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Daily Topics & Commentary:
Tuesday, January 31 (In Memory of Coretta Scott King 1927-2006)
Tuesday, January 31 (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)New forecasts issued by the Congressional Budget Office confirm that if the tax cuts and Alternative Minimum Tax relief are extended, the nation faces large and growing deficits over the next ten years, with total deficits of between $3.5 and $4 trillion over that period.

While still quite high, CBOs current deficit projections are somewhat lower than those issued last January and August.  A key reason for the lower deficit estimates is that CBO has revised its revenue projections upwards.

Some proponents of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts may try to seize on CBOs new budget forecasts to argue that tax cuts are working.  They may claim that tax cuts have led to stronger economic growth and that this growth is the source of the higher revenue estimates.

In fact, however, CBOs report makes clear that stronger growth of real economic activity is not the reason for the revised revenue projections.  While CBO has revised its revenue projections upward since last January, it has revised its estimates of real economic output slightly downward.  More

Data Indicate that Cutting Taxes on Capital Gains and Dividend Income is Likely Even More Regressive than in the Past
Tuesday, January 31 (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)Congress is considering whether to extend reductions in the tax rates on capital gains and dividend income beyond their scheduled expiration date at the end of 2008.  Proponents of these extensions often argue that stock ownership is widespread and thus the benefits of extending these tax cuts will be widespread as well.  In other analyses, we have shown the fallacy of this argument; data from sources such as the Urban Institute-Brooking Institution Tax Policy Center clearly show that the large majority of the benefits from such an extension would go to very-high-income households.  This analysis goes one step further, showing that the benefits of tax cuts for capital income have become more concentrated over time. More

1:10 pmWith Alito Now a Member of the Supremes, We'd Better Start Preparing for an America, Post Roe v. Wade

Here's a good report by the Pew Foundation on how to fix America's truly broken foster care system. As usual, liberals will have to be the ones to do the dirty work of moving the country forward. The current system is abysmal, and all conservatives want is to scrap it and hand foster kids over to the church. Somehow, if people feel kids matter, they'll give for their care on Sunday.

With Alito in place, when the day comes that the Supreme Court trashes the right to privacy and outlaws abortion, we'll need a strong foster care system. What we have now will crumble in the first 8-12 months of an America where abortions aren't allowed. Even though abortions are on the decline, the system can't handle the burden of an extra 5,000 kids dropped on it at once.

Health Savings Accounts: A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Come?
Tuesday, January 31 (The Century Foundation)Last Saturday, in his weekly radio broadcast, President Bush proposed making health savings accounts (HSAs) more available, more affordable, and more portable. He is widely expected to call for expanding access to these accounts, which resemble individual retirement accounts for health care, in next weeks State of the Union address.

The predecessors of these accounts, such as medical savings accounts, made very little impact on the health insurance marketplace. The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which established the Medicare drug benefit, created HSAs and offered substantial tax incentives for electing to use them. Individuals who join a health insurance plan with a high deductible ($1,000 for a single person and $2,000 for families) may establish an HSA in which contributions (up to a limit) may be deducted from federal taxes and withdrawn tax-free to pay for qualified medical services.

Proponents of HSAs claim that they will lower the numbers of uninsured, persuade employers to retain insurance coverage, empower individuals by giving them a choice in how to spend their health care dollar, and encourage providers to compete on price and quality as a true market for medical services evolves.

Many health care analysts fear that widespread acceptance of HSAs will separate the wealthy and healthy from the sick in insurance pools and drive up premiums and out-of-pocket health costs for the latter. They worry that individuals who face higher out-of-pocket spending, within their HSA or outside it, will be unable to distinguish accurately between care they need and care that they dont, with bad consequences for health. They also doubt that HSAs will have a major impact on overall health costs or on the number of uninsured.

For instance, because a relatively small percentage of the population incurs most of the national health care costs (about one quarter of Americans account for roughly 80 percent of total spending each year), most of the spending presumably will be above the deductible. Under the current framework, there is also an incentive for the holder of an HSA to time any elective services in a year when the deductible has already been reached, or to spend more on health care of marginal value if he anticipates that the deductible will be reached. More

Ed note: Here's a link to a trove of information on Health Savings Accounts

Gonzales Is Challenged on Wiretaps
Feingold Says Attorney General Misled Senators in Hearings
Tuesday, January 31 (Washington Post)Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) charged yesterday that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing a year ago when he appeared to try to avoid answering a question about whether the president could authorize warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.

In a letter to the attorney general yesterday, Feingold demanded to know why Gonzales dismissed the senator's question about warrantless eavesdropping as a "hypothetical situation" during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January 2005. At the hearing, Feingold asked Gonzales where the president's authority ends and whether Gonzales believed the president could, for example, act in contravention of existing criminal laws and spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant.

Gonzales said that it was impossible to answer such a hypothetical question but that it was "not the policy or the agenda of this president" to authorize actions that conflict with existing law. He added that he would hope to alert Congress if the president ever chose to authorize warrantless surveillance, according to a transcript of the hearing.

In fact, the president did secretly authorize the National Security Agency to begin warrantless monitoring of calls and e-mails between the United States and other nations soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The program, publicly revealed in media reports last month, was unknown to Feingold and his staff at the time Feingold questioned Gonzales, according to a staff member. Feingold's aides developed the 2005 questions based on privacy advocates' concerns about broad interpretations of executive power. More

Ed note: So does this mean that the administration could soon reason that it's permissible to lie or withhold information while under oath? Try explaining that to your children (now, it's OK not to tell the truth....).

Largest. Profit. Ever.
Oil giant's record gain refuels political debate
Tuesday, January 31 (Chicago Tribune)Exxon Mobil Corp.'s announcement Monday that it amassed a stunning $36.1 billion profit in 2005--the biggest single-year profit ever for a U.S. company--could complicate Republicans' efforts to maintain control of Congress because of their longstanding ties to the oil industry.
With the cost of gasoline rising again and industry analysts warning that the coming summer could see $3-a-gallon prices similar to last year's, Republicans face a Democratic opposition committed to making it a campaign issue in November congressional elections and the prospect of voters angered by higher fuel costs.
In an attempt to pre-empt that, House Speaker Dennis Hastert scheduled his first meeting of the day Tuesday with American Petroleum Institute President and Chief Executive Officer Red Cavaney, Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said.
"The message is basically that while it's not the American way to punish success, Americans have the right to hear from energy companies what they're doing to ensure a stable and affordable supply of energy," Bonjean said. More

Ed note: Hastert is going to lead this? The only thing that would have been better for the oil companies was to have Charlie McCarthy hold the hearing.

12:32 pmHow Not to Direct a Congressional Party

Harry Reid has allowed the least liked and trusted president since Nixon or Herbert Hoover preside over the judicial triumph of the radical conservative Christian right on the same day of that president's signature speech, the State of the Union. I believe France put up a better fight against the Nazis.

12:28 pmAm I Watching SOTU?

Oh hell no. It's very difficult to watch a man with a 6-month approval rating that's stayed between 36-42% stand and be proud of his accomplishments. I suppose it's part of being the first MBA president. I believe a BA president would have been fired long ago.

Monday, January 30
5:20 pmA Reply to Terry Savage's Column

Here's her column in today's Chicago Sun-Times

Here's my reply to her:

"Health Savings Accounts, Medicare Reform and Social Security Reform. All basically good ideas. But in the hands of this set of Republicans, they're more likely to help large stockholders, politicians and lobbyists than the people they never indented to help. Given the track record of today's GOP we have, not the conservatives we wish we had; what makes you think this will be nothing more than a "market-driven" boondoggle?

And in the meantime regular people suffer.

We have just about exhausted the blue-sky promises of supply-side economics. Rich people haven't answered the call to create jobs like conservatives have said they would. We would have been better taking half the tax cut money and given it to households making $125k or less. You can bet your sweet bippy they would have spent the money.

Medicare Reform was handled perfectlyif you remember that the GOP doesn't like government. There are ways to incorporate market reforms into health care. Negotiation comes to mind. But given this set of Republicans doesn't like government, I question the sense of those that would expect them to produce something that really worked. I wouldn't hire an accountant that didn't like math. You wouldn't hire a doctor that didn't believe in x-rays. Why did we expect people who vow to destroy and dismantle government to create something that worked?

And so will go the way of Health Savings Accounts. Not a bad idea, especially if one has taken advantage of Flexible Spending Accounts. An example of using market-based ideas in a limited way to help people stay healthy. But HSA's are guaranteed to be the next teat for the K Street project to succle on. And so a generally good starting point will be destroyed.

How does the saying go? Something about pearls before swine?"

Real wages are having trouble keeping up with prices
After adjusting for inflation, wages have dropped in many of the nation's largest counties.
Real wages are not exactly going through the roof.
Monday, January 30 (CNN Money)For the 24-month period through the second quarter of 2005, the inflation-adjusted wages of an average American grew just 1 percent or so, according to statistics reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Despite overall sluggish wage growth, there are still areas of strength; the majority of the 316 largest counties in the United States -- those with employee rolls of 75,000 or more -- reported average wage increases that outpaced inflation for the 24 months ended June 30, 2005, the latest county data available from the BLS. Forty four of the counties had real wage growth of 3 percent or more during the period

The BLS data is derived from summaries of employment and total pay of workers covered by state and federal unemployment insurance legislation. The data has not been adjusted for changes that employers later reported to the BLS. More

In Alito, G.O.P. Reaps Harvest Planted in '82
Monday, January 30 (New York Times)Last February, as rumors swirled about the failing health of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, a team of conservative grass-roots organizers, public relations specialists and legal strategists met to prepare a battle plan to ensure any vacancies were filled by like-minded jurists.

The team recruited conservative lawyers to study the records of 18 potential nominees including Judges John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. and trained more than three dozen lawyers across the country to respond to news reports on the president's eventual pick.

"We boxed them in," one lawyer present during the strategy meetings said with pride in an interview over the weekend. This lawyer and others present who described the meeting were granted anonymity because the meetings were confidential and because the team had told its allies not to exult publicly until the confirmation vote was cast.

Now, on the eve of what is expected to be the Senate confirmation of Judge Alito to the Supreme Court, coming four months after Chief Justice Roberts was installed, those planners stand on the brink of a watershed for the conservative movement. More

10:03 amThe Fillibuster is Growing

Listening to the Young Turks on RadioPower.org, I'm learning that the effort is underway to filibuster Samuel Alito. Kerry is scheduled to kick it off today at 4:30 pm ET.

Friday, January 27
5:44 pmCheck out the Collective Interest K Street Project

A new area of the site devoted to all things K Street.

Health Care Confidential
Friday, January 27 (New York Times)American health care is desperately in need of reform. But what form should change take? Are there any useful examples we can turn to for guidance?

Well, I know about a health care system that has been highly successful in containing costs, yet provides excellent care. And the story of this system's success provides a helpful corrective to anti-government ideology. For the government doesn't just pay the bills in this system it runs the hospitals and clinics.

No, I'm not talking about some faraway country. The system in question is our very own Veterans Health Administration, whose success story is one of the best-kept secrets in the American policy debate.

In the 1980's and early 1990's, says an article in The American Journal of Managed Care, the V.H.A. "had a tarnished reputation of bureaucracy, inefficiency and mediocre care." But reforms beginning in the mid-1990's transformed the system, and "the V.A.'s success in improving quality, safety and value," the article says, "have allowed it to emerge as an increasingly recognized leader in health care."

Last year customer satisfaction with the veterans' health system, as measured by an annual survey conducted by the National Quality Research Center, exceeded that for private health care for the sixth year in a row. This high level of quality (which is also verified by objective measures of performance) was achieved without big budget increases. In fact, the veterans' system has managed to avoid much of the huge cost surge that has plagued the rest of U.S. medicine.

How does the V.H.A. do it?

The secret of its success is the fact that it's a universal, integrated system. Because it covers all veterans, the system doesn't need to employ legions of administrative staff to check patients' coverage and demand payment from their insurance companies. Because it's integrated, providing all forms of medical care, it has been able to take the lead in electronic record-keeping and other innovations that reduce costs, ensure effective treatment and help prevent medical errors.

Moreover, the V.H.A., as Phillip Longman put it in The Washington Monthly, "has nearly a lifetime relationship with its patients." As a result, it "actually has an incentive to invest in prevention and more effective disease management. When it does so, it isn't just saving money for somebody else. It's maximizing its own resources. ... In short, it can do what the rest of the health care sector can't seem to, which is to pursue quality systematically without threatening its own financial viability." More

Economy grows at slowest pace in 3 years
Friday, January 27 (Business Week)The economy grew at only a 1.1 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter of last year, the slowest pace in three years, amid belt-tightening by consumers facing spiraling energy costs.

Even with the feeble showing from October through December, the economy registered respectable overall growth of 3.5 percent for all of 2005 -- a year when business expansion was undermined by devastating Gulf Coast hurricanes.

The Commerce Department report, released Friday, offered the latest figures on gross domestic product, the best measure of the country's economic standing.

The 1.1 percent growth rate in the fourth quarter marked a considerable loss of momentum from the third quarter's brisk 4.1 percent pace. The fourth-quarter's performance was even weaker than many analysts were forecasting. Before the release of the report, they were predicting the GDP to clock in at a 2.8 percent pace.

The 1.1 percent growth rate was the smallest gain since the final quarter of 2002, when the economy expanded at just a 0.2 percent rate.

The weakness in the final quarter of last year reflected consumers pulling back, cuts in government spending and businesses being more restrained in their capital spending.

Economists felt that the slowdown in the final quarter was more of a temporary setback rather than any harbinger of a sustained period of economic weakness ahead.

"The economy hit a pothole in the fourth quarter. I'm not at all worried about the health of the economy," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com. Zandi believes that economy in the current January-to-March quarter is already doing better and predicts economic growth will come in around a 4 percent pace. More

9:54 amYou've Read About It, Here it Is

The Iraq Special Inspector General's Final 2005 Report on the Iraq Reconstruction. Read or download it here. The rest of the Audit Reports are here.

Wednesday, January 25
3:13 pmSo What Happens if a Doctor Who's a Jehovah's Witness Refuses to Adminster a Transfusion?

Interesting questions to ask given the following from today's Chicago Sun-Times:

Reversal sought for rule on 'morning-after pill'
Some Illinois lawmakers and anti-abortion groups are pushing to overturn Gov. Rod Blagojevich's rule requiring pharmacies to fill prescriptions for emergency contraceptives, despite his threat to veto their bills.

At least three bills have been introduced that would let pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions for the "morning-after pill" based on their personal or religious beliefs.

"We're not saying take it off the market," said Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Greenville, a pharmacist himself. "We're just saying for those pharmacists who have a religious problem with it, don't make us fill it."

But even lawmakers who oppose Blagojevich's rule acknowledge the governor's very public veto threat will make it harder to find votes.

"Now, I understand that several bills have been introduced that would overturn my executive order to protect women's reproductive freedoms," Blagojevich said in the State of the State address last week. "So let me make something else very clear-- if any of those bills reach my desk, they are dead on arrival."

The very first thing to come to my mind is that pharmacists are licensed by the state to guarantee their adherence to the laws of the State of Illinois. But that's a seperate argument.

Let's apply this to other portions of medicine. We have the Jehovah's Witness who could withhold treatment. Come to think of it, so could a Nation of Islam doctor who felt it immoral to treat a white person. If religious beliefs become the standard by which medical care is given or withheld, we instantantly lose the cohesion and reliablilty of our rickety, but still fairly good system. Is it reasonable for people to avoid certain hospitals because they're the wrong religion? It would be under this religious beliefs standard.

What surprises me (well, actually no) is that no one in the Illinois press has taken the time to walk through the logic. Or their readers/listeners/viewers as well.

12:05 pmKatrina Screwup: You Read it Here

In the CI Sept/October Archives, you can read the story of Marty Bahamonde, a FEMA regional director who told us this same story. But at the time, his words were drowned out by all the other Katrina related stories, Harriet Miers, Tom DeLay beind booked. etc. The story of how the Bushies fumbled the ball on Katrina has been there all the time. Go back and check the posts out, Thursday October 20th. Thank God it's making a second appearance. This time it looks like it's sticking.

11:59 amWhy Government Can't be Run by People Who Don't Believe In It, Part 2

Go Harold go...from today's WaPo:

Bush the Incompetent
By Harold Meyerson
Incompetence is not one of the seven deadly sins, and it's hardly the worst attribute that can be ascribed to George W. Bush. But it is this president's defining attribute. Historians, looking back at the hash that his administration has made of his war in Iraq, his response to Hurricane Katrina and his Medicare drug plan, will have to grapple with how one president could so cosmically botch so many big things -- particularly when most of them were the president's own initiatives.

In numbing profusion, the newspapers are filled with litanies of screw-ups. Yesterday's New York Times brought news of the first official assessment of our reconstruction efforts in Iraq, in which the government's special inspector general depicted a policy beset, as Times reporter James Glanz put it, "by gross understaffing, a lack of technical expertise, bureaucratic infighting [and] secrecy." At one point, rebuilding efforts were divided, bewilderingly and counterproductively, between the Army Corps of Engineers and, for projects involving water, the Navy. That's when you'd think a president would make clear in no uncertain terms that bureaucratic turf battles would not be allowed to impede Iraq's reconstruction. But then, the president had no guiding vision for how to rebuild Iraq -- indeed, he went to war believing that such an undertaking really wouldn't require much in the way of American treasure and American lives.

There was a time, somewhere around 1999, when the tipping point gave us more conservatives who were elected because of their idealogical ferocity rather than their ability to govern. Conservatives that were more interesteed in ripping down government than in using conservative methods to effectively provide services to the people. Those days are gone. This batch of conservatives that we're stuck with are dishonest enough to stack programs with graft, see it fail, and then point to government as the problem. They must go.

White House Declines to Provide Storm Papers
Wednesday, Januarty 25 (New York Times)The Bush administration, citing the confidentiality of executive branch communications, said Tuesday that it did not plan to turn over certain documents about Hurricane Katrina or make senior White House officials available for sworn testimony before two Congressional committees investigating the storm response.

The White House this week also formally notified Representative Richard H. Baker, Republican of Louisiana, that it would not support his legislation creating a federally financed reconstruction program for the state that would bail out homeowners and mortgage lenders. Many Louisiana officials consider the bill crucial to recovery, but administration officials said the state would have to use community development money appropriated by Congress.

The White House's stance on storm-related documents, along with slow or incomplete responses by other agencies, threatens to undermine efforts to identify what went wrong, Democrats on the committees said Tuesday. More

Friday, January 20
Vatican slams intelligent design
Friday, January 20 (Decatur Daily)The Vatican newspaper, a voice of the Roman Catholic Church, says "intelligent design" is not science and certain American "creationists" have brought debate on the issue back to the "dogmatic" 1800s.

Teaching intelligent design alongside evolutionary theory in school classrooms only creates confusion, said an article in L'Osservatore Romano.

It was the latest in a series of interventions by Vatican officials including the pope on the issue that has dominated headlines in the United States.

The author of Tuesday's article is Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna. He laid out the scientific rationale for Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, saying that in the scientific world, biological evolution "represents the interpretative key of the history of life on Earth."

American creationists' arguments are ideology, not science, he wrote.

"This isn't how science is done," he wrote. "If the model proposed by Darwin is deemed insufficient, one should look for another, but it's not correct from a methodological point of view to take oneself away from the scientific field pretending to do science."

"ID (intelligent design) doesn't belong to science and the pretext that it be taught as a scientific theory alongside Darwin's explanation is unjustified," he wrote.

"It only creates confusion between the scientific and philosophical and religious planes," he wrote. More

Abramoff's Presence at Meetings Confirmed
Friday, January 20 (MSNBC)Until recently, members of Congress couldn't resist accepting money and gifts from super lobbyist Jack Abramoff.  Now that Abramoff has pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy, lawmakers are trying to pass lobbying reform as quickly as possible.  But as they scramble to convince voters they care about the smell coming from Abramoff and his associates, the scandal continues.  HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reported about the recent events leading up to the White House's admission about Abramoff's access to staff meetings. More

Abramoff's `Equal Money' Went Mostly to Republicans (Update1)
Friday, January 20 (Bloomberg)U.S. President George W. Bush calls indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff ``an equal money dispenser'' who helped politicians of both parties. Campaign donation records show Republicans were a lot more equal than Democrats.

Between 2001 and 2004, Abramoff gave more than $127,000 to Republican candidates and committees and nothing to Democrats, federal records show. At the same time, his Indian clients were the only ones among the top 10 tribal donors in the U.S. to donate more money to Republicans than Democrats.

Bush's comment about Abramoff in a Dec. 14 Fox News interview was aimed at countering Democratic accusations that Republicans have brought a ``culture of corruption'' to Washington. Even so, the numbers show that ``Abramoff's big connections were with the Republicans,'' said Larry Noble, the former top lawyer for the Federal Election Commission, who directs the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. More

Thursday, January 19
4:33 pmThey Came Again, in the Same Old Way, Part "When are They Gonna Learn?"

Today the Bush Administration announced it wants YOUR IP ADDRESS in the never-ending fight against indecency. They want Google to give up its records of searches for pornographic material. Their contention is that children are still surfing for porn like pros. From the NYT article:

Google has refused to comply with the subpoena, issued last year, for a broad range of material from its databases, including a request for 1 million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period, lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department said in papers filed Wednesday in federal court in San Jose.

The Bushies want 1 million searches at random. I may be wrong, and someone can correct me, but I'm pretty sure search records have IP addresses plastered all over them. The Bushies think feel a law would be more effective than parental control devices on browsers? Please stop. That's like saying an engine governor is less effective than a posted speed limit for controlling traffic.

If the technology is easy to use and reliable, then parents will use it. Not all, as usual, but a lot. Remember all that malarchy when Democrats championed smart chips in TV's? The entertainment industry loved it, grudgingly. When the furor died down, so did a good portion of the grand plans to use blocking and filtering technology. But as soon as Republicans started making noise about censoring TVout came tech as the magic bullet. Expect the same here.

The entertainment industry should get with the tech companies and go ahead and find new ways to keep kids away from porn as well as heavily promoting current tools to block it. I'm not thinking of children as 16 years old. I'm thinking more like 9. My cable provider has parental controls on the remote, and it works quite well. iTunes has a good one. There are a number of blocking software packages out there. But what is needed is a push to make parents aware of these tools. And make them easier to use. Symantec, Norton, Macafee all have versions for personal computers. Some of it is cheap, some expensive. It's never going to be a perfect solution. Kids get older and smart enough to figure out how to defeat controls. But it doesn't make these tools useless.

A lot of this new GOP furor is necessary to rebuild the broken image of Bush. Between you and me, once information is leaked on how many Americans NOT making overseas phone calls were spied on, his image will be shotagain. In a few months it will be time for the press to write stories on how Bush's approval rating rebounded to the 30's from the mid-teens.

But in the meantime, the entertainment industry need to stop complaining about censorship and concentrate on using the technology to take the air out of this never-ending issue.

Wednesday, January 18
1:23 pmPeople Who Don't Believe That Government Works Shouldn't be Elected to Run Governmentor at least Create Big Government Programs

Somewhere in the CI Archives, you can read my spittle-flecked rantings on the dubiousness of the Bush Medicare Reform plan. Well, early reconnisance says it's becoming as big a failure as I expected. So what do the Bushies do when facing one of their creations that needs fixing? They fan out across the land to convince people the plan is sound. From today's Chicago Sun-Times:

Problems with Medicare plan worry GOP
The Medicare drug program that was supposed to win political points for Republicans has exploded in their faces as this election year has begun. It's a particularly vexing problem for the GOP, since older Americans are such active voters and no one seeking office wants to see them angry.

Since the Bush administration's prescription medicine program began on Jan. 1, tens of thousands of elderly people have been unable to get medicines promised by the government. Some 20 states have had to jump in to help them.

And while officials promised anew on Tuesday that a fix was on the way, Democrats pointed to the confusion surrounding the rollout and pounded the administration and its GOP allies in Congress.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts cited a ''systemwide failure'' that he said ''puts the health of our frailest citizens at great risk.'' Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York likened the government's response to a ''man-made disaster'' to its missteps on Hurricane Katrina.

''The time for all levels of government to act is now,'' 14 Democratic governors said on Tuesday in a letter to President Bush.

Big Government Conservatives have as much credibility as Really Smart Idiots.

Loophole in Lobbying Bill Leaves Wiggle Room
Wednesdya, January 18 (Washington Post)Lawmakers are about to bombard the American public with proposals that would crack down on lobbyists. Several prominent plans, including one outlined yesterday by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), would specifically ban meals and privately paid travel for lawmakers.

Or would they?

According to lobbyists and ethics experts, even if Hastert's proposal is enacted, members of Congress and their staffs could still travel the world on an interest group's expense and eat steak on a lobbyist's account at the priciest restaurants in Washington.

The only requirement would be that whenever a lobbyist pays the bill, he or she must also hand the lawmaker a campaign contribution. Then the transaction would be perfectly okay. More

Tuesday, January 17
Blast from the Past!
GOP seeks to limit access
GOP Monitoring Lobbyists' Politics , White House, Hill Access May Be Affected
Tuesday, January 17 (SF Indy Media Archive from 6/2/02 )Republicans are researching the party affiliation and political contributions of hundreds of lobbyists in Washington, part of a campaign that could deny government access and prime lobbying jobs to Democrats, according to people familiar with the project.

Copies of the bulky dossier, being compiled by conservative activist Grover Norquist and other prominent Republican lobbyists, will be given to top White House officials and GOP lawmakers when completed, the sources said. Early drafts of the report are already in the hands of a few senior administration officials and lawmakers, according to two people familiar with it. GOP lawmakers are not helping compile the report, but many privately support it.

The report -- dubbed the "K Street Project" -- has been evolving in fits and starts over the past few years, but has been expedited and expanded now that Republicans control the White House and federal agencies. Several Republican lobbyists have complained that they aren't getting the access to federal agencies they feel they deserve.

"What's different this time is you will have this list to control access" to the White House, Congress and federal agencies, according to a GOP lobbyist working on it. "That's been very clear from the discussions." More

Monday, January 16
What's wrong with the economy?
Monday, January 16 (Economic Policy Institute)
1.  Profits are up, but the wages and the incomes of average Americans are down. 

*  Inflation-adjusted hourly and weekly wages are still below where they were at the start of the recovery in November 2001. Yet, productivitythe growth of the economic pieis up by 13.5%.

* Wage growth has been shortchanged because 35% of the growth of total income in the corporate sector has been distributed as corporate profits, far more than the 22% in previous periods.  

* Consequently, median household income (inflation-adjusted) has fallen five years in a row and was 4% lower in 2004 than in 1999, falling from $46,129 to $44,389.


Give Me Liberty or Let Me Think About It
What the wiretapping debate says about freedom.
Monday, January 16 (Slate)Most of us are not Patrick Henry and would be willing to lose a great deal of freedom in order to save our lives. This is especially true when the freedom in question is that of foreigners with funny names, but it is true of our own freedom as well. It's not even necessarily deplorable. Giving up a certain amount of freedom in exchange for the safety and comfort of civilized society is what government is all about, according to guys like Hobbes and Locke, who influenced the Founding Fathers. And that's good government. Many people live under bad governments that take away more freedom than necessary and choose not to become heroes. That is not a contemptible choice, especially if we're talking France, or maybe even China, and not Stalin's Russia or Hitler's Germany. The notion that freedom is indivisibleif you lose a little, you have lost it all; if one person is deprived of liberty, then we all areis sweet, and useful for indoctrinating children. But it just isn't true.

The current debate about government wiretapping of U.S. citizens inside the United States as part of the war on terrorism, like the debate before it about the torture of terror suspects, and the debate before that one about U.S. government prison camps at Guantanamo and in Eastern Europe, are all framed as arguments about the divisibility of freedom. They are framed that way by the good guysmeaning, of course, the side I agree with, which is the side of the civil libertarians who oppose these measures. That is part of why the good guys are losing. The arguments all seem to pit hard practicality on one side against sentiment, if not empty sentimentality, on the other. There are the folks who are fighting a war to protect us from a terrible enemy, and there are the folks getting in their way with a lot of fruity abstractions. You can note all you want the irony of the government trampling American values in the name of protecting them (yes, yes, like destroying that village in Vietnam in order to save it). The hard men and hard woman who are prosecuting this war for the Bush administration can turn that point, rather effectively, on its head. If the cost of losing the war and the cost of winning it are both measured in the same currencyAmerican values, especially freedomthen giving up some freedom in order to avoid losing all of it is obviously the right thing to do. More

Lobbying: The Web Widens
Monday, January 16 (Newseek/MSNBC)Ohio Rep. Robert Ney personally lobbied the then Secretary of State Colin Powell to relax U.S. sanctions on Iran. Who asked him to? A convicted airplane broker who had just taken the congressman and a top aide on an expense-paid trip to London, NEWSWEEK has learned. Ney's lawyer confirmed to NEWSWEEK that federal prosecutors have subpoenaed records on Ney's February 2003 trip paid for by Nigel Winfield, a thrice-convicted felon who ran a company in Cyprus called FN Aviation. Winfield was seeking to sell U.S.-made airplane spare parts to the Iranian governmenta deal that would have needed special permits because of U.S. sanctions against Tehran. Ney's lawyer, Mark Tuohey, said Ney had no idea of Winfield's criminal past, which included a 1982 conviction for trying to swindle Elvis Presley in an airplane deal and two more in the late 1980s for tax evasion. Tuohey said there was "absolutely nothing improper" about Ney's raising the issue of Iranian sanctions with Powell and other Bush administration officials. At the time, there had been a number of civilian plane crashes in Iran attributable to a lack of spare parts. Ney, who had a longstanding interest in Iran, considered easing sanctions to allow spare-parts sales a "humanitarian" matter, Tuohey said. More

First, Do More Harm
Monday, January 16 (New York Times)It's widely expected that President Bush will talk a lot about health care in his State of the Union address. He probably won't boast about his prescription drug plan, whose debut has been a Katrina-like saga of confusion and incompetence. But he probably will tout proposals for so-called "consumer driven" health care.

So it's important to realize that the administration's idea of health care reform is to take what's wrong with our system and make it worse. Consider the harrowing series of articles The New York Times printed last week about the rising tide of diabetes.

Diabetes is a horrifying disease. It's also an important factor in soaring medical costs. The likely future impact of the disease on those costs terrifies health economists. And the problem of dealing with diabetes is a clear illustration of the real issues in health care.

Here's what we should be doing: since the rise in diabetes is closely linked to the rise in obesity, we should be getting Americans to lose weight and exercise more. We should also support disease management: people with diabetes have a much better quality of life and place much less burden on society if they can be induced to monitor their blood sugar carefully and control their diet.

But it turns out that the U.S. system of paying for health care doesn't let medical professionals do the right thing. There's hardly any money for prevention, partly because of the influence of food-industry lobbyists. And even disease management gets severely shortchanged. As the Times series pointed out, insurance companies "will often refuse to pay $150 for a diabetic to see a podiatrist, who can help prevent foot ailments associated with the disease. Nearly all of them, though, cover amputations, which typically cost more than $30,000."

As a result, diabetes management isn't a paying proposition. Centers that train diabetics to manage the disease have been medical successes but financial failures. More

9:53 amPerhaps We Do Need a Sweep

So the Dems in the Senate Judiciary Committee couldn't lay a hand on Alito. Why did they allow it to be portrayed as 8 weak Senators against an all-powerful nominee? I'm finding it very difficult to believe that, given enough taunting of the press, Dems could have made the case for their portion of the debate. Instead, they continue this disturbing pattern of letting others seize the argument, frame it, and dictate the direction. I'm not saying all Dems allow it to happen. But there's enough of them to make me more and more suspect that the whole bunch isn't up for a fight.

Maybe we need to sweep the current bunch of Dems out?

Why haven't Dems gone out of their way to not just say the press is misreporting things, but PROVE it? If bloggers can find the evidence of this, why can't well-educated Congressional staffers? And who really cares if the press would say Dems are complaining? What would anyone expect them to say when caught not doing their jobs?

Maybe we need to sweep this current bunch of Dems out?

It's going to take a fight to get rid of this batch of Republicans. If they don't feel threatenened, they'll do nothing and continue to bamboozle the press and the public. Right now the general consensus is that Abramoff gave money to both partiesdespite the fact that FEC records indicate otherwise. Let me say it once againAbramoff gave dirty money to Republicans. This money was rewarded for votes and favors. It's the plan that Tom DeLay and the K Street project started back in 1994. Abramoff directed his CLIENTS to give money to Dems. This is legal. Indian tribes can give to whomever they want. Splitting your contribution by party is a common tactic in Washington. Phiilip Morris (or Altria or whatever they're calling themselves these days) regularly donates to both parties. However, the amount donated to the parties differs. Like 100 to 1 in favor of the GOP. But in a pinch, they can claim bipartisanship in givingas long as you take them at their word and don't follow up on what they tell you. What's happening here is that Republicans are getting away with coloring legal giving as dirty money. Either way, Dems should (and many have) donate that money to charity. Josh Marshall has a good recap of this latest bamboozlement.

Where's the fight there? Dems aren't making the case and sticking it to the Republicans. Have you seen any Dem on TV comparing the amount of dirty money in the S & L scandal, Abscam, and Abramoff? With his removal of Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) from his committe chairmanship, Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House, is being positioned as the "Savior" of the institution, even though he's as dirty as DeLay. Hastert profitted from Abramoff largesse, if only to help keep discipline in the ranks. He oversaw the execution of a system that rewarded cooperation and votes with dirty money. Why aren't Dems pasting him with this reality?

Why did I hear the word "impeachment" spoken in the press by Arlen Specter first? Why haven't Dems been out there saying that if Nixon resigned in order to duck impeachment for Watergate, Clinton was impeached for lying about a blowjob, then why couldn't Bush be impeached for wiretapping without a court order?

Maybe we need to sweep the current bunch of Dems out?

It's going to take a fight within the party to get rid of those Dems that would rather go along than move forward. There is no advantage to cooperating with this batch of Republicans. They will screw you with a smile. Ask John Kerry and Rep. Murtha. Collegiality will return to Congress. But only after we rid ourselves of Movement Conservatives. Our current Dem membership seems to think that as the Voters won't just wake up one morning and say "wow, those GOP'ers have to go!" That's no way to lead the country. It is a way of hedging your bets.

We are seeing new (not New) Dems rising to the fore, running for Congress and the Senate. Some of these candidates don't see the political landscape in the same way as Biden, Kennedy, Reid, NOW, Big Labor, and the peace movement. There will and needs to be conflict within our party on it's direction. We have got to review and revise Democratic politics. A political party can survive with a basic theme for a long time. But they must adjust how they apply that theme to the times. But most of all they must take it to their opponents in the same way their opponents are coming at them. And these days, Dems aren't doing it.

Maybe we need to sweep the current bunch of Dems out?

Friday, January 13
2:29 pmThe New Orleans Rebuilding Plan

It's probably not that bad a plan, I need to read it for myself. But since it's first and given all the emotion, politics and money at stake, it's doomed to fail.

Read it here

Thursday, January 12
5:26Is Anyone Out There in Foster Care?

Could you help me find statistics to help calculate the impact of overturning Roe? How many babies would be born in the first 5 years? How many would end up in the foster care system? How many would be adopted? The financial impact on the foster care system, and the social safety net? How it would affect the adoption system? I wonder would it affect the number of Asian and Eastern European babies adopted annually?

Email me

4:54 pmAlito

I've spent the past few days listening on and off to the hearings. Some of the things that struck me were as follows:

1) Chuck Schumer came as close as any blogger to challenging Alito on the obvious Princeton and abortion bullshit. I think the thing that mattered here wasn't his running from his words. It is expected that he'd back away. The crux of the matter, how to show him to be either a liar or an opportunist is to ask him directly why he said the things he does, or joins the groups he did. "I don't recall being even a part of this group," is not a good answer in the light of his enthusiastic promotion of his membership years later. So if he didn't join Concerned Alumni of Princeton, he lied years later when proclaiming his membership. Or he's an opportunist, willing to say anything to get a job. Now let me be clear, that's not necessarily a deal-breaker for me. I've sat in interviews where I stretched and tugged at the truthwithout lying on my resume. I needed the job. But instead of admitting it, like most everyone else would do, Alito hides behind middle-aged forgetfullness. Which, given his abillity to recall details of past cases, seems tawdry.

Same with abortion. Call the man on his beliefs. Tell him he's a gutless coward if he chooses not to back them publicly. There's plenty of politicians that openly state they don't believe in abortion, but are more compelled to uphold the law of the land. Why can't Allito? Why can't he admit what his heart says? "I, Samuel Alito, don't believe in abortion. But as a Supreme Court Justice, I must uph--" That's the part he can't say, the "uphold" part So he runs from it like a scared little girl. It tells me he's gutless and willing to sayor avoid sayingwhatever it takes to get him through this process.

2) Abortion and the Right. I listened to either Lindsay Graham or some other nut drone on about how women are killing children en masse through abortion. How it's the same as forced sterilization. Ad nauseam.

If you've been a reader for awhile, you know my opinion on abortion. Basically it's a horrible procedure at the heart of a absolutely inhuman period of time. As a nation we should do more to end abortion through contraception, family planning, the end of the societal demonization of single pregnant mothers, and a total overhaul of the foster care and adoption systems. If America rejects Roe v. Wade, I predict we will see news reports of an absolute implosion of the adoption and foster care system. We'll see an increase in suicides, because the feelings of guilt, shame and hopelessness can quickly overwhelm even the strongest.

Why didn't someone ask Alito about his idea of a world without Roe for the hundreds of thousands of children born to households that aren't prepared for or don't want the child? What do we as a nation do in this brave new world Sam? I'm sure he, like most every conservative, has no earthly idea what to say or do. Who will look after these children? Don't bet on Sam and the rest of the conservatives. At the heart of their dogma, it's every man (or baby) for themselves. Alito and the rest of today's conservatives are glad to "fix" the problem, but it's up to the victim to clean it up. They scowl and warn us "Jesus is coming!" I'm pretty sure he aint' coming with Pampers and formula. And he's gonna be pissed we didn't take care of these kids we as a society helped to create.

Overall, Alito's a lock at this point. I hope Dems fillibuster him. It would be an incredibly brave thing to do. The GOP talking points only last so long. The American people are willing to listen to a principled argument in opposition. And a filllibuster is probably the only way they'll hear that argument.

Tuesday, January 10
We All Have a Lot to Learn
Tuesday, January 10 (Fareed Zakharia.com)Last week India was hit by a terror attack that unsettled the country. A gunman entered the main conference hall of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, tossed four grenades into the audience and, when the explosives failed, fired his AK-47 at the crowd. One man, a retired professor of mathematics from one of the Indian Institutes of Technology, was killed. What has worried some about this attack is not its scope or planning or effectall unimpressivebut the target. The terrorists went after what is increasingly seen as India's core strategic asset for the 21st century: its scientific and technological brain trust. If that becomes insecure, what will become of India's future?

This small event says a lot about global competition. Traveling around Asia for most of the past month, I have been struck by the relentless focus on education. It makes sense. Many of these countries have no natural resources, other than their people; making them smarter is the only path for development. China, as always, appears to be moving fastest. When officials\ there talk about their plans for future growth, they point out that they have increased spending on colleges and universities almost tenfold in the past 10 years.

Yale's president, Richard Levin, notes that\ Peking University's two state-of-the-art semiconductor fabrication lineseach employing a different technologyoutshine anything in the United States. East Asian countries top virtually every global ranking of students in science and mathematics. More

Why the Religious Right Loves the Imperial Presidency
Tuesday, January 10 (Talk to Action)The legal proposal known as the "unitary executive" is much in the news. President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito, argued for it in November 2000 at a panel sponsored by the rightwing Federalist Society. The proposal, as Walter Shapiro summarized it in Salon.com, argues that "every part of the executive branch (including regulatory agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and, yes, independent counsels like Kenneth Starr) should be legally under the control of the president."

The media too seldom notes the synergy between the religious right's current desire for codified Christianization of The United States and an imperial presidency. That synergy is very important; it is a threat to liberty and a reason why both the unitary executive concept in general and Samuel Alito's nomination in particular should be opposed by progressives and anyone concerned about the power and influence of the religious right on the republic and American culture.

The basic idea of a super-powerful or all-powerful president (akin to the concept of an "imperial presidency") is not new. Some early Americans thought the presidency should be an office held for life; some supporters of George Washington wanted to make him our king. Looking more aptly to modern comparisons, we see Franklin D. Roosevelt (a Democrat) and Richard Nixon (a Republican) both embodied relatively super-strong presidencies. Roosevelt attempted to radically alter the nature of the Supreme Court without a Constitutional amendment. Richard Nixon sought the power to declare war (which--though the casual observer would never know it--is a power wisely reserved for Congress) and the power of full immunity from legislative oversight. Motivated largely by personal vindictiveness, Nixon acted illegally on his beliefs about the executive branch's would-be special privileges. Fortunately, the media had active investigative reporters back then who exposed Nixon; also fortunately, Congress was not controlled by Nixon's own political party, and the cumulative result of those two realities was that Nixon's abuses caused his downfall.

That was then.

Today, many of Nixon's more powerful admirers, like Vice-President Dick Cheney and Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld agree with Nixon and want to craft an imperial presidency.

They have succeeded hugely. (See here, here, here, and here; also, a broader overview wisely including President Clinton's administration is here; also, Cheney's love of the imperial presidency recently caught the attention of The New York Times.)

What makes the imperial nature of the Bush presidency especially dangerous is that it comes at the same time when much of the religious right believes, probably correctly, that a tipping point has been reached in their struggle to formally Christianize America in brazen defiance of our Founding Fathers' enlightenment ideals and in opposition to our Founders' dreams of what America might be at its best. More

by Isaac Shapiro, Richard Kogan and Aviva Aron-Dine
Tuesday, January 10 (Center on budget and Policy Priorities)Continued economic and employment growth and the drop in the deficit in fiscal year 2005 have led to renewed debate over the nature of the economic recovery.  Some proponents of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts have argued that these developments validate their claims about the positive effects of those tax cuts.

Examination of a broad range of key economic indicators, however, shows that this economic recovery is not especially robust.  To the contrary, relative to comparable past periods, the current economic recovery has, on balance, been worse than average.  The economic performance of the past four years also has been no better than the economic recovery of the early 1990s, which occurred in years following a significant tax increase; in terms of job creation, this recovery has been far worse.  In short, the economys overall performance does not make up for the adverse fiscal effects of the recent tax cuts or the unusually uneven distribution of the economic gains from this recovery.[1]

We examine Commerce Department, Labor Department, and Federal Reserve Board data on seven economic indicators:  gross domestic product, personal consumption expenditures, private domestic fixed non-residential investment, net worth, income from wages and salaries, employment, and corporate profits.  For each indicator, we look at average growth both since the business-cycle trough in November 2001 (when the recovery began) and since the last business-cycle peak in March 2001.  We compare average growth over these periods with average growth over comparable business-cycle periods since the end of World War II.[2]  Growth is measured after adjusting for inflation (except for employment levels, where such an adjustment is inapplicable). More


Tuesday, January 10 (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)According to final Treasury Department figures, the deficit for fiscal year 2005 was $319 billion, down significantly both from last years level and from projections made at the beginning of this year.  This progress is due to an increase in tax collections from last year (and from what had been projected earlier this year).  Some are using this fact to argue that the tax cuts are working and are responsible for stronger economic growth and a large increase in revenues.

But this interpretation is misguided.  The recent increase in revenue collections does not reflect unexpectedly fast growth in the economy.  Revenue levels remain quite low by historical standards, and without the tax cuts, revenues would be substantially higher, and deficits substantially smaller. 

Recently published Internal Revenue Service data provide additional evidence that tax cuts do not pay for themselves.  The IRS data are for tax year 2003, the year in which the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act took effect.  That legislation enacted tax breaks for capital gains and dividends, as well as reductions in marginal tax rates and other tax cuts.  Based on a detailed analysis of individual tax returns for 2003, the IRS concludes, Because of this law [JGTRRA], even with [an] increase in taxable income, the lower tax rates resulted in a 6.1-percent decrease in total income tax [relative to the previous year].

There are many reasons to doubt that tax cuts are behind the more recent tax revenue increase. More

Tuesday, January 10 (Center on Budget and Policy Priority)In his speech in Chicago today, President Bush praised the economys recent performance and gave his policies a large amount of the credit.  The fact that the economy is growing is not itself remarkable, since the American economy has always resumed growing after downturns.  The critical point is that neither the economy nor the Presidents policies are performing as well as the President claims.

The Presidents claim that the American economy heads into 2006 with a full head of steam ignores the fact that the current economic recovery has been below average in historical terms thus far. More

Americans Divided Along Party Lines on Domestic Spying, Poll Shows
Two Out of Three Say Investigating Terrorist Threats Trumps Protecting Civil Liberties
Tuesday, January 10 (Washington Post)Americans overwhelmingly support aggressive government pursuit of terrorist threats, even if that may infringe on personal privacy, but they divide sharply along partisan lines over the legitimacy of President Bush's program of domestic eavesdropping without court authorization, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Nearly two out of three Americans surveyed said they believe that federal agencies involved in anti-terrorist activities are intruding on the personal privacy of their fellow citizens, but fewer than a third say such intrusions are unjustified.

At the same time, however, those surveyed are more narrowly divided over the question of whether the federal government is doing enough to protect the rights of both citizens and terrorist suspects in the campaign against terrorism. More

The Wiretappers That Couldn't Shoot Straight
Tuesday, January 10 (New York Times)ALMOST two weeks before The New York Times published its scoop about our government's extralegal wiretapping, the cable network Showtime blew the whole top-secret shebang. In its mini-series "Sleeper Cell," about Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in Los Angeles, the cell's ringleader berates an underling for chatting about an impending operation during a phone conversation with an uncle in Egypt. "We can only pray that the N.S.A. is not listening," the leader yells at the miscreant, who is then stoned for his blabbing.

If fictional terrorists concocted by Hollywood can figure out that the National Security Agency is listening to their every call, guess what? Real-life terrorists know this, too. So when a hyperventilating President Bush rants that the exposure of his warrant-free wiretapping in a newspaper is shameful and puts "our citizens at risk" by revealing our espionage playbook, you have to wonder what he is really trying to hide. Our enemies, as America has learned the hard way, are not morons. Even if Al Qaeda hasn't seen "Sleeper Cell" because it refuses to spring for pay cable, it has surely assumed from the get-go that the White House would ignore legal restraints on eavesdropping, just as it has on detainee jurisprudence and torture.

That the White House's over-the-top outrage about the Times scoop is a smokescreen contrived to cover up something else is only confirmed by Dick Cheney's disingenuousness. In last week's oration at a right-wing think tank, he defended warrant-free wiretapping by saying it could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Really? Not with this administration in charge. On 9/10 the N.S.A. (lawfully) intercepted messages in Arabic saying, "The match is about to begin," and, "Tomorrow is zero hour." You know the rest. Like all the chatter our government picked up during the president's excellent brush-clearing Crawford vacation of 2001, it was relegated to mañana; the N.S.A. didn't rouse itself to translate those warnings until 9/12.

Given that the reporters on the Times story, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, wrote that nearly a dozen current and former officials had served as their sources, there may be more leaks to come, and not just to The Times. Sooner or later we'll find out what the White House is really so defensive about. More

I.R.S. Limited Tax Refunds of Poor, Congress Is Told
Tuesday, January 10 (New York Times)Tax refunds sought by hundreds of thousands of poor Americans have been frozen and their returns labeled fraudulent, blocking refunds for years to come, the Internal Revenue Service's taxpayer advocate told Congress today.

The taxpayers, whose average income was $13,000, were not told that they were suspected of fraud, the advocate said in her annual report to Congress. The advocate, Nina Olson, said her staff sampled suspected returns and found that, at most, one in five was questionable.

A computer program selected the returns as part of the questionable refund program run by the criminal investigation division of the Internal Revenue Service. In some cases, the criminal division ordered that taxpayers be given no hint that they were suspected of fraud, the report said.

Most of the poor people whose returns the computer flagged as fraudulent were seeking the earned income tax credit, a benefit for the working poor. The credit can return all of the income taxes and Social Security taxes withheld from the paychecks of poor people. Without the credit, many poor people coming off welfare and going to work would receive less money because of taxes taken out of their paychecks and the loss of health benefits, I.R.S. data and other government documents show.

The average refund sought was $3,500, which under the rules for obtaining the credit means that the vast majority of those suspected of fraud were single parents or married couples with children. The maximum benefit for singles is less than $400.

Ms. Olson said the I.R.S. devoted vastly more resources to pursing questionable refunds by the poor, which she said cannot involve more than $9 billion, than to a $100 billion problem with unreported incomes from small businesses that deal only in cash, many of which do not even file tax returns. More

4:58While I'm Listening to Sen. Lindsay Graham Warble on about Some Such Nonsense....

On Bush and the wiretap argument: remember the last time we as a nation gave him the benefit of the doubt? When we as a people said, "you know, he just may know something we don't?" What happened next?

Friday, January 6
1:40 pmCorruption and the Latest Opportunity Not Exploited by Democrats

Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay are two wonderful gifts from the God that doesn't hate everything. The two poster boys for GOP corruption are passing through the bowels of the legals system at roughly the same time. Here is a great opportunity to do some image "positioning" as my friends in advertising call it.

Abramoff's links to crime, money, and every breathing GOP legislator gives Dems an opportunity to portray the entire Republican congress as unconsionably corrupt. DeLay's largesse, arrogance, and manipulation could go a long way toward further skewering the fallacy of "compassionate conservatism." DeLay is just about ready to be hoised on a petard as the latest example of"what's wrong with politics." But his tale is much more compelling that that of Jim Wright, Dan Rostenkowski, the Abscammers, the Savings and Loan grifters, and most Chicago aldermen. His tale is that of big corruption done on an epic scale. It's a pile of fresh cat doo-doo that the press has been willfully trying not to smell. I mean, starting a charity for children only to use it for laundering campaign contributions? Let any Democrat try that. He or she would last exactly 6 seconds.

But we can live with the press ignoring it. We can't forgive Congressional Democrats for doing the same. Right now there's an equal amount of effort on democratic and republican lobbying reform packages. Why? Knowing full well for at least a couple of months that an Abramoff indictment would coming out of the Justice Department, why didn't Democrats have a reform bill ready for a very public rejection by the GOP? Something Republicans could laugh at, and point out how unnecessary it was. I'm sure they would have obliged in spades.

But how valuable would that effort have been these last couple of weeks? Imagine?

Dems could have been seen as leaders of reform. The common "they're just as dirty as us" wouldn't have stuckif it does stick at all, given the vast difference in how much Dems got versus Republicans.

But that chance is largely gone. They've ceded the leadership on this issue, and now it's up for grabs.

Their next shot is when we start learning what votes and favors were bought with Abramofff and Indian money. Get ready for some shockers, as one can't throw around that much money and expect everyone to follow their consience. Abramoff and DeLay wanted results. The time to start linking Republicans to payoffs for voting is now. To ignore it is asinine.

Who are Justice Sunday's Ministers of Minstrelsy?
Friday, January 6 (Huffington Post)Christian right leaders love to invoke the legacy of the civil rights movement in their struggle to undo it. During Justice Sunday II, born-again Watergate felon Chuck Colson declared that the Christian right was doing nothing but "giving voice" to Martin Luther King Jr.'s philosophy. Later in the evening, the Catholic League's Bill Donohue told the nearly all-white, Southern Baptist audience, "Now we're in the back of the bus."

For Perkins, who is today perhaps the Christian right's most influential operative, linking his agenda to the civil rights movement serves a purpose almost as important as indulging the persecution fantasies of his followers. The image of Perkins and his allies as the logical heirs to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy helps obscure his past involvement with racist groups and figures as he advances an anti-civil rights agenda.

In 1996, while working as campaign manager for the failed US Senate candidacy of his mentor, Woody Jenkins, Perkins signed a check for nearly $90,000 to David Duke for the purchase of his phone bank list. Then, even after a steady stream of bad press doomed his own Senate campaign, Perkins spoke at a 2001 fundraiser for the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white nationalist group which has called blacks "a retrograde species of humanity" on its website. And this Sunday, Perkins will be joined by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who incited opposition to the civil rights movement from the pulpit in 1950's and 1960's Virginia. More

Commissioner's Statement on Employment
Friday, January 6 (Bureau of Labor Services)Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 108,000 in December, and the unemployment rate, at 4.9 percent, was little changed.  In November, payroll employment rose by 305,000, and October employment was about unchanged (+25,000), as revised.  Over the year, payroll employment increased by 2.0 million.  Over the month, employment increased in manufacturing, food services, professional and
business services, and health care.  Construction employment was little changed in December.

Manufacturing added 18,000 jobs over the month.  There were noteworthy gains in wood products and in computer and electronic products.  The factory workweek declined by 0.1 hour to 40.7 hours, and overtime was unchanged at 4.5 hours.

Construction employment was little changed over the month, following a gain of 42,000 in November.  In 2005, construction employment rose by 246,000.  In December, employment in residential building construction continued
to increase.  Employment in heavy construction declined in December, following a large gain in November.

Within the service-providing sector, health care added 21,000 jobs in December and 271,000 jobs in 2005.  Over the month, employment continued to trend up in hospitals and in doctors' offices. More

Tuesday, January 3
2:44 pmThe Abramoff Indictment

Read it here

The Economy and Mr. Bush
Tuesday, January 3 (Washington Post)THE PAST YEAR has been remarkable for the economic disasters that did not happen. The huge U.S. trade deficit, which threatened a collapse in the dollar and a destabilizing spike in U.S. interest rates, actually delivered neither. High oil prices, which peaked dramatically after hurricanes devastated the Gulf Coast, created neither gas lines nor the wider economic fallout that many had anticipated. Instead, the U.S. economy kept growing at a rate close to the impressive 4.2 percent notched up in 2004, which many had assumed was unsustainable. All this testifies to the flexibility of the economy and the wisdom of the Federal Reserve -- though it shouldn't be assumed that the trade deficit, even bigger now than it was a year ago, will remain forever free of consequences.

Yet on one important measure, the economic news hasn't been as good. The majority of workers have not felt the benefits. The issue is not joblessness: Ten years ago economists debated whether unemployment could fall below 6 percent without triggering inflation, but in November joblessness stood at just 5 percent, down from 5.4 percent a year earlier -- a feat that the euro zone, with an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent, can only envy. Rather, the problem for workers lies in take-home pay. Wages for blue-collar manufacturing workers and non-managers in services have remained stagnant since the economic recovery began in November 2001. More

11:30 amThe Data Continues to Trickle inSupply-side Ecomomics is a Farce (unless you are already rich)

From the Congressional Budget Office:

Analyzing the Economic and Budgetary Effects of a 10 Percent Cut in Income Tax Rates
Changes in tax policy can influence the economy, and those economic effects can in turn affect the federal budget. Although conventional estimates of the budgetary effect of tax policies incorporate a variety of behavioral effects, they are, nonetheless, based on a fixed economic baseline. For that reason, they do not include the budgetary impact of any possible macroeconomic effects of tax policies.

This brief by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzes the macroeconomic effects of a simple tax policy: a 10 percent reduction in all federal tax rates on individual income. Because there is little consensus on exactly how tax cuts affect the economy, CBO based its analysis on a number of different sets of assumptions about how people respond to changes in tax policy, how open the economy is to flows of foreign capital, and how the revenue loss from the tax cut might eventually be offset.

Under those various assumptions, CBO estimated effects on output ranging from increases of 0.5 percent to 0.8 percent over the first five years on average, and from a decrease of 0.1 percent to an increase of 1.1 percent over the second five years. The budgetary impact of the economic changes was estimated to offset between 1 percent and 22 percent of the revenue loss from the tax cut over the first five years and add as much as 5 percent to that loss or offset as much as 32 percent of it over the second five years.

Gov. Bush defends his record of tax cuts
Tuesday, January 3 (Gainsville.com)In his first State of the State address in 1999, Gov. Jeb Bush burnished his image as a tax-loathing populist.

"It's not our money," he told lawmakers while he asked for their support of his $1 billion-plus tax cut proposal. "Those of us in Tallahassee must learn to trust Floridians to keep more of what they earn."
More than six years later, as Bush prepares for his final year in office, it would be hard to deny that he's cut taxes. Since 1999, lawmakers have approved tax cuts totaling more than $14 billion.

But most Floridians haven't seen a direct impact.

A review of tax cuts enacted during Bush's terms show the bulk of the cuts have aided businesses or investors, with cuts on estate taxes and investments accounting for nearly half of the tax cuts and cuts for businesses also well into the billions of dollars.

"The vast majority of tax cuts (under Bush) went to special interests, select corporations and our most privileged and wealthy citizens," said Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach. "They gave the wealthy and most powerful the vast majority of your tax breaks and gave everyone else a few crumbs and told them they've been to the party." More

Arizona Minutemen Driven Largely By Sense of Insecurity, Victimization, (Part One of Two)
The vigilantes patrolling the Mexico-US border have received lots of attention, but a closer look reveals complex, often contradictory motives and a cynical, almost desperate worldview you may find historically or even personally familiar.
Tuesday, January 3 (NewsStandard)A mile from the Mexican border, Jim Gilchrist strode through the makeshift headquarters of the controversial Minuteman Project. Located on the campus of the Miracle Valley Bible College, individuals wearing Minuteman nametags posted maps of the border terrain, fidgeted with electronic equipment, and installed numerous antennae on the roof, all under the watchful eye of Gilchrist, the Projects primary organizer. Outside, a white flag fluttered in the wind, bearing the emblem of a coiled rattlesnake and two messages for visitors: "Dont Tread on Me" and "Liberty or Death." As armed guards prepared to patrol the area, the church was beginning to resemble a military compound; volunteers suddenly referred to what was previously the cafeteria as the "mess hall"; the church grounds became "the perimeter."

Standing 6 feet 6 inches and dressed head to toe in desert camouflage fatigues, a Minuteman volunteer named Mike explained that he had just flown in from Peru. Originally from Georgia, Mike, who like most volunteers refused to give a last name, had recently married a Peruvian woman that he met while vacationing, and hoped to soon begin the process to have her come to the US. "They say it can sometimes take many years," he mentioned. "But I just think that you have to follow the rules and come here legally."

Mike explained that he had heard of the Minuteman Project through a Yahoo! email discussion group while in Peru and that he would be staying at the Bible College for the entire month of the Project. When asked what had motivated him to leave his wife back in Peru, he expressed the belief that Mexicans were "taking over" Georgia, and that he felt it important to secure the border. "Mexican are coming over right now," he said, emphasizing the last two words, an intense look on his face as he peered out into the desert. "That, more than anything, is why I decided to join." More

Primary season promises fireworks
DeLay's fight for re-election is attracting national interest
Tuesday, January 3 (Houston Chronicle)The end of candidate filing Monday marked the beginning of several lively primary campaigns, as area hopefuls scrambled for two open state Senate seats and several House seats being vacated by senate candidates.

The showcase local congressional race crystallized as former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson officially filed for the Democratic nomination to take on U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, in the 22nd District. That race will draw national attention and is likely to be the toughest challenge DeLay has faced during his more than 20 years in Congress.

Lampson is unopposed for his party's nomination, but DeLay will have to get past three challengers in the March 7 GOP primary. He will face political newcomer Pat Baig and lawyers Tom Campbell and Michael Fjetland.

Meanwhile, DeLay will try to clear himself of felony money-laundering charges in hopes of regaining his post as House majority leader. The charges involve fundraising during the 2002 state legislative elections.

One of the hottest Houston-area legislative races this year will be among four Republicans battling to replace retiring state Sen. Jon Lindsay, R-Houston, in Senate District 7. More

Abramoff May Plead Guilty This Week, Snaring Lawmakers in Probe
Tuesday, January 3 (Bloomberg)Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is under criminal investigation, may agree this week to cooperate with federal officials in a move that former prosecutors say would put U.S. lawmakers in legal jeopardy.

Abramoff's lawyers may tell a U.S. district judge in Miami as early as today whether they've reached a plea agreement with the government ahead of a scheduled wire-fraud trial, according to a person close to the investigation. Judge Paul Huck has scheduled a 3:30 p.m. conference call for a status report on the negotiations.

To get a reduced prison sentence, Abramoff would have to implicate lawmakers in a related probe of his lobbying activities, said Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor and head of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

``I believe he has to be giving up members of Congress,'' Sloan said. ``Otherwise, Abramoff is as high as you go.''

If he doesn't agree to a plea bargain, Abramoff will go to trial Jan. 9 in connection with the purchase of a Florida casino cruise-ship company. His partner in that deal, Adam Kidan, pleaded guilty Dec. 15 to wire fraud and conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. More

Thursday, December 29
Does He Mean Toilet Paper?
Thursday, December 29 (OpEd News.com)Once, a long time ago, a famous, patriotic AmericanPopeye the Sailormansaid, I cant stans no more!! I remember thinking like Popeye when Nixon was president after all those times he tried to steal the constitution and was almost successful. There was that illegal war the CIA didnt run in Laos. Then there was that illegal bombing of Cambodia. And who could forget the illegal eavesdropping and domestic surveillance he ordered the FBI to conduct on US citizens who were against the war in Vietnam. Yeah, that FBI&the one headed up by that fat guy in the dress. And, oh yeah, the previous all time great&Watergate. Who would have ever thought that could be topped?

If you had told me after all of that, that some day, a greater president&one with real vision&would come up with a greater string of illegal, unconstitutional acts, I would have said, Shut up!! Not even!! Whatever, dude!!. But, lo and behold, just in time for ChristmaHannuKwanza, we have&BushTap. Its these modern illegalities that I cant stans no more and the Congress must fulfill its constitutional duty to charge Bush with the high crimes and misdemeanors he committed, purportedly in the name of national security, and impeach his sorry ass.

I could go on and on about whether the Iraq War is legal, but the truth is, from a constitutional standpoint, it might be. Yes, after 9/11, Congress basically gave its balls to the President in the complete sellout of their positions as our representatives, so you really cant blame Bush for that. I mean, the guy did say, Hey, give me permission to go to war against terrorists and Saddam Hussein, and the House and Senate were falling all over themselves, mewling, Go, George, go!! Were as patriotic as you!! And go, he did. Or is. And, no doubt, will continue, despite the laws and the constitution.

Then theres the lies. There was the whole uranium thing; the WMD thing; the Saddam/Al Qaeda thing. I mean, these guys really have that never let the facts stand in the way of the truth thing down pat. Not just about some things, but, lets face it, this guy lies about virtually everything. Okay, he apparently told the truth about the NSA spying on US citizens and probably some legal resident aliens, as well. And, if you can still believe anything that comes out of the White House, the Congress, at least the intelligence committees, sent their pubic hair along this time, because some of themDemocrats, tooknew about the NSA spying and said nothing. But even in telling the truth, or some of it, anyway, the Bush crowd still has to lie about the details.

First, is the lie that a presidential order to the NSA to eavesdrop on US citizens and legal resident aliens, without any imitations, is both legal and constitutional. These sycophants really seem to believe, apparently, that Goebbals was right, If you lie about something enough, it becomes the truth. Any fair reading of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Actthe plain meaning of the words, as the courts put it when interpreting a statutemakes it perfectly clear that the NSA spying on US citizens and legal resident aliens is just flatly prohibited without an order from the FISA court. These guys know this is true and, yet, they lie anyway. I actually think that they believe that if they tell this lie enough, some court, when this is eventually litigated, will go, Yeah. Youre right. Even though the statutory language is plain in its simple terms, I am ignoring that because George Bush says Im wrong and, therefore, it must be true. In reality, this will not happen and they probably know that, too. Yet, the lies continue to spew from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and I understand they just beefed up the sewage system because of the inordinate recent amount of complete cow dung theyve been shoveling to the American people.

Second, the FISA makes it clear that the president, adhering to statutory requirements, can, in fact, bypass the FISA court and authorize certain eavesdropping without an order from the FISA court. But, guess what? The statute states that the president and attorney general can only do this so long as they certify that no United States person will be a party to the surveillance. United States person is defined as any citizen, legal resident alien and various corporate entities. They have to swear under oath that there is no substantial likelihood that the surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party& More importantly, even if they can order the eavesdropping due to a true emergency, they still have to seek a warrant within seventy-two hours from the FISA court. In all other cases, the definitions contained in the first section of FISA make it mandatory that if a US citizen or legal resident alien is acting as an agent of a foreign power within the United States, they must seek a FISA court order prior to beginning such surveillance. More

The Fast Rise and Steep Fall of Jack Abramoff
How a Well-Connected Lobbyist Became the Center of a Far-Reaching Corruption Scandal
Thusday, December 29 (Washington Post)Jack Abramoff liked to slip into dialogue from "The Godfather" as he led his lobbying colleagues in planning their next conquest on Capitol Hill. In a favorite bit, he would mimic an ice-cold Michael Corleone facing down a crooked politician's demand for a cut of Mafia gambling profits: "Senator, you can have my answer now if you like. My offer is this: nothing."

The playacting provided a clue to how Abramoff saw himself -- the power behind the scenes who directed millions of dollars in Indian gambling proceeds to favored lawmakers, the puppet master who pulled the strings of officials in key places, the businessman who was building an international casino empire.

Abramoff is the central figure in what could become the biggest congressional corruption scandal in generations. Justice Department prosecutors are pressing him and his lawyers to settle fraud and bribery allegations by the end of this week, sources knowledgeable about the case said. Unless he reaches a plea deal, he faces a trial Jan. 9 in Florida in a related fraud case.

A reconstruction of the lobbyist's rise and fall shows that he was an ingenious dealmaker who hatched interlocking schemes that exploited the machinery of government and trampled the norms of doing business in Washington -- sometimes for clients but more often to serve his desire for wealth and influence. This inside account of Abramoff's career is drawn from interviews with government officials and former associates in the lobbying shops of Preston Gates & Ellis LLP and Greenberg Traurig LLP; thousands of court and government records; and hundreds of e-mails obtained by The Washington Post, as well as those released by Senate investigators.

Abramoff, now 47, had mammoth ambitions. He sought to build the biggest lobbying portfolio in town. He opened two restaurants close to the Capitol. He bought a fleet of casino boats. He produced two Hollywood movies. He leased four arena and stadium skyboxes and dreamed of owning a pro sports team. He was a generous patron in his Orthodox Jewish community, starting a boys' religious school in Maryland.

For a time, all things seemed possible. Abramoff's brash style often clashed with culturally conservative Washington, but many people were drawn to his moxie and his money. He collected unprecedented sums -- tens of millions of dollars -- from casino-rich Indian tribes. Lawmakers and their aides packed his restaurants and skyboxes and jetted off with him on golf trips to Scotland and the Pacific island of Saipan.

Abramoff offered jobs and other favors to well-placed congressional staffers and executive branch officials. He pushed his own associates for government positions, from which they, too, could help him.

He was a man of contradictions. He presented himself as deeply religious, yet his e-mails show that he blatantly deceived Indian tribes and did business with people linked to the underworld. He had genuine inside connections but also puffed himself up with phony claims about his access.

Abramoff's lobbying team was made up of Republicans and a few Democrats, most of whom he had wined and dined when they were aides to powerful members of Congress. They signed on for the camaraderie, the paycheck, the excitement.

"Everybody lost their minds," recalled a former congressional staffer who lobbied with Abramoff at Preston Gates. "Jack was cutting deals all over town. Staffers lost their loyalty to members -- they were loyal to money."

A senior Preston Gates partner warned him to slow down or he would be "dead, disgraced or in jail." Those within Abramoff's circle also saw the danger signs. Their boss had become increasingly frenzied about money and flouted the rules. "I'm sensing shadiness. I'll stop asking," one associate, Todd Boulanger, e-mailed a colleague. More

Producer Price Indexes -- November 2005
Thursday, December 29 (Bureau of Labor Statistics)The Producer Price Index for Finished Goods declined 0.7 percent in November, seasonally adjusted, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported today. This decrease followed a 0.7- percent rise in October and a 1.9-percent gain in September. Prices for finished goods other than foods and energy increased 0.1 percent, after decreasing 0.3 percent in the preceding month. At the earlier stages of processing, the index for intermediate goods fell 1.2 percent, following a 3.0-percent rise in the prior month. Crude goods prices moved down 1.2 percent, after advancing 6.7 percent in October.

The downturn in the finished goods index was due to prices for energy goods, which fell 4.0 percent in November after increasing 4.1 percent a month earlier. By contrast, prices for finished consumer goods other than foods and energy turned up 0.2 percent, following a 0.2-percent decline in the previous month. The finished consumer foods index moved up 0.5 percent, after edging down 0.1 percent in October. Capital equipment prices fell 0.1 percent in November, compared with a 0.2-percent decrease in the prior month.

Before seasonal adjustment, the Producer Price Index for Finished Goods dropped 1.6 percent in November to 158.4 (1982 = 100). From November 2004 to November 2005, prices for finished goods increased 4.4 percent. Over the same period, the finished energy goods index jumped 17.8 percent, prices for finished goods other than foods and energy advanced 1.7 percent, and the finished consumer foods index inched up 0.8 percent. For the 12 months ended November 2005, prices received by manufacturers of intermediate goods rose 8.4 percent, and the index for crude goods went up 21.0 percent. More

Homeland Security Is Faulted in Audit
Inspector General Points to FEMA, Cites Mismanagement Among Problems
Thursday, December 29 (Washington Post)Nearly three years after it was formed, the immense Department of Homeland Security remains hampered by severe management and financial problems that contributed to the flawed response to Hurricane Katrina, according to an independent audit released yesterday.

The report by Homeland Security Inspector General Richard L. Skinner aimed some of its most pointed criticism at one of DHS's major entities, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Katrina and a subsequent storm, Rita, increased the load on FEMA's "already overburdened resources and infrastructure," the report said.

In addition, the report found, "the circumstances created by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita provide an unprecedented opportunity for fraud, waste and abuse," primarily because FEMA's grant and contract programs are still not being managed properly.

"While DHS is taking several steps to manage and control spending under Katrina, the sheer size of the response and recovery efforts will create an unprecedented need for oversight," the report concludes.

The audit is the latest in a series of tough assessments of the beleaguered department, which has been widely criticized since it was formed in March 2003 by combining 22 disparate agencies. In a final "report card" issued earlier this month, for example, the former members of the Sept. 11 commission gave the DHS low or failing grades in many key areas, including airline passenger screening and border control.

Earlier this week, a group of House Democrats issued a report alleging that the department had failed to follow through on 33 promised improvements to border security, infrastructure protection and other programs. More

Ed. Note: read the entire report here

Bush Team Rethinks Its Plan for Recovery
New Approach Could Save Second Term
Thursday, December 29 (Washington Post)President Bush shifted his rhetoric on Iraq in recent weeks after an intense debate among advisers about how to pull out of his political free fall, with senior adviser Karl Rove urging a campaign-style attack on critics while younger aides pushed for more candor about setbacks in the war, according to Republican strategists.

The result was a hybrid of the two approaches as Bush lashed out at war opponents in Congress, then turned to a humbler assessment of events on the ground in Iraq that included admissions about how some of his expectations had been frustrated. The formula helped Bush regain his political footing as record-low poll numbers began to rebound. Now his team is rethinking its approach to his second term in hopes of salvaging it.

The Iraq push culminated the rockiest political year of this presidency, which included the demise of signature domestic priorities, the indictment of the vice president's top aide, the collapse of a Supreme Court nomination, a fumbled response to a natural disaster and a rising death toll in an increasingly unpopular war. It was not until Bush opened a fresh campaign to reassure the public on Iraq that he regained some traction.

The lessons drawn by a variety of Bush advisers inside and outside the White House as they map a road to recovery in 2006 include these: Overarching initiatives such as restructuring Social Security are unworkable in a time of war. The public wants a balanced appraisal of what is happening on the battlefield as well as pledges of victory. And Iraq trumps all. More

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