatives of Washington's largest lobbying firms, where he urges their support for GOP legislation.

Santorum defended those meetings, saying: "It's important that we communicate to people who could be supportive of us."

And look out for McCain, who wants the presidential nomination every bit as much as John Kerry, but seems even more inclined to sell out his principles in order to get it. The day he decides to appear next to Rick Santorum to pitch his ideas of reforming corruption on Capitol Hill is the day he's decided to sell his soul in the name of furthering his own political career. Watch for him to appear next to Blunt in front of a banner that reads "Let's clean up the House."

Scott McClellan is a, quote, liar.

January 5, 2006:

Q Any update on the Abramoff visits to the White House beyond the three parties that he attended?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I indicated yesterday that I think there were some — a few staff-level meetings. But, no, I’m making sure that I have a thorough report back to you on that. And I’ll get that to you, hopefully very soon.

January 17, 2006:

Q Specific staff? You were going to get back to us on the specific staff —

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, my understanding from the check that we did was that there are just a few staff-level meetings in addition to those.

Q Who was in the staff meetings?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t get into discussing staff-level meetings.

Now just sit back and see if the docile press decides to do their job and this one and learn the facts.

Rick Santorum is a, quote, liar.

Senator Rick Santorum, November 15, 2005:

"The K Street project is purely to make sure we have qualified applicants for positions that are in town. From my perspective, it's a good government thing."

Senator Rick Santorum, January 17, 2006:

"Well, I don't know what you mean by Senate liaison to the, quote, K Street Project."

Now that's just not very Christian of you, Mr. Loudmouthed Fundamentalist.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Supreme Court conservatives argue for expanded government

This is the way things are going these days-- we have to depend on progressives to fight not only for the issues that liberals hold dear, but for the issues that genuine conservatives hold dear. Bush Republicans still love to claim that 'big government' is the real enemy of pretty much everything. Freedom, the Constitution, religion, upward mobility, you name it.

Exhibit A is today's Supreme Court decision that restricted an over-reaching federal attempt to overrule a state decision, with the pro-government faction consisting of (gasp!) Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas.

The Supreme Court delivered a rebuff to the Bush administration over physician-assisted suicide today, rejecting a Justice Department effort to bar doctors in Oregon from helping terminally ill patients end their lives under a 1994 state law.

In a 6-3 vote, the court ruled that then-U.S. attorney general John D. Ashcroft overstepped his authority in 2001 by trying to use a federal drug law to prosecute doctors who prescribed lethal overdoses under the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, the only law in the nation that allows physician-assisted suicide. The measure has been approved twice by Oregon voters and upheld by lower court rulings.

Faced with two federal court decisions against his position, Ashcroft brought the case to the Supreme Court on the day he announced his resignation in November 2004. The case was continued by his successor as attorney general, Alberto R. Gonzales.

Ahhh, for the convenience of standing for convictions only when it's convenient.

Gore responds to McClellan/Gonzales attacks

What I wouldn't give for this man to be our president right now. But the ineptitude of his handlers is history now, and the fight is ours.

"The Administration's response to my speech illustrates perfectly the need for a special counsel to review the legality of the NSA wiretapping program.

The Attorney General is making a political defense of the President without even addressing the substantive legal questions that have so troubled millions of Americans in both political parties.

There are two problems with the Attorney General's effort to focus attention on the past instead of the present Administration's behavior. First, as others have thoroughly documented, his charges are factually wrong. Both before and after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended in 1995, the Clinton/Gore Administration complied fully and completely with the terms of the law.

Second, the Attorney General's attempt to cite a previous administration's activity as precedent for theirs - even though factually wrong - ironically demonstrates another reason why we must be so vigilant about their brazen disregard for the law. If unchecked, their behavior would serve as a precedent to encourage future presidents to claim these same powers, which many legal experts in both parties believe are clearly illegal.

The issue, simply put, is that for more than four years, the executive branch has been wiretapping many thousands of American citizens without warrants in direct contradiction of American law. It is clearly wrong and disrespectful to the American people to allow a close political associate of the president to be in charge of reviewing serious charges against him.

The country needs a full and independent investigation into the facts and legality of the present Administration's program."

Perfect. He cites the very facts that the liberal blogs have pointed out and demonstrates his committment to the cause. Gore has been a favorite of mine since I was in jr. high, and I'll have to see if I can find an e-mail address for him to send a thank-you letter. Or what if he actually decides to run in 2008? Hmmm..... John Kerry, as I've pointed out before, is taking action like a man who wants to cover his ass. He obviously craves the presidency, and isn't willing to put his future on the line to act like a leader. Gore, on the other hand, is now using his name to make bold statements that are anything but politically calculated. And I'm more enamored of the guy than ever.

The Week in Sandwiches

While the tasty reuben continues to be the official sandwich of The Daily Sandwich (vegetarian readers might enjoy the delicious finalist, eggplant parmesan), and this article sort of annoys me for being about the pbj, which ranks well below peanut butter and cheese and peanut butter and bacon (which I've never even had) in the Sandwichtron Index, it is a sandwich in the news. So with no further grousing:

It is only open four hours a day and sells peanut butter sandwiches for approximately $5 a piece, but things are just creamy for P.B. Loco.

The closet-sized store in the Dinkydome is one of two P.B. Locos in the Twin Cities and will soon be franchising its name and product nationwide, owners said.

Go ahead and read the rest if you really give a damn. And who ever described a positive situation as 'just creamy'? Bah!

You got your religion in my politics!

...and unlike peanut butter and chocolate, this isn't so delicious. OD1 directed me to yet another story from Ohio involving some highly suspect political maneuvering that directly implicates the GOP. And while I'm at it, I should mention that Ohio Representative Bob Ney "temporarily" stepped down from his post as Chairman of the House Administration Committee while he deals with charges of corruption. Sorta like Tom DeLay temporarily stepped down. And if you've seen Ney, you know he fits my Snap-On Hair Theorem of Republican corruption.

More than 30 local pastors last night officially accused two evangelical megachurches of illegal political activities.

In a rare and potentially explosive action, the moderate ministers signed a complaint asking the Internal Revenue Service to investigate World Harvest Church of Columbus and Fairfield Christian Church of Lancaster and determine if their tax-exempt status should be revoked.

The grievance claims that the Rev. Rod Parsley of World Harvest Church and the Rev. Russell Johnson of Fairfield Christian Church improperly used their churches and affiliated entities — the Center for Moral Clarity, Ohio Restoration Project and Reformation Ohio — for partisan politics, including supporting the Republican gubernatorial candidacy of Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell.

Rod Parsley, by the way, is the sort of evangelical who aspires to be a political fixer of, uhhh, Biblical proportions. Let's hope this investigation goes somewhere before the unified front of power-mad Republicans and power-mad fundamentalists puts out country permanently in the tank. Toilet tank, that is, although it'd be nice to keep our youth out of the armor-plated kind, too....

The Iraq War, Joseph Heller style

A new report emerges that takes the lack of body armor issue to a disturbing new low. It's been happening for years-- our troops aren't getting the equipment they need and deserve. And for years, some troops have been taking matters into their own hands and purchasing body armor for themselves. Makes sense, if the government isn't going to protect you and you or your family has the means.

But in a bizarre twist, the government seems to have decided that taking measures to protect yourself from hostile fire is some sort of breach of contract:

Two deploying soldiers and a concerned mother reported Friday afternoon that the U.S. Army appears to be singling out soldiers who have purchased Pinnacle's Dragon Skin Body Armor for special treatment. The soldiers, who are currently staging for combat operations from a secret location, reported that their commander told them if they were wearing Pinnacle Dragon Skin and were killed their beneficiaries might not receive the death benefits from their $400,000 SGLI life insurance policies. The soldiers were ordered to leave their privately purchased body armor at home or face the possibility of both losing their life insurance benefit and facing disciplinary action.

(Thanks also to the Mysterious Cipher, who also caught this story.)

Media smacks Hillary for 'plantation' remark

Another in a long tradition of funny-yet-sad moments from the press, this one involves the right going after Hillary Clinton for accusing the GOP of running the House of Representatives "like a plantation."

Think Progress notes that this non-story has been brought to you by the department of pots and kettles (and has already prompted an online poll at MSNBC):

“I clearly fascinate them,” Gingrich said of the Democrats. “I’m much more intense, much more persistent, much more willing to take risks to get it done. Since they think it is their job to run the plantation, it shocks them that I’m actually willing to lead the slave rebellion.” [Washington Post, 10/20/94]

(Emphasis theirs.)

Another sample of Gore's speech

I wanted to post another segment of Gore's speech that I thought was a brilliant piece of rhetoric. And it should serve Democrats well as a talking point.

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment's notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when our fathers fought and won two World Wars?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same.

Inspired. The link above is to my post yesterday, which in turn takes you to a complete transcript and some video.

Admin attacks Gore-- on false premises

The reaction to Gore's speech was as swift is it always is from the right-wing noise machine, with the likes of Sean Hannity using the only adjectives in his arsenal: shrill, irresponsible, unhinged, that sort of thing. But the White House got in on this one pretty quickly, too. Odd, considering how little attention the actual speech received yesterday. Salon points out why their counterargument is bogus:

McClellan said that Gore's "hypocrisy knows no bounds." It was apparently a reference to the argument some Republicans have been making for weeks and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales repeated Monday: How can a member of Bill Clinton's administration take issue with Bush's warrantless spying program when Clinton authorized warrantless spying himself?

It would be a fine argument, if only it had any application at all to the legal standards under which the Bush administration is supposed to be working. Appearing on CNN, Gonzales said that it was his "understanding" that "during the Clinton administration there was activity regarding the physical searches without warrants," and he cited the Aldrich Ames case as proof. Gonzales also said that it was his "understanding" that Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick "testified before Congress that the president does have the inherent authority under the Constitution to engage in physical searches without a warrant."

As Think Progress notes, Gonzales' understanding isn't incorrect. It's just irrelevant. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 didn't cover physical searches until Congress amended it in 1995. Thus, whatever happened with respect to the search of Ames' home in 1991, it couldn't have violated a FISA physical-search warrant requirement because no such requirement existed at the time. Likewise, when Gorelick testified before Congress about a president's inherent authority to engage in physical searches without a warrant, she was testifying during -- and about -- the state of the law before FISA was amended in 1995.

Perhaps it's the widespread concern over the public's animosity toward violations of their privacy-- after all, it's one of Nixon and Hoover's most notorious legacies. Consider the FBI surveillance of Martin Luther King. But the press remains asleep at the wheel in spite of being confronted with executive abuses that are every inch the equal of Nixon's.

Zogby poll shows support for impeaching Bush sent this out in an e-mail:

A new Zogby poll will be released tomorrow showing that by a 52% to 43% margin, Americans believe that Congress should consider impeaching George W. Bush if he wiretapped the people of this country without court approval (and everyone knows and Bush has admitted that he ordered just such huge secret spying operation.) The poll, with a plus or minus margin of error of 2.9%, shows that 66% of Democrats, 59% of independents, and 23% of Republicans support impeachment for wiretapping. Majorities favored impeachment across the country: the East (54%), South (53%), and West (52%), Central states (50%). The significance of this poll can be seen by way of comparison with public attitudes in the months before the impeachment of Clinton. In August and September 1998, sixteen major polls found that only 36% supported hearings to impeach Clinton.

Monday, January 16, 2006

When is a former veep accusing a standing president of criminal behavior not news?

Naturally, you already know the answer. It's when Al Gore delivers an impassioned address that's introduced by far-right former Senator Bob Barr of Gerogia. The question of 'why' is beyond me. Just chalk it up as another failure of the media, and stay angry.

From the speech:.

During the period when this eavesdropping was still secret, the President went out of his way to reassure the American people on more than one occasion that, of course, judicial permission is required for any government spying on American citizens and that, of course, these constitutional safeguards were still in place.

But surprisingly, the President's soothing statements turned out to be false. Moreover, as soon as this massive domestic spying program was uncovered by the press, the President not only confirmed that the story was true, but also declared that he has no intention of bringing these wholesale invasions of privacy to an end. (. . .)

Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is "yes" then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? If the President has the inherent authority to eavesdrop, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?

The Dean of Yale Law School, Harold Koh, said after analyzing the Executive Branch's claims of these previously unrecognized powers: "If the President has commander-in-chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution."

Raw Story has the complete transcript here. Crooks and Liars has some video highlights here.

Won't you be, please won't you be? Won't you be our allies... in the War on Terror.

Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharaff, has been a sketchy sort of ally in the quest to bring Al Qaeda to justice. Now we appear to have taken the initiative in launching a missile strike against Pakistan. And killed a number of civilians, but no "high-value targets." Understandably unhappy, the country could make a pretty massive anti-US stance.

"There will be more ... bigger protests," said Shahid Shamsi, spokesman for an alliance of Islamic groups.

"Pakistani civilians, including children, were killed," he said. "Principles cannot be broken in the name of (fighting) terrorism."

Protesters believe Friday's attack was the work of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Washington has 20,000 soldiers in that country searching for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, but Pakistan says it has not given the Americans permission to pursue their enemies across the border.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Will Maryland's Wal-Mart law spur corporations to push national health care?

It's an idea that's been out there a while-- not in regard to this case, but the idea that corporations, facing the same losing battle in health care costs as little folks like me, will start to push for (horrors!) a national system. After all, what we have now even hangs middle-class people out to dry when it comes to coverage.

Given the pressure on Wal-Mart to quite relying on government health aid to increase their bottom line, this really could set a big precedent. As Wal-Mart apologists love to claim, the company is simply doing what all businesses do-- make more money. But none of my business professors ever suggested cheating the government as an optimal business strategy. To Bush Republicans, that's the job of poor working stiffs or-- even worse-- welfare queens who never worked a day in their lives. Like Paris Hilton, except with no money.

But when massive corporations game the system, it can cost the taxpayers billions. But we wouldn't want to restrict the markets, right? Isn't that strictly verboten?

It all comes down to this: our healthcare system needs to be fixed. From the article:

Maryland's bold new law requiring Wal-Mart and other large companies to increase health care coverage of their workers has given new life to supporters trying to pass similar legislation nationwide.

The state's Legislature on Thursday passed a law that directs firms with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payrolls on employee health benefits. The law targeted Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, whose low pay and scant benefits have drawn widespread criticism.

In at least 30 other states, plans are under way to draft and introduce similar "fair share" laws. A proposal in Rhode Island would require companies with 1,000 or more employees to spend 8 percent of their payrolls on health benefits. A bill in Washington state would require companies of 5,000 or more to spend 9 percent of payroll on employee health care.

If the Dems can't muster the leadership to stop a kook like Samuel Alito from being placed on the nation's highest court, maybe they could use news like this to start fighting back against the relentlessly corporatist agenda of this administration. Which, if I may be so bold as to point out, about 60% of the nation stands against!

Highly recommended reading, especially for the arguments of the pro-business lobbyist, who somehow manages to suggest that requiring companies to insure workers doesn't lead to broader coverage of America's workers.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Another right-wing "journalist" exposed for being on the take

Michael Fumento has long been a proponent of 'the big guy.' He's railed against corporate class action suits, praised the biotech industry, decried "Gulf War Symdrome" as mass hysteria. And now he's been exposed as anything but an investigative journalist.

Scripps Howard News Service announced Jan. 13 that it's severing its business relationship with columnist Michael Fumento, who's also a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute. The move comes after inquiries from BusinessWeek Online about payments Fumento received from agribusiness giant Monsanto -- a frequent subject of praise in Fumento's opinion columns and a book.

In a statement released on Jan. 13, Scripps Howard News Service Editor and General Manager Peter Copeland said Fumento "did not tell SHNS editors, and therefore we did not tell our readers, that in 1999 Hudson recieved a $60,000 grant from Monsanto." Copeland added: "Our policy is that he should have disclosed that information. We apologize to our readers." In the Jan. 5 column, Fumento wrote that St. Louis-based Monsanto has about 30 products in the pipeline that will aid farmers, "but also help us all by keeping prices down and allowing more crops to be grown on less land."

In a statement released on Jan. 13, Scripps Howard News Service Editor and General Manager Peter Copeland said Fumento "did not tell SHNS editors, and therefore we did not tell our readers, that in 1999 Hudson recieved a $60,000 grant from Monsanto." Copeland added: "Our policy is that he should have disclosed that information. We apologize to our readers." In the Jan. 5 column, Fumento wrote that St. Louis-based Monsanto has about 30 products in the pipeline that will aid farmers, "but also help us all by keeping prices down and allowing more crops to be grown on less land."

Salon: Alito filibuster won't happen

Unfortunately, I'm inclined to agree. Simply by merit of not having said anything incriminating during the pointless confirmation hearings, the GOP has most of the ammo in this fight. The result? A likely party line vote, giving Alito the fewest votes since Clarence Thomas (that's h0w extremists win-- narrow margins).

Couldn't the Democrats refuse to shut down debate, thereby requiring the Alito nomination to pass a 60-vote hurdle? They could. But there are consequences to that move, and this morning, the consequences don't look good. Olympia Snowe -- the moderate Republican senator from Maine who is a member of the "Gang of 14," the group of centrist senators who pulled that body away from the brink of the "nuclear option" (eliminating the filibuster for judicial nominees) last year -- says that she will not support a filibuster. Under the terms of the gang's deal, if Democrats in that group support a filibuster, Snowe would vote in favor of eliminating the filibuster.

If other Republicans in the gang do the same, the Democrats would be sunk: Not only would Alito sail through, but the left would also lose the right to filibuster any future nominees to the Supreme Court as well as to lower federal courts. And, of course, Democrats could face various other political repercussions stemming from the tactic, which is something many may fear during what's shaping up to be a winning political year.

Sad, but probably correct.