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"Republicans attach incredible importance to media criticism of the war, because they genuinely believe that the war is won and lost IN THE MEDIA.
The American media, that is. Their partisan selves are so thoroughly embedded in the culture-jamming electioneering of the Rovist personality cult the GOP has become that they genuinely dont recognize the difference between actually achieving peace and a non-doomed secular democracy in Iraq, and just being able to plausibly claim that peace on American TV."

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Friday, March 3 (on vacation next week, be sure to subscribe to to RSS feed for updates from Sun Valley, Idaho)
11:33 amRod Blagovevich: He may be an Idiot, but He's Our Idiot

The Looney Tunes serial called the Governor of Illinois. He swings between decent guy and drooling idiot. Get the drool towel. Below is an idiot moment, from today's Chicago Sun-Times:

No love on gov's hate panel
Gov. Blagojevich's anti-discrimination panel seethed with acrimony Thursday as two leading Jewish members resigned, refusing to serve alongside a Nation of Islam official who was unwilling to condemn controversial remarks by Minister Louis Farrakhan.

Lonnie Nasatir, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Richard Hirschhaut, director of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, stepped down from the governor's Discrimination and Hate Crimes Commission after Blagojevich refused to oust his embattled appointee, Claudette Marie Johnson.

Also known as Sister Claudette Marie Muhammad, Johnson is the Nation of Islam's minister of protocol who has resisted calls to criticize Farrakhan for his weekend Saviours' Day speech.

At a packed United Center on Sunday, Farrakhan hit "Hollywood Jews" for "promoting lesbianism, homosexuality" and other "filth." He also said conservatives and Zionists manipulated President Bush into war.

Did anyone ask why include a Nation of Islam member on an anti-hate committee? Would anyone ask a Movement Conservative to serve on a committe on religous tolerance? Did anyone expect this bufoonish outcome?
11:30 amIllinois' Liberal Government

Unnecessarily looking out for the little guy. See below, from the Chicago Tribune

Senate rejects bill to open records of vehicle accidents
SPRINGFIELD -- A bill that would have given the public full access to the accident histories of used vehicles in Illinois turned out to be a lemon.

The state Senate voted down the proposal 28-26 yesterday.

Sponsors of the measure argued that Illinois is one of just two states that bar the public release of vehicles' accident records.

They say many car shoppers who look up accident reports on research services such as Carfax don't realize that the report doesn't include any Illinois accidents.

But other lawmakers say they were concerned that opening access to accident records could lead to inaccurate accident reports that could hurt car sales.

Car dealerships lobbied against the measure.

You know, Illinois, being one of the blue state not on the coasts, is a government awash in liberalistic-anti business crap.
State bill proposes Christianity be Missouris official religion
Friday, March 3 (KMOV.com)Missouri legislators in Jefferson City considered a bill that would name Christianity the state's official "majority" religion.
House Concurrent Resolution 13 has is pending in the state legislature.
Many Missouri residents had not heard about the bill until Thursday. More

Thursday, March 2
Witness Says He Warned Skilling
Enron Played 'Fast and Loose,' Ex-Trading Chief Testifies
Thursday, March 2 (Washington Post)A former Enron Corp. official warned Jeffrey K. Skilling, then chief executive, that an accounting move "lacked integrity" and testified that the company played "fast and loose" with the rules, jurors heard this week in the fraud trial of Skilling and former Enron chairman Kenneth L. Lay.

David W. Delainey said Skilling responded by asking him, "What do you want to do?" The former trading chief interpreted that as an admonition to "get in line" with the plan to improperly shift hundreds of millions of dollars in losses into another division in early 2001.

The remark attributed to Skilling was far from a direct command to break the law, as defense lawyer Daniel M. Petrocelli pointed out Wednesday. Like half a dozen other witnesses who preceded him in this fraud and conspiracy trial, Delainey offered no smoking gun e-mails or recordings to back up the government's central allegations: that Skilling and Lay misrepresented Enron's financial health in the months before the company descended into bankruptcy protection.

Instead, the Justice Department's Enron Task Force is painting with repeated strokes a company on the verge of disaster, hoping that jurors will send both men to prison for the rest of their lives based on a steady accumulation of indirect evidence that they resorted to fraud to avert it. The bulk of the government case revolves around former insiders, many of whom have pleaded guilty and are testifying in exchange for reduced sentences. More

Officials warned Bush of Katrina
FOOTAGE: The president didnt ask questions at a teleconference the day before the storm but said the nation was fully prepared.
Thursday, March 2 (Duluth News Tribune)In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.

Bush didnt ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-bebattered state officials: We are fully prepared.

The footage - along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by the Associated Press - show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.

Linked by secure video, Bush expressed a confidence on Aug. 28 that starkly contrasted with the dire warnings his disaster chief and numerous federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm. A top hurricane expert voiced grave concerns about the levees and then-Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there werent enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.

Im concerned about . . . their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe, Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall. More

Unaware as Levees Fell, Officials Expressed Relief
Thursday, March 2 (New York Times)A newly released transcript of a government videoconference shows that hours after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, federal and state officials did not know that the levees in New Orleans were failing and were cautiously congratulating one another on the government response.

In the videoconference held at noon on Monday, Aug. 29, Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, reported that he had spoken with President Bush twice in the morning and that the president was asking about reports that the levees had been breached.

But asked about the levees by Joe Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana said, "We have not breached the levee at this point in time." She said "that could change" and noted that the floodwaters in some areas in and around New Orleans were 8 to 10 feet deep. Later that night, FEMA notified the White House that the levees had been breached.

The transcript offers new details but does not significantly alter the picture as it has been put together by investigators as to how officials prepared for the hurricane and responded in the first critical days.

The transcript also shows that on that day the same federal and state officials who would soon be trading recriminations were broad in praising one another's performance.

A Louisiana emergency official, Jeff Smith, said, "The coordination and support we are getting from FEMA has been just outstanding." And Mr. Brown told Governor Blanco that "you have a really good team, and they're just doing an excellent job."

While transcripts of other videoconferences before and after the storm hit were provided to Congressional investigators months ago, the Aug. 29 video and transcript could not be found by FEMA officials. Employees at a regional FEMA office in Atlanta found a tape a few days ago, and a transcript was delivered to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, officials said. More

Wednesday, March 1 (Sorry About Not Posting, Work is KILLING ME!!!!)
Restoring The Public Trust
Wednesday, March 1 (Tom Paine)I will leave to Jon Stewart the rich threads of humor to pluck from the hunting incident in Texas.  All of us are relieved that the Vice Presidents friend has survived.  I can accept Dick Cheneys word that the accident was one of the worst moments of his life.  What intrigues me as a journalist now is the rare glimpse we have serendipitously been offered into the tightly knit world of the elites who govern today.

The Vice President was hunting on a 50-thousand acre ranch owned by a lobbyist friend who is the heiress to a family fortune of land, cattle, banking and oil (ah, yes, the quickest and surest way to the American dream remains to choose your parents well.) 

The circumstances of the hunt and the identity of the hunters provoked a lament from The Economist. The most influential pro-business magazine in the world is concerned that hunting in America is becoming a matter of class: the rich are doing more, the working stiffs, less.  The annual loss of 1.5 million acres of wildlife habitat and 1 million acres of farm and ranchland to development and sprawl has come at the expense of The Deer Hunter crowd in the small towns of the north-east, the rednecks of the south and the cowboys of the west.  Their places, says The Economist, are being taken by the affluent who pay plenty for such conveniences as being driven to where the covey cooperatively awaits.  The magazine (hardly a Marxist rag, remember) describes Mr. Cheneys own expedition as a lot closer to Gosford Park than The Deer Hunter a group of fat old toffs waiting for wildlife to be flushed towards them at huge expense. 

At the heart of this story is a metaphor of power.  The Vice President turned his host, the lobbyist who is also the ranch owner, into his de facto news manager. She would disclose the shooting only when Cheney was ready and only on his terms.  Sure enough, nothing was made public for almost 20 hours until she finally leaked the authorized version to the local newspaper.  Ms. Armstrong suggested the blame lay with the victim, who, she indicated, had failed to inform the Vice President of his whereabouts and walked into a hail of friendly fire.  Three days later Cheney revised the story and apologized.  Dont you wonder what went back and forth with the White House that long night of trying to agree on the official line? More

The Spy Who Bills Us
Wednesday, March 1 (The Century Foundation)When your phone bill arrives this month, you might want to take a moment to think about how much you trust your telephone company. While the National Security Agency has gotten a lot of press since it was revealed in December that its analysts engaged in the warrantless surveillance of US citizens, the eavesdropping agency would not have been able to conduct the operation without the intimateand likely illegalcooperation of private telecommunications providers.

After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the NSA adopted a bold new approach. Seeking more unfettered access to the vast communications channels that run through the country, the agency approached executives at major telecommunications companies and requested that they provide the NSA with secret backdoors into the hubs and switches through which our telephone calls and e-mails are routed. Whereas the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires spies to obtain individual warrants for each target in an investigation, the phone companies provided unfiltered access to the full current of communicationsnot just Al Qaeda's calls, but everyone else's as well.

One problem with this approach is that it's like drinking from a fire hose. The NSA intercepts about 650 million communications worldwide every day, and, in something of a paradox, the better the agency is at hoovering in phone calls and e-mails, the worse it is at isolating critical and timely information from the white noise. According to recent reports, few of the tips the agency generated from its wiretapping program resulted in the identification of actual terrorists or plots.

Another problem is that trolling indiscriminately through the communications stream is illegal. The mechanism for eavesdropping established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is simple: Target first, eavesdrop second. If there are grounds to suspect that a person is a terrorist or agent of a foreign power, a warrant is granted to spy on that person. With this new program, the agency has inverted the traditional steps: Eavesdrop first, then identify targets within the stream of intercepted communications.

Thus far, administration officials have successfully resisted efforts by Congress to address the probable inefficiency and definite illegality of this procedure, but in outsourcing the logistics of the operation to private telecommunications companies, they may have made a crucial error. Employees of the president might argue that ''executive privilege" frees them from responding to congressional inquiries about sensitive national security operations, but the CEOs of the telecom companies have no such easy out. Earlier this month, USA Today reported that AT&T, MCI, and Sprint are three of the companies that secretly cooperate with the NSA. Democratic Senators Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin have written to the companies, asking about their involvement in the program, and if the Bush administration continues to resist congressional inquiries, the senators could subpoena executives of the companies and oblige them to explain their involvement. More

Wednesday, March 1 (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)The Presidents 2007 budget includes two proposals that risk corrupting federal budget rules in order to facilitate passage of Administration tax cuts.  One proposal calls on Congress to adopt a new scoring convention that would make the cost of extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts disappear; under this proposal, legislation to make these tax cuts permanent would be officially scored as having zero cost.  The other proposal would promote a dubious technique for assessing tax policy changes that, depending on the assumptions used, could be used to manufacture cost estimates showing various tax-cut proposals as having little or no cost.

The first proposal, which also was included in the Administrations budget last year, proposes that Congress change its rules for making its official baseline projections and assume that the tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 are permanent, even though they are slated to expire by 2010.  The current baseline projections follow the law; they consequently assume that these tax cuts will expire, as scheduled.  Thus, legislation to make the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent is now scored as reducing revenues by $1.6 trillion over the next ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  If, however, the cost of extending these tax cuts is included in the baseline projections as the Administration proposes, then legislation to make these tax cuts permanent will be scored as having no cost whatsoever.

This proposal reflects a willingness by the Administration to change rules midstream after the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts have been enacted, but before they have been extended in its pursuit of tax cuts.  And seen in this light, the Administrations second proposal also is very worrisome.  The Administration announced last week that it is creating a special division in the Treasury Department dedicated to producing dynamic analysis of tax proposals, and the Administrations budget seeks $513,000 for this division in fiscal year 2007.

A dynamic analysis is one that seeks to estimate the impact of tax policy changes on the performance of the economy.  Dynamic analyses already are undertaken in certain cases by the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office, both of which are non-partisan organizations.  The concern is that, in the hands of the Administration, dynamic analysis will be used to bolster assertions that various tax cuts do not reduce revenues but rather pay for themselves by spurring higher levels of economic growth.  Although no reputable economist adheres to this notion, it remains an article of faith among some conservative ideologues.[1]

It is also a view to which the President and Vice President apparently adhere.  The President said in a February 8 speech on the economy:  You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase. [2]  Similarly, in a February 9 speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee, Vice President Cheney asserted: The evidence is in, its time for everyone to admit that sensible tax cuts increase economic growth and add to the federal treasury.  Cheney flatly declared that, the tax cuts have translated into higher federal revenues.[3]  In its coverage of Mr. Cheneys speech, The Washington Post in an article titled Cheney Says New Unit Will Prove Tax Cuts Boost Revenue reported that Cheney touted President Bushs recently announced proposal to create a tax analysis division as a move toward providing more evidence for the Administrations side of the story.[4] More

Thursday, February 22
Documents Show Secret Deal on Ports Sale
Thursday, February 22 (Guardian UK)Under a secretive agreement with the Bush administration, a company in the United Arab Emirates promised to cooperate with U.S. investigations as a condition of its takeover of operations at six major American ports, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The U.S. government chose not to impose other, routine restrictions.

In approving the $6.8 billion purchase, the administration chose not to require state-owned Dubai Ports World to keep copies of its business records on U.S. soil, where they would be subject to orders by American courts. It also did not require the company to designate an American citizen to accommodate requests by the government.

Outside legal experts said such obligations are routinely attached to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other industries.

Dubai Ports agreed to give up records on demand about ``foreign operational direction'' of its business at the U.S. ports, according to the documents. Those records broadly include details about the design, maintenance or operation of ports and equipment. It also pledged to continue participating in programs to stop smuggling and detect illegal shipments of nuclear materials.

``They're not lax but they're not draconian,'' said James Lewis, a former U.S. official who worked on such agreements. If White House officials negotiating the deal had predicted the firestorm of criticism over it, ``they might have made them sound harder.'' More

Tuesday, February 21
Creating Wealth for the Poor
Tuesday, February 21 (Washington Post)Ron Sims, the county executive in Washington state's King County, believes government's job is "to help create wealth more efficiently." That view comes naturally to a leader of the entrepreneurial Seattle region, which has improved the nation's experience of everything from technology to coffee.

The late Paul Offner was animated in the final years of his life by a moral passion over the failure to address the deep problems of our nation's poorest young men, particularly African Americans. He left behind a manuscript, published last month by the Urban Institute, in which he and two colleagues issued an urgent plea for public action on behalf of our most disadvantaged fellow citizens.

Oh, and just as a reminder of how misleading stereotypes can be: Sims is African American while Offner, who died in 2004, was white.

Meeting Sims and reading the Urban Institute manuscript provided a bracing reminder that there is an authentic search going on outside of conventional politics for the new ideas to animate a new political era -- precisely what Democrats are supposed to be seeking.

Sims is a bluff, warm man who gets excited about problem-solving. A Democrat, he will talk your ear off about the King County government's effort to work with local employers in creating a new heath care delivery system. The idea is that government can be a catalyst for negotiation, research and reform and save both public and private employers money while producing better health outcomes for consumers.

It fits with Sims's larger idea that government, far from being a drain on the nation's wealth, ought to "provide the social infrastructure and the physical infrastructure to help wealth be created." He said during lunch here the other day that Democrats should run under the slogan: "Rebuild America."

Sims notes that after World War II, the federal government helped unleash an era of exceptional growth through investments in schools, interstate highways and higher education. Both India and China are "making intelligent moves for economic growth" and the United States cannot stand by and watch. "You need people and brains to create an economy," he says. "You need transportation to move an economy. And you need an environmental policy to create clean air and clean water."

Sims's idea reminds Democrats that a commitment to active government is not simply about redistributing wealth. It is also rooted in the historically sound insight that effective government has always been essential to robust economic growth. Government, in the Sims formulation, should be a dynamic player in our nation's economic life. More

Bush Blames Cuts at Energy Lab on Mix-Up
Tuesday, February 21 (Washington Post) President Bush, on a three-state trip to promote his energy policy, said Tuesday that a budgeting mix-up was the reason 32 workers at one of the nation's premier renewable energy labs were laid off and then reinstated just before his visit.

Bush addressed the funding problem as soon as he began speaking here at the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is developing the sort of renewable energy technologies the president is promoting.

"Sometimes, decisions made as the result of the appropriations process, the money may not end up where it was supposed to have gone," Bush said.

"My message to those who work here is we want you to know how important your work is. We appreciate what you're doing and we expect you to keep doing it, and we want to help you keep doing it."

Two weeks ago, the lab workers, including eight researchers, were laid off at the lab because of a $28 million budget shortfall. Then, over the weekend, at the direction of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, $5 million was transferred back to the lab to get the workers back on the job. More

Bush Stands Behind Port Deal
Position Distances President From Growing Number of Republicans
Tuesday, February 21 (Washington Post)President Bush today strongly defended plans to allow a company controlled by the United Arab Emirates to assume management of key U.S. ports, a stance that distanced him from a growing number of Republicans, including the congressional leadership that has threatened to pass legislation to stop the move.

In a 20-minute impromptu meeting with reporters aboard Air Force One, Bush said he would veto any legislation to hold up the port deal. He warned that if the United States derailed the deal, it would send "mixed signals" because no criticism was raised when a British company was in charge. Lawmakers, he said, must "step up and explain why a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard." More

Monday, February 20
The Jacksonville Statement
Monday, February 20 (Christian Alliance)To The Political and Church Leaders of the Religious Right:
As responsible and patriotic Americans, we can be silent no longer. In light of the deepening polarization in our country's social and political life, we feel compelled to speak out to you in a spirit of sincerity.

For many people, your words and actions have identified Christianity with radical, far right politics. We believe that your use of Christianity has sown the seeds of deep discord in our nation and throughout the world. Hear some of your own words:

"You owe liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ."
-- Church Leader Bob Jones, to George W. Bush after 2004 election

"I hope the Supreme Court will finally read the Constitution and see there's no such thing, or no mention, of separation of church and state in the Constitution."
-- House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas)

"Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost. As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence&in short, over every aspect and institution of human society."
-- Dr. D. James Kennedy, Coral Ridge Ministries

"&the liberal, anti-Christian dogma of the left has been repudiated&"
-- Tony Perkins, Family Research Council

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians & the ACLU, People For the American Way & I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen'."
-- Rev. Jerry Falwell, on Pat Robertson's 700 Club discussing the WTC attacks

We must tell you now that you do not speak for us, or for our politics. We say "No" to the ways you are using the name and language of Christianity to advance what we see as extremist political goals. We do not support your agenda to erode the separation of church and state, to blur the vital distinction between your interpretation of Christianity and our shared democratic institutions. Moreover, we do not accept what seems to be your understanding of Christian values. We reject a Christianity co-opted by any government and used as a tool to ostracize, to subjugate, or to condone bigotry, greed and injustice. More

Ed note: Check out this great new (June 2005) group here

Tomgram: A Permanent Basis for Withdrawal?
Can You Say "Permanent Bases"? The American Press Can't
Monday, February 20 (TomDispatch)We're in a new period in the war in Iraq -- one that brings to mind the Nixonian era of "Vietnamization": A President presiding over an increasingly unpopular war that won't end; an election bearing down; the need to placate a restive American public; and an army under so much strain that it seems to be running off the rails. So it's not surprising that the media is now reporting on administration plans for, or "speculation" about, or "signs of," or "hints" of "major draw-downs" or withdrawals of American troops. The figure regularly cited these days is less than 100,000 troops in Iraq by the end of 2006. With about 136,000 American troops there now, that figure would represent just over one-quarter of all in-country U.S. forces, which means, of course, that the term "major" certainly rests in the eye of the beholder.

In addition, these withdrawals are -- we know this thanks to a Seymour Hersh piece, Up in the Air, in the December 5th New Yorker -- to be accompanied, as in South Vietnam in the Nixon era, by an unleashing of the U.S. Air Force. The added air power is meant to compensate for any lost punch on the ground (and will undoubtedly lead to more "collateral damage" -- that is, Iraqi deaths).

It is important to note that all promises of drawdowns or withdrawals are invariably linked to the dubious proposition that the Bush administration can "stand up" an effective Iraqi army and police force (think "Vietnamization" again), capable of circumscribing the Sunni insurgency and so allowing American troops to pull back to bases outside major urban areas, as well as to Kuwait and points as far west as the United States. Further, all administration or military withdrawal promises prove to be well hedged with caveats and obvious loopholes, phrases like "if all goes according to plan and security improves..." or "it also depends on the ability of the Iraqis to..."

Since guerrilla attacks have actually been on the rise and the delivery of the basic amenities of modern civilization (electrical power, potable water, gas for cars, functional sewage systems, working traffic lights, and so on) on the decline, since the very establishment of a government inside the heavily fortified Green Zone has proved immensely difficult, and since U.S. reconstruction funds (those that haven't already disappeared down one clogged drain or another) are drying up, such partial withdrawals may prove more complicated to pull off than imagined. It's clear, nonetheless, that "withdrawal" is on the propaganda agenda of an administration heading into mid-term elections with an increasingly skittish Republican Party in tow and congressional candidates worried about defending the President's mission-unaccomplished war of choice. Under the circumstances, we can expect more hints of, followed by promises of, followed by announcements of "major" withdrawals, possibly including news in the fall election season of even more "massive" withdrawals slated for the end of 2006 or early 2007, all hedged with conditional clauses and "only ifs" -- withdrawal promises that, once the election is over, this administration would undoubtedly feel under no particular obligation to fulfill. More
George W. Bush is no Ronald Reagan
Review of The Impostor.
By Kevin Drum
Monday, February 20 (Washington Monthly)There was a period stretching roughly from August 2003 through November 2004 when it was nearly impossible to walk through a branch of Barnes & Noble without tripping over half a dozen stacks of books explaining why George Bush was the most disastrous president in U.S. history. Al Franken had a book. Eric Alterman and Mark Green had a book. Arianna Huffington had a book. So did Molly Ivins, Joe Conason, and David Corn.

I read two or three of these tomes before I got bored and stopped. It turned out the bill of particulars was pretty much the same from book to book, and since I already agreed that Bush was an unusually bad presidentin fact, my daily job at The Washington Monthly was frequently dedicated to illustrating just that pointthere hardly seemed much sense in proving the law of diminishing returns by continuing to read every new screed that came out.

In any case, America finally held its presidential election in 2004 and the market for Bush-bashing books promptly ebbed for a time while shell-shocked liberals tried to figure out just what had hit them. It was, once again, safe to stroll leisurely through your local bookstore.

Predictably, it didn't take much time for the tide to turn back, and in early 2006, another Bush-bashing book hit the stands. The charges leveled against the president were familiar: reckless spending increases, out-of-control deficits, relentless pandering to business interests, and a deliberate and willful contempt for policy analysis. The Bush White House, it argued, judges legislation not by whether it's conservative or liberal, but solely by whether it will gain the Republican Party a couple of percentage points of support among some voting bloc or other. Principle is nothing. Politics is everything. In other words, more of the same. Except for one thing: The author of Impostor (Doubleday, $26.00) is Bruce Bartlett, a former Reagan-era official and longtime conservative columnist. In fact, until last yearwhen he was fired for writing this bookhe was a senior fellow at the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis, a right-wing think tank dedicated to flat taxes, Social Security privatization, and a host of other conservative hot buttons.

Put in plain terms, Bartlett's charge is simple. George W. Bush, he says on page one, is a pretend conservative. Philosophically, Bush actually has more in common with liberals than he does with true conservatives. More

Don't Punish the Palestinians
By Jimmy Carter
Monday, February 20 (Washington Post)As the results of the recent Palestinian elections are implemented, it's important to understand how the transition process works and also how important to it are actions by Israel and the United States.

Although Hamas won 74 of the 132 parliamentary seats, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas retains the right to propose and veto legislation, with 88 votes required to override his veto. With nine of its elected members remaining in prison, Hamas has only 65 votes, plus whatever third-party support it can attract. Abbas also has the power to select and remove the prime minister, to issue decrees with the force of law when parliament is not in session, and to declare a state of emergency. As commander in chief, he also retains ultimate influence over the National Security Force and Palestinian intelligence.

After the first session of the new legislature, which was Saturday, the members will elect a speaker, two deputies and a secretary. These legislative officials are not permitted to hold any position in the executive branch, so top Hamas leaders may choose to concentrate their influence in the parliament and propose moderates or technocrats for prime minister and cabinet posts. Three weeks are allotted for the prime minister to form the cabinet, and a majority vote of the parliament is required for final approval.

The role of the prime minister was greatly strengthened while Abbas and Ahmed Qureia served in that position under Yasser Arafat, and Abbas has announced that he will not choose a prime minister who does not recognize Israel or adhere to the basic principles of the "road map." This could result in a stalemated process, but my conversations with representatives of both sides indicate that they wish to avoid such an imbroglio. The spokesman for Hamas claimed, "We want a peaceful unity government." If this is a truthful statement, it needs to be given a chance. More

A Bomb-Builder, 'Out of the Shadows'
Syrian Linked to Al Qaeda Plots Describes Plan to Attack Cruise Ship in Turkey
Monday, February 20 (Washington Post)Right up to the hot August night his apartment exploded, Louai Sakka's neighbors took him for a newlywed. The lanky Syrian was not seen much in the corridors of the high-rise residential complex where he lived in this sunny resort city, but he spent time nuzzling an attractive young brunette and sipping beer beside the pool.

His real identity began to emerge shortly after 3 a.m. on Aug. 4, when the windows of Apt. 1703 blew out, showering the parking lot with the contents of the kitchen and bits and pieces of the massive bomb Sakka had been painstakingly assembling in the living room. Sakka, who escaped the inferno only to be arrested two days later, turned out to be a senior operative for al Qaeda and intimately linked to major terrorist plots in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, where he had worked beside Abu Musab Zarqawi, a longtime confederate.

He showed up in Antalya last summer with tens of thousands of dollars in cash and a face altered by plastic surgery. After his arrest, he told investigators he had planned to die steering a yacht laden with explosives into a cruise ship he believed was filled with U.S. soldiers and which was already approaching across the turquoise Mediterranean.

The attack, just 48 hours away when the chemicals ignited, was intended to crown a wide-ranging career in terrorism. Sakka played a role in the so-called millennium plot to attack hotels in Amman, Jordan, on Dec. 31, 1999. Turkish prosecutors also describe him as the planner of the 2003 truck bombings that killed 57 people in Istanbul, financed with $160,000 in al Qaeda funds. More

Facing Pressure, White House Seeks Approval for Spying
Monday, February 20 (New York Times)After two months of insisting that President Bush did not need court approval to authorize the wiretapping of calls between the United States and suspected terrorists abroad, the administration is trying to resist pressure for judicial review while pushing for retroactive Congressional approval of the program.

The administration opened negotiations with Congress last week, but it is far from clear whether Mr. Bush will be able to fend off calls from Democrats and some Republicans for increased oversight of the eavesdropping program, which is run by the National Security Agency.

The latest Republican to join the growing chorus of those seeking oversight is Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

In an interview on "Fox News Sunday," Mr. Graham, a former military prosecutor whose opinion on national security commands respect in the Senate, said he believed there was now a "bipartisan consensus" to have broader Congressional and judicial review of the program.

"I do believe we can provide oversight in a meaningful way without compromising the program," he said, "and I am adamant that the courts have some role when it comes to warrants. If you're going to follow an American citizen around for an extended period of time believing they're collaborating with the enemy, at some point in time, you need to get some judicial review, because mistakes can be made."

Four other leading Senate Republicans, including the heads of three committees Judiciary, Homeland Security and Intelligence have said they would prefer some degree of judicial oversight. Their positions, if they hold, could make the negotiations more difficult.

The White House is hoping that talks will lead to legislation to approve the program, much as Congress eventually approved Abraham Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War. Mr. Bush expanded on his defense of the program in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, saying he believed that he had to take extraordinary steps in a time of war. More

Reach of Clean Water Act Is at Issue in 2 Supreme Court Cases
Monday, February 20 (New York Times)More than half of the nation's streams and wetlands could be removed from the protections of the federal Clean Water Act if two legal challenges started more than a decade ago by two Michigan developers are supported by a majority of the newly remade Supreme Court.

One case involves a developer who wanted to sell a wetland for a shopping center and in preparation filled it with sand without applying for a permit, in defiance of the authorities. The second was brought by a would-be condominium developer who applied to the Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to fill a wetland and was denied.

Oral arguments in the cases the first before the newest justice, Samuel A. Alito Jr. are scheduled for Tuesday morning. They will pit developers and a phalanx of their industrial, agricultural and ideological allies against both the solicitor general and a who's who of environmental lawyers in an argument over the scope of one of the country's fundamental environmental laws.

The central question is where federal authority ends along the network of rivers, streams, canals and ditches. Does it reach all the veins and arterioles of the nation's waters, and all the wetlands that drain into them? Does it end with the waterways that are actually navigable and the wetlands abutting them? Or is it some place in between?

Also at issue are who draws those lines and how and who decides what the Clean Water Act means by "navigable waters" and "the waters of the United States."

Tucked into the larger question is the issue of how many of the nation's 100 million or so acres of wetlands have a close enough connection, or nexus, to regulated waters to fit under the same regulatory umbrella. More

Thursday, February 16 (sorry guys, work is KILLING ME!!)
10:48 am"A Failure of Initiative", the final Congressional report on Hurricane Katrina

Read it and weep here.

Thursday, February 9
6:21 pmHey New York! Karl Rove Wants to Run Your State!

This, from Raw Story:
Top Rove aide meets with Senator Clinton challenger
A top aide to Karl Rove met with a conservative Republican running against Senator Hillary Clinton to "discuss campaign strategy," according to a story set to run in Thursday's New York Post, RAW STORY has learned. While John Spencer, former Mayor of Yonkers, if he wins the Republican primary, isn't expected to beat Clinton, the GOP hopes "he can do enough to bloody her in anticipation of a possible 2008 presidential run." According to the New York Post, the meeting came about after Rove's office "reached out" to Spencer last week to get him to support Bush's war strategy in Iraq.

Well Empire Staters, it's time to see whether you can see through a weak candidate whose strings are being pulled by "Bush's Brain". John Spencer will be a candidate with his mouth open, brain off, and Karl Rove's d*#k up his butt.

Clinton and the rest of the NY Democratic Party had better wake the hell up. Because if this is true, then the batch of Dems we have really need to be voted out.

It seems as if the fight is on. Will Dems respond?

Sen. Clinton Urges Democrats to Speak Up
Thursday, February 9 (San Francisco Chronicle)Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday accused Republicans of "playing the fear card" of terrorism to win elections and said Democrats cannot keep quiet if they want to win in November.

The New York Democrat, facing re-election this year and considered a potential White House candidate in 2008, said Republicans won the past two elections on the issue of national security and "they're doing it to us again."

She said a speech by presidential adviser Karl Rove two weeks ago showed the GOP election message is: "All we've got is fear and we're going to keep playing the fear card."

In that speech, Rove suggested Republicans can prevail in 2006 by showing Democrats had undermined terrorism-fighting efforts by questioning Bush's authority to allow wiretapping without getting court approval first.

Clinton said a convention of United Auto Workers that Democrats should not be afraid to question Bush's handling of the war.

"I take a back seat to nobody when it comes to fighting terrorism and standing up for national homeland security," she said.

Referring to fugitive al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, Clinton said, "You cannot explain to me why we have not captured or killed the tallest man in Afghanistan."

She added, "Since when has it been part of American patriotism to keep our mouths shut?" More

6:08 pmThis Better Be True....

We recall that the "plot" to destroy the Golden Gate bridge amounted to one man with a blowtorch. Apparently he had time, and an inexhaustible supply of gas. So the bar is very low on the president's vision of "terrorist threat." But today, we read this:

Bush Offers Details of 2002 Plot in Defense of Terror Strategy
President Bush defended his anti-terrorist policies anew today, asserting that the United States and its allies had foiled a terrorist plot meant to bring down a Los Angeles building that is the tallest in the United States west of the Mississippi River.

Mr. Bush said that just a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, terrorists planned to hijack another airplane by using "shoe bombs" to breach the cockpit door. Their target, had the hijacking been carried out, would have been the U.S. Bank Tower, the president said. (Government counterterrorism officials have acknowledged before that the tower would be a particularly inviting target.)

Osama bin Laden himself was involved in the plot, which was to be carried out by Southeast Asian men on the assumption that they would not arouse as much suspicion as Middle Easterners, Mr. Bush told the National Guard Association here. "Their plot was derailed in early 2002, when a Southeast Asian nation arrested a key Al Qaeda operative," he said. "Subsequent debriefings and other intelligence operations made clear the intended target and how Al Qaeda hoped to execute it."

Oh well, so much for that fleeting sense of national pride. If you try to blow open a door to hijack a plane, you blow up the plane. I think Osama would have slapped the moron that came up with this plan. Something about 5 guys hopping around on one foot going, "I'll blow up this plane! I swear!" leaves me laughing.

But here's another question, a little more serious. If the Golden Gate and this attack are the only ones foiled, how many plots have there been? It's nice that the terrorists are 0-2, but the fact that there's only 2 makes one think about the ferocity of the vaunted Al Queda. Another reason for the Bushies to be more forthcoming.

Monday, February 6
Va. Senate to Weigh Gay Workers' Protections
Monday, February 6 (Washington Post)Supporters and opponents of gay rights are about to clash again in the Virginia General Assembly, this time over a proposal to ban discrimination in government employment.

The Senate, which, like the House of Delegates, approved a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage, is scheduled this week to consider a discrimination ban that would explicitly protect gay workers. More

Friday, February 3
Blair-Bush deal before Iraq war revealed in secret memo
PM promised to be 'solidly behind' US invasion with or without UN backing
Friday, February 3 (Guardian Unlimited)Tony Blair and George Bush at a press conference in the White House on January 31 2003. Photograph: Shawn Thew/AFP
Tony Blair told President George Bush that he was "solidly" behind US plans to invade Iraq before he sought advice about the invasion's legality and despite the absence of a second UN resolution, according to a new account of the build-up to the war published today.

A memo of a two-hour meeting between the two leaders at the White House on January 31 2003 - nearly two months before the invasion - reveals that Mr Bush made it clear the US intended to invade whether or not there was a second UN resolution and even if UN inspectors found no evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons programme.

"The diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning", the president told Mr Blair. The prime minister is said to have raised no objection. He is quoted as saying he was "solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam".

The disclosures come in a new edition of Lawless World, by Phillipe Sands, a QC and professor of international law at University College, London. Professor Sands last year exposed the doubts shared by Foreign Office lawyers about the legality of the invasion in disclosures which eventually forced the prime minister to publish the full legal advice given to him by the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith.

The memo seen by Prof Sands reveals: More

NASA's Inspector General Probed
Failure to Investigate Safety Violations Is Among the Charges
Friday, February 3 (Washington Post)An FBI-led watchdog agency has opened an investigation into multiple complaints accusing NASA Inspector General Robert W. Cobb of failing to investigate safety violations and retaliating against whistle-blowers. Most of the complaints were filed by current and former employees of his own office.

Written complaints and supporting documents from at least 16 people have been given to investigators. They allege that Cobb, appointed by President Bush in 2002, suppressed investigations of wrongdoing within NASA, and abused and penalized his own investigators when they persisted in raising concerns.

The complaints are being reviewed by the Integrity Committee of the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency. The complaints describe efforts by Cobb to shut down or ignore investigations on issues such as a malfunctioning self-destruct procedure during a space shuttle launch at the Kennedy Space Center, and the theft of an estimated $1.9 billion worth of data on rocket engines from NASA computers.

In documents obtained by The Washington Post and in interviews, NASA employees and former employees said Cobb's actions had contributed to a lack of attention to safety problems at NASA.

The petitioners also said Cobb had disregarded the inspector general's mandate to root out "waste, fraud and abuse" and caused dozens of longtime NASA employees to leave the IG's 200-person office and seek investigative work elsewhere. More

Bush aides clarify statements about oil
Bush aides claim that Bush wants to decrease, not replace completely, U.S. consumption of foreign oil.
Friday, February 3 (Miami Herald)One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic advisor said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.

What the president meant, they said in a conference call with reporters, was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025.

But America still would import oil from the Middle East, because that's where the greatest oil supplies are.

The president's State of the Union reference to Mideast oil made headlines nationwide Wednesday because of his assertion that ''America is addicted to oil'' and his call to ``break this addiction.''

Bush vowed to fund research into better batteries for hybrid vehicles and more production of the alternative fuel ethanol, setting a lofty goal of replacing ``more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.''

He pledged to ``move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.''

Not exactly, though, it turns out.

''This was purely an example,'' Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said. More

Windfall for drug industry raises questions
Friday, February 3 (Knight-Ridder)The new Medicare drug benefit will give drug companies up to $2 billion in extra profits this year because they're no longer required to pay rebates on drugs bought by the government for the elderly poor.

The hefty windfall raises new concerns that the Bush administration won't fully realize its promises of lower drug prices in the troubled new program.

The boost in profits comes from a shift in the drug coverage of 6.4 million poor and elderly people from Medicaid to the new Medicare drug benefit. Unlike Medicaid, which requires drug companies to charge their lowest or "best price" for medications, the Medicare program relies on competition among private drug plans to keep prices low. By eliminating the need to discount drugs for the government, the industry can now pocket the savings. More

State of Delusion
Friday, February 3 (New York Times)So President Bush's plan to reduce imports of Middle East oil turns out to be no more substantial than his plan floated two years ago, then flushed down the memory hole to send humans to Mars.

But what did you expect? After five years in power, the Bush administration is still perhaps more than ever run by Mayberry Machiavellis, who don't take the business of governing seriously.

Here's the story on oil: In the State of the Union address Mr. Bush suggested that "cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol" and other technologies would allow us "to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East."

But the next day, officials explained that he didn't really mean what he said. "This was purely an example," said Samuel Bodman, the energy secretary. And the administration has actually been scaling back the very research that Mr. Bush hyped Tuesday night: the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is about to lay off staff because of budget cuts. "A veteran researcher," reports The New York Times, "said the staff had been told that the cuts would be concentrated among researchers in wind and biomass, which includes ethanol."

Why announce impressive sounding goals when you have no plan to achieve them? The best guess is that the energy "plan" was hastily thrown together to give Mr. Bush something positive to say. More

10:23 amThere I Go Again, Bringing Up the Past....

First, remember this May 2005 analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics, comparing projected job growth due to Bush tax cuts versus actual job growth over the same period of time.

Now, check out today's BLS report on the Employment Situation

I swear these tax cuts were supposed to trickle down, right?

Thursday, February 2
Is Abortion Bad?
Blurring the lines ...Dear Katha,
Thursday, February 2 (Slate.com)Let's start by explaining to readers why we're having this conversation. Last week in the New York Times, I urged pro-choicers to wage war on the abortion rate through birth control and sex education. This week in The Nation, you replied that "anti-abortion moralism" would hurt women and abortion rights. You argued that pursuing an explicit goal of zero abortions would "do the antichoicers' work for them." I think you've got it exactly backward.

First, let me tackle some of your objections around the periphery of our disagreement. You say the limits of our education and health-care systems make "zero abortions" unreachable. True. Peace is unreachable, too, but we try. That's the nature of goals. Second, you note that the "95-10" plan being pushed by Democrats for Life, which seeks a 95 percent reduction in abortions over 10 years, doesn't mention birth control. You're right. Trying to steer women away from abortion after they're unhappily pregnant is the least effective way to reduce the abortion rate. The danger is that impotent gestures like this one will become the new middle ground. Pro-choicers need to step forward with an anti-abortion plan that's explicit and effective.

Third, you object to targeting women rather than men. "Nobody's proposing the walk of shame for men who don't or won't use condoms, or stern lectures for them in the clinic waiting room either," you write. Well, I am. Any guy who knocks up his date should go with her, whether it's for an abortion or prenatal care. I'm open to ideas on how to pursue this.

fdfd"Ironically, improvements in contraception have made unwanted pregnancy look more like a personal failing," you write. Look like? Improvements in contraception have made unwanted pregnancy more of a personal failing. It's society's job to make contraception accessible. It's the individual's job, male or female, to use it. More

1:36 pmLike Spraying New Car Smell on the Old Pile of Sh%$

From today's Washington Post:
Rep. Boehner Elected GOP Majority Leader
Republican officials say Rep. John Boehner of Ohio has been chosen House majority leader.

Boehner defeated Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, 122-109, after lagging behind his rival in a first, inconclusive ballot.
Boehner campaigned as a candidate of reform, and said his experience as chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee had demonstrated his ability to pass major legislation.

Blunt remains the GOP whip, third-ranking in the leadership. He had been a temporary stand-in for DeLay, who is charged with campaign finance violations in Texas.

Republicans are at a political crossroads as they work to avoid the taint of scandal from investigations that have already led to the conviction and resignation of Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Calif. In addition, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, faces scrutiny in a wide-ranging congressional corruption investigation symbolized by lobbyist Jack Abramoff

"Smell that honey? Smells like Republican in here!"

Is the World Safer Today?
Rep. John Murtha
Thursday, February 2 (Yahoo News)The President continues to use labels and rhetoric to define his national defense policy, but it simply isn't working. In his State of the Union Address, the President defended his position to both the American public and the world by saying "we will continue to lead" but this does little to repair the damage done by the President's failed policies. We must insist that this Administration provide the facts behind its labels.

Spreading democracy does not equate to or ensure stabilization. A safe world is a stable world. STABILITY is what is key here. Is the world safer today with the gains of Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon? Is the world safer with an emboldened Iran? Is Iraq or the region more stable as a result of our military intervention in Iraq? What proof to we have that the President's policies are working?

Iraq, the region and the United States and its neighbors will be safer, more secure and stable when we redeploy from Iraq and put the resources where they belong. Our country will be safer and more secure when we rebuild our overstretched military, so that we are able to decisively confront real threats in our future.

I am sharing with you this letter that I sent to the President this morning articulating exactly this: More

7:45 amLest We Not Forget, Or Be Overwhelmed by Their Lies

The Republican Party wants you or your daughter to keep all unborn babies to termwanted or unwanted, created in love of a vibrant union, or the hate of a rape or incest. It doesn't matter if by giving birth to them they endanger their own lives. The mother is an expendable vessel. She can die. Think I'm beind a little shrill? Remember 2003? No? Check out the following from the New York Times:

Partial Birth Abortion Act Ruled Unconstitutional by U.S. Courts
Two federal appeals courts yesterday upheld rulings that the Partial Birth Abortion Act, passed by Congress in 2003 but barred by the courts, is unconstitutional because it does not include an exception when the health of a pregnant woman is at risk.

The rulings, which came on the same day from three-judge panels in the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, and the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, were substantially based on a United States Supreme Court decision in a Nebraska case in 2000. In that case, the Supreme Court found that any abortion ban must include an exception allowing a procedure that involves a partly delivered fetus after the first trimester of pregnancy, known among opponents as partial birth abortion, when alternative methods could endanger the woman's health.

Since the appeals court for the Eighth Circuit, in St. Louis, reached a similar conclusion last July, the three legal challenges nationwide to the abortion act have now been affirmed on appeal. This month the Supreme Court several times postponed deciding whether to hear the Eighth Circuit case

So I'm not so off base as I may have sounded. Now, I'm against partial birth abortionUNLESS the mother's life is in danger by having the child. If the mother freely chooses to take the risk and give birth, so be it. That is a loving and courageous act. But everyone isn't like the icons of the GOP. Always right. Always. Some people would choose to keep their lives. There's no dishonor in that; especially if it's YOU making the life-or-death decision. So to make women take this risk is, to me, premeditated assault with an option for manslaughter if the mother dies. But that's just me.

Whoops! Being a little shrill again.

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.