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Happy New Year! May you find peace, wisdom, and comfort in 2006.
Bush Then
Bush: Wiretaps Require a Court Order. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution. [President Bush, 4/20/04]

Bush Yesterday
Bush: I Authorized Secret Wiretap Program Without Going Through the Courts. To save American lives, we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks. So, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, I authorized the interception of international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. & This program has targeted those with known links to al Qaeda. I've reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September the 11th attacks, and I intend to do so for so long as our nation is -- for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens. [President Bush, 12/19/05]

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Daily Topics & Commentary:
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

Tuesday, December 27
Listening Skills
Tuesday, December 27 (The New Republic)Since The New York Times broke the story of post-9/11 warrantless domestic eavesdropping, the debate over the controversial program has centered on whether the president acted illegally. Senior administration officials--led by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at a fiery press conference last Monday--have insisted on the measure's legality, while civil libertarians have claimed the administration has unconstitutionally expanded executive authority, with senators of both parties promising full investigations early next year. There's no doubt that the question of whether Bush broke the law is crucial. But the scandal's most important question is a different one: What are the administration's criteria for eavesdropping, and why didn't they satisfy the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's criteria for probable cause? Don't expect administration officials to answer as long as they can avoid it. But what little is known about the program thus far suggests a standard so lax as to permit searches for practically anything.

If there's one point the administration and its allies have labored to emphasize, it's that the program only spied on people clearly connected to terrorism. In a press conference last week, President Bush insisted that warrantless surveillance applied to "people with known links to Al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations." Gonzales said that for surveillance to go forward, "we have to have a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of Al Qaeda, affiliated with Al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with Al Qaeda, or working in support of Al Qaeda." Later, Senator John Cornyn of Texas insisted that "in fact, this was narrowly applied to agents of Al Qaeda operating in the United States." Bush cited the ease with which two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Al Mihdhar and Nawaf Al Hazmi, escaped surveillance as justification for circumventing the FISA court.

Don't believe them. As many have argued since the story broke, if the administration truly possessed "reasonable basis" that the targets of such surveillance were connected to Al Qaeda, it could have obtained warrants from the FISA court, which has rejected only a handful of warrant requests in its entire history. And as the Los Angeles Times pointed out, the failure to track Al Mihdhar and Al Hazmi was a failure of bureaucratic coordination between the NSA and the FBI, not a result of the FISA court setting the probable-cause bar too high. So why would the administration choose for four years to shunt the deferential FISA court aside if it could connect surveillance targets to Al Qaeda? The program only makes sense if the administration doesn't have the "reasonable basis" for searching that Gonzales insists it always does. That was the contention that one administration official made to The Washington Post on Thursday. "For FISA, [the administration] had to put down a written justification for the wiretap," the official told the Post. "They couldn't dream one up." According to the paper, "the goal is to listen in on a vast array of communications in the hopes of finding something that sounds suspicious." In other words, contrary to everything the administration has said about the program, the warrantless surveillance only makes sense if the administration is casting a massive electronic net for anything that sounds remotely suspicious. More

Beyond the imperial presidency
Tuesday, December 27 (Chicago Tribune)President Bush is a bundle of paradoxes. He thinks the scope of the federal government should be limited but the powers of the president should not. He wants judges to interpret the Constitution as the framers did, but doesn't think he should be constrained by their intentions.

He attacked Al Gore for trusting government instead of the people, but he insists anyone who wants to defeat terrorism must put absolute faith in the man at the helm of government.

His conservative allies say Bush is acting to uphold the essential prerogatives of his office. Vice President Cheney says the administration's secret eavesdropping program is justified because "I believe in a strong, robust executive authority, and I think that the world we live in demands it."

But the theory boils down to a consistent and self-serving formula: What's good for George W. Bush is good for America, and anything that weakens his power weakens the nation. To call this an imperial presidency is unfair to emperors. More

From Ed Kilgore: the War on Christmas

Phony War
Ah, yes, it's another Christmas season, and another opportunity for elements of the Cultural Right to start up their fatuous whining about the "War on Christmas." I did a post on this last year which I won't repeat now. But I must say that I am ashamed of those of my fellow-Christians--surely a small if noisy minority--who purport to be crushed by the burden of equality; offended by the demands of interfaith respect; victimized by the injustice of state neutrality; and oppressed by the tyranny of the naked public square.

When you consider the vast march of martyrs through the centuries who have suffered and died for Christ against the real, physical, limb-rending, heretic-burning, death-dealing power of state discrimination, what weak and faithless successors we are if we pretend the Gospel is threatened by "Happy Holidays" cards or Kwanzaa songs or "winter carnivals." It's especially absurd to see some conservative Protestants joining this self-pitying display, given the nurturance they have long enjoyed from America's liberal and pluralistic traditions. Indeed, those among them whose roots are in the Calvinist Reformed tradition seem to have forgotten that the celebration of Christmas itself was illegal in Calvin's Geneva, John Knox's Scotland, and even in Puritan New England, and frowned upon by many Presbyterians until well into the twentieth century.

So please, if you truly want to "put Christ back into Christmas," do that in your homes, your churches, and your hearts. But you are missing the "reason for the season" if you continue this uncharitable and altogether un-Christian agitation for the fool's gold of special privileges and a martyr's crown you have not earned.

My wife asked me about this "War on Christmas." As I started to explain it, it became easy to see that wingnuts have done quite a good job of taking nothing, wrapping it in insult and outrage, and putting a bow of self-illogic right on top. I felt weerd telling her the truth that if you track down their stories, they're lies. Then again, she's still under the impression that conservatives are better with money than liberals. That's an even older urban myth.

Boosting Democracy, On Purpose or Not
Tuesday, December 27 (Washigton Post)Democracy in Iraq owes much to the determined efforts of President Bush in 2005. So do democracy and constitutional order in the United States, if in a different way.

Iraq's three successful elections galvanized Bush into showing leadership and, at long last, some modest accountability for his administration's missteps there. His year-ending speeches on Iraq -- capped by Sunday's effective televised address to the nation -- suggest that contrition is good for the soul and perhaps for the polls.

Except for Iraq's two parliamentary elections and its constitutional referendum, all of which he helped keep on track, this has been a lost year for Bush. The president flailed, stumbled or simply disappeared when the going got tough at home.

His vaunted Social Security overhaul went poof when pricked by the thumbtacks of reality. Reform of the tax code was smothered in its crib by a ham-handed House "leadership" -- with no reaction from Bush. Hurricane Katrina reduced the president's domestic agenda to waterlogged wreckage.

The five recent Iraq speeches were intended to start a long-awaited pivot by Bush toward a new domestic agenda that could be unveiled in January's State of the Union address. First he had to stop the erosion of support on Iraq.

But the reasonable guy that Bush and his speechwriters brought forth on Sunday night vanished when the president strode into a White House news conference on Monday. He went back into combat mode to dampen the outcry over the powers of the presidency and domestic intelligence surveillance.

Not even conservatives will rush to endorse the expansive powers that Bush claims to find in the Constitution to enable the National Security Agency to evade existing law and systematically conduct wiretaps against terrorism suspects on U.S. soil without warrants.

Even weaker is the administration's claim that Congress approved such wiretaps in its September 2001 resolution authorizing the use of force against terrorist organizations. Bush's interpretation is a dangerous inflation of congressional intent. It smacks of the way Lyndon Johnson used the Gulf of Tonkin resolution to bully Congress into supporting him on Vietnam. That is no path to follow. More

When the Cutting Is Corrupted
Tuesday, December 27 (Washington Post)With indicted superlobbyist Jack Abramoff reportedly ready to cooperate with prosecutors and his partner, Michael Scanlon, already singing, 2006 is expected to be the year of congressional scandals.

Lord knows, a housecleaning in the Capitol is definitely in order. But the Abramoff scandal is just part of the corruption of our political system. There is another level of special-interest influence that cannot be handled by prosecutors: Only the voters can render a judgment on a politics of favoritism that has created a new Gilded Age. It's clear that the national government has placed itself squarely on the side of the wealthy, the privileged and the connected.

Rarely does a single action by Congress serve as so powerful an example of how the system is working. The recent budget bill, which squeaked through the House and Senate just before Christmas, is a road map of insider dealing. It shows that when choices have to be made, the interests of the poor and the middle class fall before the wishes of interest groups with powerful lobbies and awesome piles of campaign money to distribute.

Republican majorities in the Senate and House insisted that they wanted to cut the federal budget. But the Senate and House offered competing plans for achieving savings. When it came time to meld the two proposals, almost every choice congressional leaders made favored the interest groups.

Consider federal health programs. The House bill proposed substantial cuts for Medicaid beneficiaries, but the Senate bill -- partly because of pressure from moderate Republicans -- did not include those cuts. Instead, the Senate proposed to save taxpayer money by eliminating a $10 billion fund to encourage regional preferred-provider organizations, known as PPOs, to participate in the Medicare program. It also sought more rebates to the federal government from drug manufacturers participating in Medicaid.

Note the difference: Instead of imposing cuts on the poor, the Senate sought savings from corporate interests. Surprise, surprise: The final bill dropped the $10 billion cut to the PPOs and most of the rebate demands on drug manufacturers. Instead, the agreement hammered Medicaid recipients with $16 billion in gross cuts over the next decade. (The net cuts are lower because of new Medicaid spending, partly to help cover the scattered victims of Hurricane Katrina.) More

What Bush Wants to Hear
The Powers of War and Peace:The Constitution and Foreign Affairs After 9/11, by John Yoo
Tuesday, December 27 (New York Review of Books)Few lawyers have had more influence on President Bush's legal policies in the "war on terror" than John Yoo. This is a remarkable feat, because Yoo was not a cabinet official, not a White House lawyer, and not even a senior officer within the Justice Department. He was merely a mid-level attorney in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel with little supervisory authority and no power to enforce laws. Yet by all accounts, Yoo had a hand in virtually every major legal decision involving the US response to the attacks of September 11, and at every point, so far as we know, his advice was virtually always the same the president can do whatever the president wants.

Yoo's most famous piece of advice was in an August 2002 memorandum stating that the president cannot constitutionally be barred from ordering torture in wartimeeven though the United States has signed and ratified a treaty absolutely forbidding torture under all circumstances, and even though Congress has passed a law pursuant to that treaty, which without any exceptions prohibits torture. Yoo reasoned that because the Constitution makes the president the "Commander-in-Chief," no law can restrict the actions he may take in pursuit of war. On this reasoning, the president would be entitled by the Constitution to resort to genocide if he wished.

Yoo is now back in private life, having returned to the law faculty at the University of California at Berkeley. Unlike some other former members of the administration, he seems to have few if any second thoughts about what he did, and has continued to aggressively defend his views. His book The Powers of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs After 9/11 shows why Yoo was so influential in the Bush administration. It presents exactly the arguments that the president would have wanted to hear. Yoo contends that the president has unilateral authority to initiate wars without congressional approval, and to interpret, terminate, and violate international treaties at will. Indeed, ratified treaties, Yoo believes, cannot be enforced by courts unless Congress enacts additional legislation to implement them. According to this view, Congress's foreign affairs authority is largely limited to enacting domestic legislation and appropriating money. In other words, when it comes to foreign affairs, the president exercises unilateral authority largely unchecked by lawconstitutional or international.

Yoo is by no means the first to advance such positions. Many conservatives favor a strong executive, especially when it comes to foreign affairs, and they are generally skeptical about international law. What Yoo offers that is new is an attempt to reconcile these modern-day conservative preferences with an influential conservative theory of constitutional interpretation: the "originalist" approach, which claims that the Constitution must be interpreted according to the specific understandings held by the framers, the ratifiers, and the public when the Constitution and its amendments were drafted.[1]

The problem for originalists who believe in a strong executive and are cynical about international law is that the framers held precisely the opposite viewsthey were intensely wary of executive power, and as leaders of a new and vulnerable nation, they were eager to ensure that the mutual obligations they had negotiated with other countries would be honored and enforced. During the last two centuries, of course, executive power has greatly expanded in practice; and the attitude of many US leaders toward international law has grown increasingly disrespectful as the relative strength of the US compared to other nations has increased. But these developments are difficult to square with the doctrine of "original intent," which, at least as expressed by Justice Antonin Scalia and other extreme conservatives, largely disregards the development of the law for the past two centuries. Yoo's task is to reconcile the contemporary uses of American power with his belief in original intent. His views prevailed under the Bush administration, and therefore should be examined not only for their cogency and historical accuracy, but for their consequences for US policy in the "war on terror." More

Thursday, December 22 (MerryChristmas! Happy Holidays!)
Conservatives: Reliably on the Wrong Side of History

From Brad DeLong

National Review has web archives! http://store.nationalreview.com/archives/ You, too, can now learn what ex-Trot James Burnham has to teach us about the true nature of anti-McCarthyism:

"The McCarthy issue was used by the American Communists as their channel back into the stream of Popular Frontism. The Communists, in fact, invented the term "McCarthyism," and devised most of the ideology that went with it.... The liberals, on a roaring civil rights jag... lowered their guard and the Communists closed.... "[A]nti-McCarthyism" as a movement... was a united front, the broadest and most successful the Communists have ever catalyzed in this country...."

What Wilmoore Kendell has to teach us about the true nature of liberalism--you know, that doctrine of Harry Truman:

As this columnist never misses a chance to say, it isn't that the Liberals aren't anti-Communist; they are merely anti-Communist in a peculiar sort of way... [that] automatically exclude[s] effective anti-Communist action. And they cannot go along when the community sets out to do something about its Communists.

The magazine on Eisenhower's 1957 sending the 82nd Airborne Division to Little Rock to protect civil rights:

By what right, according to what law, do these heavily armed combat teams of the first nuclear age "pentomic" division remain and act in Arkansas? Where is the statute... that entitles these soldiers... to quarter themselves on the municipal property of the Little Rock school system? to obstruct traffic...?... to forbid citizens to assemble together?... to club and stab citizens slow to respond to shouted orders? What law authorized the rude braggadocio of General Walker?... The truth is... [t]here is no law, the bayonets have displaced the law in Little Rock.... General Walker is in Little Rock as the commander of an army of occupation... enforcing unconditional surrender. No sensible person will excluce the possibility of a domestic crisis so extreme.... [W]ould it not be prudent to reflect that when guns are released from control by law, we can never be sure what direction they will point in?

I'd say go back and see what the conservative line was on any one issue of our time. Nothing wrong with being conservative. It's a great way to save money. But as a world view, or a way to interpret life, conservatism doesn't hold up. Even it it's most broad applications, it promotes seperation, constrains justifiable dissent, is much more prone to resist innovation and change, and rewards the prevailing wisdomno matter if that wisdom is illegal, illegitimate, or immoral. Think really hard about taking the conservative view on the Magna Carta, Martin Luther, the airplane and it's impact on modern warfare, Earth as the center of the universe, medicine, and even the Roman acceptance of Christianity. Traditionalists and naysayers aren't always wrong. But on the big onesthey are definitely batting below the Mendoza line.

Judges on Surveillance Court To Be Briefed on Spy Program
Thursday, December 22 (Washington Post)The presiding judge of a secret court that oversees government surveillance in espionage and terrorism cases is arranging a classified briefing for her fellow judges to address their concerns about the legality of President Bush's domestic spying program, according to several intelligence and government sources.

Several members of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said in interviews that they want to know why the administration believed secretly listening in on telephone calls and reading e-mails of U.S. citizens without court authorization was legal. Some of the judges said they are particularly concerned that information gleaned from the president's eavesdropping program may have been improperly used to gain authorized wiretaps from their court.

"The questions are obvious," said U.S. District Judge Dee Benson of Utah. "What have you been doing, and how might it affect the reliability and credibility of the information we're getting in our court?"

Such comments underscored the continuing questions among judges about the program, which most of them learned about when it was disclosed last week by the New York Times. On Monday, one of 10 FISA judges, federal Judge James Robertson, submitted his resignation -- in protest of the president's action, according to two sources familiar with his decision. He will maintain his position on the U.S. District Court here. More

Two Sides of the Coin

Amazing how seemingly intelligent arguments can crumble when you apply it's logic in a slightly different way. Behold today's NYT column from Bush apologist David Brooks:

When Big Brother is You
Let's play "You're the President." Let's put you in the Oval Office and see what kind of decisions you make in real-world circumstances.
Because you are president, you are briefed each day on terrorist threats to this country. These briefings are as psychologically intense as an episode of "24," with descriptions of specific bad guys and their activities.

This has had a cumulative effect on your psychology. While many of your fellow citizens have relaxed as 9/11 has faded into history, you don't have that luxury. Your briefings, and some terrifying false alarms that haven't been made public, keep you in a perpetual state of high alert.

You know that one of the few advantages we have over the terrorists is technological superiority. You are damned sure you are going to use every geek, every computer program and every surveillance technique at your disposal to prevent a future attack. You have inherited the FISA process to regulate this intelligence gathering. It's a pretty good process. FISA judges usually issue warrants quickly and, when appropriate, retroactively.

But the FISA process has shortcomings. First, it's predicated on a division between foreign and domestic activity that has been rendered obsolete by today's mobile communications methods. Second, the process still involves some cumbersome paperwork and bureaucratic foot-dragging. Finally, the case-by-case FISA method is ill suited to the new information-gathering technologies, which include things like automated systems that troll through vast amounts of data looking for patterns, voices and chains of contacts.

Over time you've become convinced that these new technologies, which are run by National Security Agency professionals and shielded from political influence, help save lives. You've seen that these new surveillance techniques helped foil an attack on the Brooklyn Bridge and bombing assaults in Britain. The question is, How do you regulate the new procedures to protect liberties?

Your aides present you with three options. First, you can ask Congress to rewrite the FISA law to keep pace with the new technologies. This has some drawbacks. How exactly do you write a law to cope with this fast-changing information war? Even if you could set up a procedure to get warrant requests to a judge, how would that judge be able to tell which of the thousands of possible information nodes is worth looking into, or which belongs to a U.S. citizen? Swamped in the data-fog, the courts would just become meaningless rubber-stamps. Finally, it's likely that some member of Congress would leak details of the program during the legislative process, thus destroying it.

Now check out Brooks' logic as applied by the Rude Pundit:

*Rape David Brooks To Save America*:
Let us say, and why not, that you're David Brooks, *New York Times*conservative columnist and desperate apologist for the Bush administration. Let us say, and, indeed, why not, that President Bush and Vice President
Cheney decided that the only way to prevent another terrorist attack was to have you raped. So Bush and Cheney went to Alberto Gonzales, who consulted John Yoo, who said, "If the Commander-in-Chief, in a time of war, having been given authorization by the Congress to do what it takes to win the war on terror, decides he needs have David Brooks raped as a tactic to win that war, then the President has the inherent power to so order the raping."

Thus, having been approved by his AG, whose initials are, conveniently for the President, "AG," Bush orders that you be raped by the NSA. Now, you, David Brooks, cannot be informed that such an order has taken place. And
while members of Congress have been briefed on the matter, with a couple lodging concerns about the legality of raping David Brooks, the rape has been ordered. So, one day, without warning, some men in black grab you, drag you into a van, gag you, pull down your Armani slacks and boxers, and fuck your asshole raw while driving around New York City until, their duty being done, they dump you in front of the *Times* building. Let's say, and why
not, that this begins to happen repeatedly, these kidnappings and rapes, that you, David Brooks, are gangbanged, forced fisted, and turned into a jizz bucket.

Let's say you learn that a secret order, approved by the President and re-authorized every 45 days, claims that raping you is necessary for national security, that it has stopped terrorist attacks, although it's a secret how and why and what and where, that your constant, boggling, sore-inducing rapes have got those terrorists on the run. Indeed, once it's leaked to the press that an executive order calls for you, David Brooks, to be raped repeatedly, the President stands before the world and says not only has he signed off on the rapes, but that he will continue to do so in the future for raping David Brooks makes Americans safer. And, the President adds, he can assure the public that he is safeguarding David Brooks's civil liberties while ordering his ongoing raping.

Kind of puts it in perspective, huh?

Department's Mission Was Undermined From Start
Thursday, December 22 (New York Times)The Department of Homeland Security was only a month old, and already it had an image problem.

It was April 2003, and Susan Neely, a close aide to DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, decided the gargantuan new conglomeration of 22 federal agencies had to stand for something more than multicolored threat levels. It needed an identity -- not the "flavor of the day in terms of brand chic," as Neely put it, but something meant to last.

So she called in the branders.

Neely hired Landor Associates, the same company that invented the FedEx name and the BP sunflower, and together they began to rebrand a behemoth Landor described in a confidential briefing as a "disparate organization with a lack of focus." They developed a new DHS typeface (Joanna, with modifications) and color scheme (cool gray, red and hints of "punched-up" blue). They debated new uniforms for its armies of agents and focus-group-tested a new seal designed to convey "strength" and "gravitas." The department even got its own lapel pin, which was given to all 180,000 of its employees -- with Ridge's signature -- to celebrate its "brand launch" that June.

"It's got to have its own story," Neely explained.

Nearly three years after it was created in the largest government reorganization since the Department of Defense, DHS does have a story, but so far it is one of haphazard design, bureaucratic warfare and unfulfilled promises. The department's first significant test -- its response to Hurricane Katrina in August -- exposed a troubled organization where preparedness was more slogan than mission.

Born out of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, DHS was initially expected to synthesize intelligence, secure borders, protect infrastructure and prepare for the next catastrophe. For most of those missions, the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission recently gave the Bush administration D's or F's. To some extent, the department was set up to fail. It was assigned the awesome responsibility of defending the homeland without the investigative, intelligence and military powers of the FBI, CIA and the Pentagon; it was also repeatedly undermined by the White House that initially opposed its creation. But the department has also struggled to execute even seemingly basic tasks, such as prioritizing America's most critical infrastructure. More

Ed note: Does any of this surprise? Remember, Bush didn't want to establish DHS in the first place. Is it a leap to think the agency would ever end up anything but a mess?

Rumsfeld hints at cutting forces in Iraq
Thursday, December 22 (San Jose Mercury News)Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, on an unannounced holiday season visit, hinted on Thursday that the U.S. military soon will begin a modest, additional reduction in troop levels by canceling the scheduled deployment of two Army brigades.

The decision would be the first Pentagon move to drop the American troop presence below the 138,000 level that had been considered a baseline prior to the temporary addition of about 20,000 troops to provide extra security during the Oct. 15 referendum and the Dec. 15 election. Rumsfeld had previously said those 20,000 would be leaving soon.

But in an interview with reporters traveling with him on an Air Force cargo plane to Baghdad, Rumsfeld hinted that a preliminary decision had been made to go below the 138,000 baseline by not deploying a brigade of the 1st Infantry Division from Fort Riley, Kan., and a 1st Armored Division brigade now in Kuwait. Other officials have said small parts of each brigade were likely to go anyway. More

Tuesday, December 20 (sorry, work is killing me)
Freedom Through Slavery

From Powerline:
First, those who leap to the conclusion that the intercepts must be unconstitutional seem to assume that all searches require a warrant. That is not correct. The Fourth Amendment prohibits "unreasonable" searches and seizures. Warrantless searches are legal, and appropriately so, in a number of circumstances.

Anybody want to go search this guy's place without a warrant? I'm thinking that he'd have a problem with it.

The Transit Strike

Even as we speak, my wife is wading through Manhattan, walking to her hotel room. The strike has caused a number of no-show at her client site. And I'm listening to snippets from Mayor Michael Bloomberg talk about how the strikers are akin to Satan for taking this job action.

Now I'm not taking sides in the strike, because I haven't followed it. But what caught my ear was Bloomberg, and the fact that the union didn't have a spokesman available to even carp the usual claptrap about quality of life for its members. What also occurred to me was an article I read awhile back taking unions to task for not effectively communicating what it is they're striking about, and making it easy for the public to understand why they're going through these hardships.

I've said it before that unions are the most valuable resource this country has, and they're running themselves into oblivion. This is yet another example. I understand Bloomberg has the mini bully pulpit of the Mayor's Office. But what don't unions understand about making their case with the public they serve? Is it that they already feel people have no sympathy for them, so why try to curry favor? Is it that they think people value public transportation so much that they'll rush to City Hall in order to force Bloomberg to settle? Or is it they just don't think taking their case to the public is worth it?

Any of the above 3 reasons are inexcusable. In the meantime, Bloomberg is painting them as the culprits. And unions aren't saying much to make us think otherwise.

Bushs Snoopgate
The president was so desperate to kill The New York Times eavesdropping story, he summoned the papers editor and publisher to the Oval Office. But it wasnt just out of concern about national security.
Tuesday, December 20 (Newsweek)Finally we have a Washington scandal that goes beyond sex, corruption and political intrigue to big issues like security versus liberty and the reasonable bounds of presidential power. President Bush came out swinging on Snoopgatehe made it seem as if those who didnt agree with him wanted to leave us vulnerable to Al Qaedabut it will not work. Were seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. More

Judge Bars 'Intelligent Design' From Pa. Classes
Tuesday, December 20 (New York Times)A federal judge ruled today that a Pennsylvania school board's policy of teaching intelligent design in high school biology class is unconstitutional because intelligent design is clearly a religious idea that advances "a particular version of Christianity."

In the nation's first case to test the legal merits of intelligent design, Judge John E. Jones III dealt a stinging rebuke to advocates of teaching intelligent design as a scientific alternative to evolution in public schools.

The judge found that intelligent design is not science, and that the only way its proponents can claim it is, is by changing the very definition of science to include supernatural explanations.

Eleven parents in Dover, Pa., sued their school board a year ago when the board voted that ninth grade biology students should be read a brief statement saying there are "gaps in the theory" of evolution and that intelligent design is another explanation they should examine. The case is Kitzmiller et. al. v. Dover.

The six-week trial in federal district court in Harrisburg gave intelligent design the most thorough academic and legal airing it has had since the movement's inception about 15 years ago. The judge heard evidence from scientists in the forefront of the design movement, as well as scientists and other experts who are critics.

Intelligent design posits that biological life is so complex that it must have been originated by an intelligent source - without ever defining the identity of that source. But the judge said the evidence in the trial strongly proved that intelligent design is "creationism relabeled." The Supreme Court has already ruled that creationism, which relies on the Biblical account of the creation of life, cannot be taught as science in a public school.

In his opinion, the judge said he found the testimony of Barbara Forrest, a historian of science, very persuasive. She had presented evidence that the authors of an intelligent design textbook, "Of Pandas and People, merely removed the word "creationism" from an earlier edition and substituted it with "intelligent design" after the Supreme Court's ruling in 1987.

"The evidence at trial demonstrates that intelligent design is nothing less than the progeny of creationism," Judge Jones wrote. More

Ed note: read the decision here

Monday, December 5
The Joyless Economy
Monday, December 5 (New York Times)Falling gasoline prices have led to some improvement in consumer confidence over the past few weeks. But the public remains deeply unhappy about the state of the economy. According to the latest Gallup poll, 63 percent of Americans rate the economy as only fair or poor, and by 58 to 36 percent people say economic conditions are getting worse, not better.

Yet by some measures, the economy is doing reasonably well. In particular, gross domestic product is rising at a pretty fast clip. So why aren't people pleased with the economy's performance?

Like everything these days, this is a political as well as factual question. The Bush administration seems genuinely puzzled that it isn't getting more credit for what it thinks is a booming economy. So let me be helpful here and explain what's going on.

I could point out that the economic numbers, especially the job numbers, aren't as good as the Bush people imagine. President Bush made an appearance in the Rose Garden to hail the latest jobs report, yet a gain of 215,000 jobs would have been considered nothing special - in fact, a bit subpar - during the Clinton years. And because the average workweek shrank a bit, the total number of hours worked actually fell last month.

But the main explanation for economic discontent is that it's hard to convince people that the economy is booming when they themselves have yet to see any benefits from the supposed boom. Over the last few years G.D.P. growth has been reasonably good, and corporate profits have soared. But that growth has failed to trickle down to most Americans. More

Judge Upholds Some Charges Against Delay
Monday, December 5 (New York Times)A judge dismissed the conspiracy charges Monday against Rep. Tom DeLay but refused to throw out the money-laundering counts, dashing the Texas congressman's hopes for now of reclaiming his post as House majority leader.

Judge Pat Priest, who is presiding over the case against the Republican, issued the ruling after a hearing late last month in which DeLay's attorney argued that the indictment was fatally flawed. More

The Hunt for Hercules N8183J
Monday, December 5 (Der Speigel English)A bitter debate over torture has erupted in Europe. Washington is believed to have used EU countries as transit points for moving terrorism suspects to clandestine locations where they may have been tortured. The Council of Europe and other organizations are now demanding answers -- from the US and European countries who looked the other way.

A solitary confinement cage at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison.Dick Marty, a liberal-minded Swiss citizen with a gray beard, glasses and a high forehead, knows what it's like to face a powerful opponent. As a prosecutor, he once successfully prosecuted the Mafia. His current adversary is just as intimidating and perhaps even more secretive than the Mafia. It's the United States Central Intelligence Agency, which, in an effort to back the White House, has responded to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by kidnapping terrorism suspects and presumably abusing them in secret prisons. Now the Council of Europe has hired Marty to find out which European countries may have helped the US agents achieve their objectives.

Last Friday, the Swiss prosecutor made it clear that he has no compunctions about picking a fight with the world's sole remaining superpower. A self-confident Marty filed a request with the European Union's satellite center in Torrejón, Spain for satellite photographs from the past three years. He hopes to use the images to determine whether the alleged secret prisons did in fact exist, in countries like Poland and Romania. He also contacted the European aviation authority, Eurocontrol, asking for data on the flight movements of 31 aircraft suspected of having served as CIA shuttles for the transport of prisoners or abducted terrorism suspects. More

A German Hub for Secret Flights?
Monday, December 5 (Der Speigel English)One of the aircraft suspected of being used for secret CIA flights.As much as new German Chancellor Angela Merkel may want to improve relations between the United States and Germany, events in the skies over Europe are making it increasingly difficult. Just prior to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Europe -- set to begin on Monday -- more details are emerging about the secret CIA flights that allegedly used airports and US airbases in Germany and other European countries to fly terror suspects to third countries for interrogation. Called "extraordinary renditions," the alleged flights are violations of international law in that the suspects have been granted no rights and may have been subject to torture with the complicity of US intelligence officials.

A new list in Germany indicates that the CIA used German-based facilities at least 437 times for such controversial CIA flights. The number comes from German air traffic controllers at the request of Left Party parliamentarians. Two aircraft registered to the CIA alone used German airspace or landed at airports in Germany 137 times and 146 times respectively in 2002 and 2003. The heaviest traffic was at Airports in Frankfurt, Berlin, and at the American air base in Ramstein. The numbers are much higher than those that resulted from a recent study done by the New York Times, which indicates a total of 94 such CIA flights in Germany. More

Contractor 'knew how to grease the wheels'
ADCS founder spent years cultivating political contacts
Monday, December 5 (San Diego Union Tribune)In government documents, he is referred to as "co-conspirator No. 1": a man who gave more than $630,000 in cash and favors to former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham for help in landing millions of dollars in federal contracts.

ADCS has received at least $80 million in government contracts since 1996. Its $11 million headquarters is located in Poway.
Poway military contractor Brent Wilkes whom Justice Department officials identify as the co-conspirator has long been active in local political circles, serving as the San Diego County finance co-chairman of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign and the state finance co-chairman for President Bush.

Wilkes has not been charged with a crime in the Cunningham case. The former Rancho Santa Fe congressman announced his resignation Monday after pleading guilty to charges of tax evasion and conspiracy. Three other men Washington defense contractor Mitchell Wade, businessman Thomas Kontogiannis and financier John T. Michael, both of New York also have been identified as co-conspirators.

Wilkes' story shows how gifts, favors and campaign contributions can be used to gain lucrative business from the government. More

Rice Chides Europeans on Detention Center Complaints
Monday, December 8 (New York Times)Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice chastised Europe leaders today, saying that before they complain about secret jails for terror suspects in European nations, they should realize that interrogations of these suspects have produced information that helped "save European lives."

In her remarks, the Bush Administration's official response to the reports of a network of secret detention centers, Ms. Rice repeatedly emphasized that the United States does not countenance the torture of terrorism suspects, at the hands of either American or foreign captors.

She offered her remarks to reporters early this morning, in a departure lounge at Andrews Air Force Base, just before setting off for a trip to Europe, where she was certain to be asked about the growing controversy over the secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons believed to be located in at least eight European nations. Her statement is also to serve as the basis for the government's response to an official inquiry from the European Union over the secret prisons.

Noting that half-a-dozen international investigations are underway, Ms. Rice did not explicitly confirm the existence of the detentions center. But that was implicit in her remarks.

"We must bring terrorists to justice wherever possible," she said. "But there have been many cases where the local government cannot detain or prosecute a suspect, and traditional extradition is not a good option."

"In those cases," she added, "the local government can make the sovereign choice to cooperate in the transfer of a suspect to a third country, which is known as a rendition.

"Sometimes, these efforts are misunderstood," she said. More

Wednesday, November 30
Helping the Iraqi People Defeat the Terrorists and Build an Inclusive Democratic State
Wednesday, November 30 (The White House)PART I STRATEGIC OVERVIEW
Our mission in Iraq is clear. Were hunting down the terrorists. Were helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. Were advancing freedom in the broader Middle East. We are removing a source of violence and instability, and laying the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren.
-President George W. Bush, June 28, 2003

As the central front in the global war on terror, success in Iraq is an essential element in the long war against the ideology that breeds international terrorism. Unlike past wars, however, victory in Iraq will not come in the form of an enemys surrender, or be signaled by a single particular event there will be no Battleship Missouri, no Appomattox. The ultimate victory will be achieved in stages, and we expect: More

Tuesday, November 29
7:45 amThe GOP: Restoring Integrity, Part 2

Congressman, war hero, guilty of bribery
Randy "Duke" Cunningham has been a dominant figure in San Diego County's political landscape for 15 years, riding his celebrity as a decorated, former Navy fighter pilot and "Top Gun" flight instructor to eight consecutive terms in Congress ---- until this year's investigations of alleged bribery, which culminated Monday in his resignation from office.
Through his tenure, and before his fall from grace this year, Cunningham was conservative, outspoken, and a champion of military, security and border-protection issues. He was also at times publicly combative, rude, insensitive to opponents ---- and critics would say, homophobic.

...What happened?
U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham resigned after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors through cash, vacations, real estate transactions, yacht club fees and other gifts, including a Rolls Royce and a downpayment on a home. Cunningham also pleaded guilty to tax evasion and, according to the charges, funneled some bribes through a company he owns.

TPM has posts that Cunningham took bribery money and deposited it in his Congressional Credit Union account. Josh Marshall calls that act audacious. I call it stupid. Or dumb as a post.
Can someone please help me with this image of Republicans as more fiscally competent than Democrats?

Friday, November 25 (Happy Holidays!)
10:58 amThe Name Change

Some of you may be aware that as part of the ever-changing retailing world, Macy's bought Marshall Field's. Marshall Field is a retailing name synomous with Chicago and it's history. Theyve got stores all over Chicagoland. As part of the buyout, the second time the franchise has changed hands, the name of the stores will change to Macy's.

As a decade-long resident of Chicago, and a visitor for a couple of decades previous to that, I say bullshit. When Dayton-Hudson purchased the chain, they recognized the power that the brand had in it's market area and left the marquee alone. The store has had it's ups and downs like any old-line retailier, but it had it's name and a loyal clientele. Go in the stores and you would see shoppers with bags from other places. But a lot of them would walk out with Marshall Field's bags as well. The green bag was a staple downtown. If you were given one, you knew the stuff inside was very cool, and that the person giving it to you went a out of their way to do something nice for you.

Local consumers understand and appreciate local retailers. Increasingly, retailiers do not appreciate and understand local consumers. Some of it may be due to the homogenization of the retail landscape. Banana Gap-Navy Republic, Crate and Pottery Barn-Barrel, Lowe-Menard's Home Depot, and the poster boy for the danger of a consumer-driven economy, Wal-Mart. Their executives are tempted into thinking that people will buy from them based on the cleverness of their advertising, or their ruthlessness on price. To a certain extent they're right. But the thing that should leave them dominant in the retail world does not explain why people still go to local stores. It's as if the harder they try, the more shoppers resist. The chanis do well, especially at sale time. But they don't have the same allegiance that a local store does. That's why nobody is outraged when an Old Navy goes out of business. Who cares? There's another one a couple of miles away.

I think these easterners have been breathing their own smog for too long. Macy's executives are experimenting with abandoning one of the nation's most respected and beloved local retail names. What makes them think Chicagoans need the name Macy's to feel like the shopping experience is special? Just because they're Macy's? That and a nickel will get you a punch in the mouth down near Randolph and State. It's not as if Macy's can't offer the same service and selection as Marshall Field's. But after this auspicous entry into the local market, who will care about them? If they fail, is anyone in Chicago going to be as outraged as we are over Marshall Field's? No. In fact, I believe that there will be a large portion of people who will secretly root for them to fail. I'm sure there will be specials galore during what will have to be a Grand Opening Month. They'll swoop in and do lots of charitable work in hopes of building allegiance. But after the bribery is offered and accepted, do they expect Chicagoans to embrace them like a long lost brother instead of a conquerer? Or as yet another new coffee vendor?

Time will tell. I'm around the corner from Marshall Fields. I'm going to buy some memorabilia to make sure the name isn't forgotten. But retail changes, and you may see the name again in 5 years or so. My personal thinking is that they'll have to sacrifice a lot of margin for a couple of years in order to keep business at the current levels. They can't cut price for too long, as they'll run into Carson Pirie & Scott, the other and now only major local retailer. They can't go too highbrow, as they'll run into Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, and a horde of other exclusive shops paying a lot less for their floorspace, and no stockholders to mollify. I'll still go to Marshall Field's if only to help keep Chicagoans employed. I'll still call the store Marshall Field's, and am looking forward to saying that to a Macy's sales associate. If the person is from Chicago, they'll secretly agree with me. If they're from New York, it will feel even better. If it happens to be from a Macy's executive in from New YorkJACKPOT!

Millions Face a Deadline for Choosing a New Medicare Plan
Friday, November 25 (New York Times)Decisions, decisions. The clock is ticking for millions of elderly and disabled people, who must decide whether and when to enroll in one of the new Medicare Part D drug plans that start Jan. 1, 2006.

The Part D program, named for its place within the written Medicare law, for the first time brings drugs under the Medicare tent, which covers 42 million people. It has been widely portrayed as hopelessly confusing.

And bewildering it can seem - in part because Congress set it up to be federally subsidized but run by the commercial insurance industry. Companies are clamoring to compete, and some are adding to the confusion by offering dozens of plans with a welter of wrinkles and widely varying prices. And as if to raise the degree of difficulty, some insurers are continually adjusting their offerings, even as consumers are trying to make a decision.

But before you throw up your hands, there are basic steps you can take to help decide which plan, if any, is right for you or for someone you are trying to assist. And as you proceed, take heart from Hari Peterson, a 69-year-old retired nurse in Warwick, R.I., who has survived the process.

"I found it to be confusing, but we really studied it," said Ms. Peterson, whose husband, Ray, 72, has drug coverage from the Department of Veterans Affairs that he plans to keep for now. She collected information on computer printouts from senior centers and talked with state insurance advisers at a Medicare fair at a nearby mall.

"I gave them my prescriptions and they pinpointed it down to two or three plans," she said. Ms. Peterson also plans to consult her longtime pharmacist before making a final selection.

If you are overwhelmed by the thought of wrestling with all this on the brink of the holiday season, there is a reprieve: You can make a selection by Dec. 31 if you want coverage to start in January, but you can also wait until as late as May 15 to select a plan, without penalty.

GETTING STARTED. If you have Internet access, begin at the www.medicare.gov Web site. It can answer many questions and help with the plan comparisons

Alito '72 joined conservative alumni group
Concerned Alumni of Princeton known to be anti-coeducation
Friday, November 25 (Daily Princetonian)Earlier this week, recently released documents drew attention for showing that, in a 1985 job application, Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito '72 wrote that he is "particularly proud" of his work on cases arguing that "racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion."

Now, opponents to his nomination are using another piece of information from those documents to suggest he is far outside the mainstream in his political and social views: Near the end of his "Personal Qualifications Statement" for a high-level job in Ronald Reagan's Justice Department, Alito wrote that he was "a member of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton University, a conservative alumni group."

 Interviews with several alumni who were students in the 1970s paint a picture of Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP) as a far-right organization funded by conservative alumni committed to turning back the clock on coeducation at the University. More

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