Friday, March 31, 2006

Bribery - What's in a name?

In the past I knew crazy headlines came from some remote village in the world but lately I haven't been so sure. When I saw, "Bribery acceptable, but refs shouldn't let cash influence decisions" I clicked on it to see the dateline. It was Lagos, Nigeria and the heartwarming story was about soccer referees being allowed to accept bribes from soccer clubs but that the graft shouldn't influence their decisions on the field. Sounds reasonable. Actually, the better way to run things under the circumstances would be to have each team bribe the refs the exact same amount of money so that at least the bribery would have the appearance of fairness. This reminds me of a law student I knew who, when asked why we allow twelve jurors rather than a single judge to decide the complex question of whether a criminal defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity he offered, "Because it's easier to bribe one judge rather than twelve jurors? I don't know where he is now but I'd start looking in the Attorney General's office or Supreme Court in Nigeria.

I also paused for a moment to wonder whether we are learning from Nigeria or are they learning from us? Bribery is legal in Congress as long at you call it something else and as long as it doesn't result in a quid pro quo - roughly something for something. In practice it's basically impossible to prove a campaign donation or gift directly led to some official favor and thus it's next to impossible to bring these official corruption cases against Members of Congress. Guess what? The Republicans, incompetent at running an economy, a war, a hurricane relief, a Medicare plan, a budget, in short incompetent at running a government can't even be corrupt competently. Republican ex-Rep. "Duke" Cunningham sits in prison for the next 8+ years and he'll soon be joined by other members of his party. Who's next? Rep. Tom Delay? Rep. Bob Ney? Rep. Richard Pombo? Rep. Jim Ryun? Rep. John Dolittle? Might make a nice prison poker game. Wonder if they'll try to cheat each other?

So there you have it. Nigeria believes bribery is acceptable for soccer refs and we believe (read the rules) that bribery is acceptable for Members of Congress. The only difference is Nigeria is up-front about it and we aren't and they ask that the bribes not let it influence decisions and we don't.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Should we torture puppies?

Should we torture puppies? Should slavery be legal? Can I be less cranky? In the words of Dr. Evil, "How 'bout no!" These, of course, are absurd questions that really have no "other" side to debate. However, C-Span did have a "debate" scheduled this past fall about whether the Holocaust was a myth or not until the Holocaust was not a myth side refused to participate so you never know. I bring this up since I just heard a CNBC anchor ask before a commercial break, "Should Congressman be prevented from insider trading?" Gee, let me think.

I raise this because the Senate just passsed what they call lobby reform which is nothing of the sort. They can still do practically the same things they've done before and they'll find new ways to continue the money laundering. It must be o.k. since they made it legal. They can fly on private jets with lobbyists and sell the country to the highest bidders. They can earmark millions of dollars to their favorite donors. They can let they wives "consult" on fundraising and take a 10 or 15% cut of the money they raise. What a great deal. A deal they will never give up. For them it would be like asking them to give up breathing.

So the next time you hear "Should Congress give up their right to steal?" don't think it's The Daily Show doing a parody of Congress. It might just be C-Span.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

All Animals are equal...the continuing saga

A decade ago a cell phone conversation of top Republican House members, including Majority Leader Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey and John Boehner (the current majority leader) was recorded by a Florida couple and given to Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott. As Josh Marshall puts it, "To make a long story semi-short, Gingrich, DeLay, Dick Armey, Boehner and several others got together on a conference call to plot a counterattack against a finding of the House Ethics Committee -- something Gingrich was explicitly prohibited from doing as a condition of the punishment he received for various ethical infractions." McDermott gave the tape to reporters and Boehner later sued McDermott for invasion of privacy and violations of state and federal wiretapping laws.

This week a federal appeals court ruled ruled that McDermott violated the rights of John Boehner by turning over the taped call to reporters. The court ordered McDermott to pay Boehner more than $700,000 for leaking the taped conversation. Just like Tom Delay suing for his dad's accidental death and Sen. Rick Santorum's wife's bad back lawsuit, Boehner is the typical Republican hypocrite who hates trial lawyers unless he needs one to sue somebody.

And just as Boehner loves hypocrisy he loves and wants to protect his privacy from electronic surveillance but not yours. A strong supporter of the NSA illegal wiretapping program Boehner defends the president who has admitted he ignored the FISA law which requires warrants to eavesdrop. While Boehner's lawyers said McDermott's actions were clearly illegal Boehner defends President Bush who has admitted he ignored the FISA law because it was inconvenient to what he wanted to do. In short, W made up his own law.

In a written statement, McDermott said he respectfully disagrees with the majority ruling. "My position rightly defends freedom of the press and free speech in America," he said. "The American people have a right to know when their government's leaders are plotting to deceive them, and that is exactly what was happening during a telephone call in 1996 involving Republican House leaders."

Don't you get it Jim? You should have said you were involved in the Terrorist Surveillance Program and that it was a matter of national security and that you can't talk about any aspect of the program and that the court and Boehner and his lawyers must be on the side of the terrorists and Al Qaeda because impeding his ability to listen while people plot and plan could lead to an attack on the U.S. Then he would haven't have a huge judgment against him and he'd probably be elected to higher office.

At least someone's rights are protected from illegal wiretapping. It's just not you.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

President of the United Churches of America

The all seeing Josh Marshall tipped me off to this but it's worth repeating. As he put it, "The transformation is almost complete." To wit:

Sen. John McCain, who has been running for President since being "swift boated" in South Carolina in 2000 by W and Rove's henchmen, once called Rev. Jerry Falwell an “agent of intolerance,” but now it seems all is well and McCain will be Liberty University’s graduation speaker this May. “I was in Washington with him about three months ago,” Falwell said. “We dealt with every difference we have. There are no deal breakers now. But I told him, ‘You have a lot of fence mending to do.’” Good doggie. Here boy. Beg. Beg.

In the 2000 primaries in the South Carolina and Virginia, McCain denounced Falwell and televangelist Pat Robertson saying, "Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.”

McCain, was a Navy pilot whose plane was shot down in 1967 over Vietnam and spent 5½-years in prison, mostly in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. When the North Vietnamese learned his father was the admiral in charge of the Pacific Command, they offered him a chance to go home. McCain, a decorated veteran, instead followed the orders of senior POWs, who said no one would go home unless all went home. He was released in 1973. In all that time McCain never "cracked" or betrayed his principles. Just about the same time to do so here after the 2000 primaries. Nice symmetry.

If you don't think voting Republican empowers the religious right, the Evangelical Christians like Falwell and Robertson, you're as lost as the lost on "Lost."

Monday, March 27, 2006

Dueling Riders

Last week The Smoking Gun obtained and published Vice President Dick Cheney's standard "tour" rider - the written demands to hotels when Cheney travels. Jon Stewart on The Daily Show did, as usual, a brilliant job of ridiculing requests such as a "private bathroom" as if Cheney would be using a public trough and that "all televisions (must be) tuned to FOX News" because, god forbid, Cheney walks into a room and catches a non-Fox News show that tells him what a "shitty" job he's doing or so says Stewart. Watch the video here. Of course my favorite part is Cheney's request that he must also be provided "a rifle, ammo and an old man's face."

So what does the news media do? Of course they find John Kerry's hotel demands from two years ago and point out that he "hates celery." The list is really a list of foods that he eats and since he's not ordering for himself it makes sense. The newspapers asked for are The New York Times, The Washington Post and the local papers. Giving Kerry a national and local sense of what's going on. Contrast that to Cheny demanding only Fox News to be on when he walks into a room.

Cheney's rider isn't as weird as Led Zeppelin's but it's a bit odd by comparison to Kerry's and the press simply thinks publishing both is the detached, "balanced" way of doing things. The only facts of a presidential campaign are the dates, times and locations of the candidates' appearances. Some editorial content is used to explain what happened. I don't think there is deep meaning to the riders, maybe shallow meaning, but the fact that Kerry might dislike celery and Cheney hates facts is the real story here. In 2008 are we going to see "Celery Farmers for Truth?" Count on it.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Bird Flu or Bird Jews?

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Health authorities carried out Afghanistan's first chicken culling Wednesday since an outbreak of the deadly bird flu virus was confirmed in this war-ravaged Central Asian nation earlier this month, an Agricultural Ministry official said. About 200 chickens were killed and dumped into a deep, dry well in Tashti Barche, a town about 10 miles west of Kabul. Or at least that is the cover story.

Independent Curmudgeon reporting has found indications that the chickens were actually killed for converting from Islam to Judaism a crime punishable by death in the new, democratic Afghanistan. Suspicion fell upon the birds when they refused to lay eggs on the Sabbath, submitted plans to turn their coops (co-ops?) into condos and used phrases like "Oy Vey."

The chickens would be in good company as the story of Abdul Rahman, the Afghani who is on trial for converting from Islam to Christianity and could receive the death penalty continues. If that happens I'm looking forward to the Evangelical Christians who put W in office twice to either defend his job of not finishing his job in Afghanistan or, more likely, blame the media for reporting Rahman's plight.

W and Condi are frantically making calls to Hamid Karzi to stop this "Christian to lions" trial but it doesn't change the mentality over there. Invading Afghanistan and defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban was a completely justified, necessary and noble cause. (It was of course fought with the military that Bill Clinton had built and presided over for the eight years prior to Oct. 2001) But people should understand who we will be dealing with in Afghanistan and Iraq after sending our sons, daughters and dollars there. Maybe if W read something other than the sports page he wouldn't look so shocked when converts (or chickens) are put on trial for exercising freedoms he claims are on the march.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bush family values

Now I know where W gets it. Here's the current Bush Administration in a nutshell.

Former first lady Barbara Bush donated an undisclosed amount of money to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund with specific instructions that the money be spent with an educational software company owned by her son Neil. You might remember Neil who during a deposition for his divorce from his wife Sharon admitted to sex romps with women in Asia and lucrative business deals such as a contract with Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., a firm backed by Jiang Mianheng, the son of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, that would pay him $2 million in stock over five years.

Marshall Davis Brown, lawyer for Sharon Bush, expressed bewilderment at why Grace Semiconductor would want Bush and at such a high price since he knew little about the semiconductor business. "You have absolutely no educational background in semiconductors do you?" asked Brown. "That's correct," Bush, 48, responded. "And you have absolutely over the last 10, 15, 20 years not a lot of demonstrable business experience that would bring about a company investing $2 million in you?" continued Brown. Nei. Bush replied, "I personally would object to the assumption that they're investing $2 million in me," and went on on to explain that he knew a lot about business and had been working in Asia for years.

Brown questioned Bush about numerous other business ventures that paid him well to be a consultant and fundraiser, and, in at least one case, for little work. Bush said he was co-chairman of Crest Investment Corporation, but worked only an average of three to four hours a week. For that, he received $15,000 every three months. Bush said he provided Crest "miscellaneous consulting services." "Such as?" asked Brown. "Such as answering phone calls when Jamail Daniel, the other co-chairman, called and asked for advice," Bush said.

Neil Bush was also a director Denver, Colorado-based Silverado Savings & Loan in the late 1980s, which collapsed at a cost to taxpayers of $1 billion.

The Bush divorce, completed in April after 23 years of marriage, was prompted in part by Bush's relationship with another woman. He admitted in the deposition that he previously had sex with several other women while on trips to Thailand and Hong Kong at least five years earlier. The women, he said, simply knocked on the door of his hotel room, entered and had sex with him. He said he did not know if they were prostitutes because they never asked for money and he did not pay them. "Mr. Bush, you have to admit it's a pretty remarkable thing for a man just to go to a hotel room door and open it and have a woman standing there and have sex with her," Brown said. "It was very unusual," Bush said.

So mommy Bush "donates" money for Hurrican Katrina victims but demands the money be spent buying software from son Neil Bush's company. Inside deals, family ties, foreign interests giving millions to make a Bush rich, incuriousness -- in this case about women showing up in your hotel room to have sex with you and then leave all part of the pattern for this family.

You also may recall Barbara Bush touring Hurricane Katrina victims, referring to the poor who had lost everything back home and evacuated saying, "This is working very well for them." Her son Neil too.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Res Ipsa Loquitur - "the thing speaks for itself"

This one is easy. It's clear to a majority of the country that W and his people/apologists are detached from reality but this one should convince everyone in America whose brain still touches their spinal cords.

Here is what President Bush said at his press conference yesterday:

THE PRESIDENT: What we're doing is difficult work. And one -- the interesting thing that's happening is, is that imagine an enemy that says we will kill innocent people because we're trying to encourage people to be free. What kind of mind-set is it of people who say, we must stop democracy? Democracy is based upon this kind of universal belief that people should be free. And yet, there are people willing to kill innocent life to stop it. To me, that ought to be a warning signal to people all around the world that the enemy we face is an enemy that ascribes to a vision that is dark and one that doesn't agree with the universal rights of men and women. As a matter of fact, when given a chance to govern or to have their parasitical government represent their views, they suppressed women and children. There was no such thing as religious freedom. There was no such thing as being able to express yourself in the public square. There was no such thing as press conferences like this.

As W was giving his Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style speech about religious freedom a 41 year-old, father of two, was being put on trial in Afghanistan for converting from Islam to Christianity not by the Taliban but by the U.S. backed Hamid Karzi government. Abdul Rahman converted from Islam to Christianity 16 months ago and unfortunately for him the current Afghan constitution allows for the death penalty for converting from Islam. "They want to sentence me to death, and I accept it," Rahman told reporters. Under the Taliban Rahman could have been tortured and publicly executed for converting so the fact that under the Karzi government he can only be executed is a victory for religious freedom? I guess you are free to practice any religion in Afghanistan as long as it's Islam. Should be pretty easy to book a bar mitzvah. I get it now. One moment please, my brain has to say bye-bye to my spinal cord.

And then this from W on Monday, March 21 answering questions from real people in Cleveland:

THE PRESIDENT: That's a great question. First, just if I might correct a misperception. I don't think we ever said -- at least I know I didn't say that there was a direct connection between September the 11th and Saddam Hussein.

Then the next day:

Helen Thomas: My question is, why did you really want to go to war (in Iraq)?

THE PRESIDENT: I think your premise -- in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist -- is that -- I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect --

Q Everything --

THE PRESIDENT: Hold on for a second, please.

Q -- everything I've heard --

THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, excuse me. No President wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true. My attitude about the defense of this country changed on September the 11th. We -- when we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American people. Our foreign policy changed on that day, Helen. You know, we used to think we were secure because of oceans and previous diplomacy. But we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life. And I'm never going to forget it. And I'm never going to forget the vow I made to the American people that we will do everything in our power to protect our people.

Part of that meant to make sure that we didn't allow people to provide safe haven to an enemy. And that's why I went into Iraq -- hold on for a second --

Q They (Iraq) didn't do anything to you, or to our country.

THE PRESIDENT: Look -- excuse me for a second, please. Excuse me for a second. They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for al Qaeda. That's where al Qaeda trained --

Q I'm talking about Iraq --

THE PRESIDENT: Helen, excuse me. That's where -- Afghanistan provided safe haven for al Qaeda. That's where they trained. That's where they plotted. That's where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans.

I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the Security Council; that's why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed. And the world said, disarm, disclose, or face serious consequences --

No, W didn't actually say the words, "Saddam was involved with 9/11." He did what clever con men and do. He said "Saddam" in the same sentences with "9/11" and "Al Qaeda" and "Iraq" and "war on terror" so often that the public, whose brains were detaching from their spinal cords believed the intentional conflation.

The thing speaks for itself. I just wonder if the sick irony will reach enough brains before the November 2006 elections.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Religious bigotry on the march

It's good to see that religious extremism or rather mental illness masquerading as religion is on the march. It gives me something to rant about.

Killing people over cartoons is the norm in more than a few countries and smiling loons/religious kooks like Pat Robertson have provided me (and Capt. Fogg) with more than one blog posts. (See here, here, here and here for a taste.) So it was no surprise to see an Israeli rabbi hop aboard the crazy train.

Rabbi David Basri, identified as a prominent sage preaching Kabbalah, also know as Jewish mysticism, said that an outbreak of deadly bird flu in Israel is God's punishment for calls in election ads to legalize gay marriages. "The Bible says that God punishes depravity first through plagues against animals and then in people," Basri said in a religious edict quoted by his son. Basri said he hoped the deaths of hundreds of thousands of turkeys and chickens would help atone for what he called the sins of left-wing Israeli political parties, the son, Rabbi Yitzhak Basri, told Reuters, a week before a national election.

The bird flu outbreak stemmed from far-left political parties "strengthening and encouraging homosexuality," Rabbi Basri's son quoted him as saying. One of the parties aired an election commercial depicting two brides kissing. Wonder how long before two cocks (roosters that is) are making out to "It's Raining Men" with the picture of Hillary morphing into Osama bin Laden show up on my television.

I still don't understand the problem straight guys have with gay guys. All that means is more woman to go around. As for the bird flu, I'm dealing with it the rational way. I'm stockpiling three months of food. And if you think I'm kidding I'll send you my Costco receipts.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Speed Demons

The House of Representatives is on track this year to be in session for fewer days than the Congress Harry Truman labeled as “do-nothing” during his 1948 re-election campaign. Through Friday, the House has been in session for only 19 days in 2006, compared with 33 for the Senate. If they stick to their current schedule — including two weeks off in April, a week in May and July, plus all of August — House members will spend 97 days in Washington this year. The House was in session 108 days in 1948.

Members of Congress are taking an entire week off for St. Patrick's Day. It's the latest scheduling innovation to give members more time to meet with constituents. “This is an election year and people want to see more of their constituents,” says House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. Remember, that's the most important thing. Not the war on terror, not balanced budgets, not rebuilding New Orleans. Hustling contributions and votes is the most important priority for the Republicans.

During the first two months of the year, House members logged a total of only 47 hours in the Capitol. They took off almost the entire month of January.

Good thing they work really fast at bankrupting the country and rubber stamping W's incompetent policies whether in Iraq or the Gulf Coast. On Thursday, the House used two-minute vote times to get through an emergency $91.9 billion spending bill, according to Roll Call. To do this Republican leaders resurrected a tactic that hadn’t been used in nearly 20 years: speed voting.

House Majority Leader Boehner (R-Ohio) revived the strategy Thursday afternoon, seeking a “more efficient” way of dealing with the numerous back-to-back votes expected on the spending bill designating funds for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as hurricane relief to the Gulf Coast, a spokesman said.

So here is to the New Republican Order. Don't write the bills, (let lobbyists do that), don't read the bills, (too time consuming), don't spend time voting on the bills, ("more efficient" that way), don't care about the affect of the bills (not your blood or money that's going to pay for it), and then go to a fundraiser. The Republicans are good at what they do - rubber stamping W's failed policies and bankrupting the nation. All in under 2 minutes once or so a month.

By the way congressional lawmakers will make $165,200 this year. "Leaders" earn more.

Friday, March 17, 2006

King George the W.

Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory has been hitting the cover off the ball everyday on his blog. Most political junkies already know what a sick farce the Congress' response to the NSA spying scandal is but to find out just how sick it is you have to read Greenwald's blog daily.

The Bush program to use the NSA to spy on Americans, (as the FBI is busy spying on Quakers, peace activists and other "national security threats") without a warrant is widely known. Congress has refused to investigate a single element of the NSA spying program while they have time to question professional baseball players about steroid use. But now the Congress has gone above and beyond its slavish allegiance to all things Bush. Without having any investigation to find out what the Bush Administration and the NSA has been doing, Congress is poised to pass a "Presidential infallibility" law that say whatever they have been doing is legal. What makes this more of a farce is that Bush and his Congressional apologists have been arguing that the program is legal as the President has the inherent authority to conduct such activities. But if that is true then why pass a law that makes something legal if you are already saying it is legal? And beyond that if Bush can disregard the FISA law, which he has admitted to, why can't he disregard this new law? Why doesn't the Congress just pass the "Governing by Executive Decree Act" and get it over with? At least Bush probably wouldn't ignore that law.

This also raises another question. What other laws are being ignored by this president? It's a Schoolhouse Rock truism that Congress passes the laws and the President executes them. But when they said execute the laws I didn't think that meant literally. The White House has become a slaughterhouse for reason, science, truth, ethics and competence. Add laws of the land, privacy, judicial and congressional oversight to the list.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Your government at work

A government crackdown on "indecent" programming resulted in a proposed fine of $3.6 million against dozens of CBS stations and affiliates on Wednesday, a record penalty from the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC said an episode of the CBS crime drama "Without a Trace" that aired in December 2004 was indecent. It cited the graphic depiction of "teenage boys and girls participating in a sexual orgy."

CBS said it strongly disagrees with the FCC's finding. The program "featured an important and socially relevant story line warning parents to exercise greater supervision of their teenage children. The program was not unduly graphic or explicit," the network said in a statement.

If this case gets to the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia will most likely support CBS as he is in favor of orgies. On Wednesday, Scalia, in his usual "I'm the smartest and funniest guy in the room" way said that the recent overturning of a state anti-sodomy law was wrong adding that he personally believes "sexual orgies eliminate tension and ought to be encouraged." He said a panel of judges is not inherently qualified to determine the morality of such behavior.

So while CBS is on the line for a $3.6 million fine for showing kids kissing on a television show, there are no proposed fines for Halliburton which failed to protect the water supply it is paid to purify for U.S. soldiers throughout Iraq. In one instance missing contamination that could have caused "mass sickness or death," an internal company report concluded.

The report, obtained by The Associated Press, said the company failed to assemble and use its own water purification equipment, allowing contaminated water directly from the Euphrates River to be used for washing and laundry at Camp Ar Ramadi in Ramadi, Iraq. The problems discovered last year at that site -- poor training, miscommunication and lax record keeping -- occurred at Halliburton's other operations throughout Iraq, the report said.

You'll sleep better at night knowing that Halliburton has conducted a second review last year and found no evidence of any illnesses in Iraq from water and it believes some of its earlier conclusions were incomplete and inaccurate. The company declined to release the second report.

So let's review. A Supreme Court justice can use his First Amendment rights to encourage orgies but CBS can't. They can but it costs $3.6 million for the priviledge of exercising their rights. And it's more of a violation for the CBS to broadcast the orgy episode of "Without a Trace" to our troops than it is for Halliburton to serve them poisonous river water while they actually watch it. Anyone else for changing who's leading the military, the FCC and this country?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

iPod, iPod, wherefore art thou iPod?

I'm particularly cranky today. Let me get you up to speed.

Last December I opened a new account at TD Waterhouse for crankybro 2. It just so happened that opening a new account came with a free Apple iPod Nano. Since I was going to do all the work for crankybro 2 and pick investments (up 10% in three months) and on top of that crankybro 2 has a video iPod and my birthday was coming up, it was agreed I should get the free Nano. Six to eight weeks for the Nano to reach my mailbox? No problem. I figure around mid-February I'll join the ranks of podders. In January I buy an iPod Nano protective case and get a sport armband for the pod as a present. They remain in their cases.

I know that things might not get sent exactly when they are supposed to, (I'm still waiting for a $20 rebate from Sandisk and probably will never see that one either) but I figured I'll look forward to looking in my mailbox around Valentine's Day. No iPod. This goes on daily and now we are in March.

A week ago I called TD Waterhouse and they explained to me some nonsense about even though I opened an account in mid-December the order to Apple didn't get sent in until January. Uh-huh. And then just to help things out they told me Apple then dropped the ball as they weren't able to provide the amount of iPod Nanos that TD Waterhouse needed. Uh-huh. Ok then let's go around the corner to the Apple store and buy one from the floor to ceiling stack of Nanos they have. We can't do that they tell me. Uh-huh. They said I'm on the list to get one and it should be within a couple of weeks. And I'm from FEMA and I'm here to help.

So the two week deadline is fast approaching and then I run across this headline in today's Chicago Tribune, "Free iPod? Don't always bank on it." The story was about someone who opened an account with Bank One, now Chase, last August and was still waiting for a lowly iPod Shuffle! It took the intervention of the Chicago Tribune to get her a credit for the $99. I see a letter to the Tribune in my future.

A week or so from now I'm either going to chain myself to a TD Waterhouse office or contact the Tribune. One way or another I'm getting my Nano.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Torture, shmorture

"Is it a strange thing that a defendant died during interrogation?"

Who said this? Was it Vice-President Cheney? Maybe W himself? Sounds more like Rumsfeld right? What about John Bolton? Another good candidate. Wouldn't be so off the mark since a recent report concluded that since Aug. 2002, 98 detainees have died while in U.S. custody in the global war on terror. “According to the U.S. military’s own classifications, 34 of these cases are suspected or confirmed homicides. Another 11 have facts that suggest death as a result of physical abuse or harsh conditions of detention.” And remember, According to W, "we do not torture."

In fact, the above banal quote, "Is it a strange thing that a defendant died during interrogation?" was spoken by a former judge in Saddam Hussein's Revolutionary Court who acknowledged that he sentenced 148 Shiites to death in 1984. Forty-six of the 148 defendants had been "liquidated during interrogation." But their due process rights were "protected" by the Revolutionary Court as after they died at the hands of their interrogators they were recommeded to get the death penalty so I guess no harm no foul.

If you listen to the torture apologists in the Republican party the fact that nearly a hundred detainees have died or been murdered in U.S. custody is just a matter of boys being boys. Would it be such a stretch to hear Sean Hannity or Rush or Bill O'Lielly or Rumsfeld say, "Is it a strange thing that a defendant died during interrogation?" Would it be such a stretch to hold someone accountable in the military above the rank of sergeant for detainee murders? Don't even waste your time thinking about whether anyone in the adminstration will be held accountable for the torture and murder of detainees. They don't.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Things I learned this weekend

Gale Norton resigned as Secretary of the Interior and the resignation had nothing, I repeat nothing, to do with the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal.

Katherine Harris, the infamous former Florida Secretary of State who co-chaired W's re-election campaign there and ruled him the winner in 2000, is now a Congresswoman and running for U.S. Senate. Unfortunately she learned how D.C. works a little too fast and will probably drop out of the Senate race this week and it has nothing, I repeat nothing, to do with the "Duke" Cunningham bribery scandal.

Donald Rumsfeld, the insufferable Robert McNamara look-alike, physically and policy-wise, is worth a lot more than I ever imagined. The hook of the story was that Rumsfeld, a former board member and chairman of Gilead Sciences has cashed in $5 million of Gilead stock and has somewhere around $25 million of additional shares. It just so happens Gilead makes Tamiflu which it just so happens is being pushed as preventing bird flu. Bet if Rumsfeld were a large shareholder of ACME Sciences and they made "flu-be-gone" I'm sure world governments would be buying that. A rough addition of his assets listed in the article suggest Rumsfeld is worth over $180 million. Maybe he could use some of the money to either buy body armor for his troops or a coherent plan.

But there's no question my favorite story is that White House Domestic Policy advisor Claude Allen was arrested for refund fraud, a felony. To be fair he resigned abruptly in February not because of his connection to some scandal but because of his own. This story is a beaut. Where do I begin. Allen, who worked tirelessly for Jesse Helms, the State of Virgina and the White House to drag health care services, sex/abstinence education, school prayer and abortion policies back into the middle ages was making $161,000 a year as W's right hand man on these issues. He did branch out to coordinate the White House response to Hurricane Katrina because who best to deal with a biblical disaster than someone who not only believes in biblical disasters but responds as a biblical figure would - with prayer. To really get a good flavor of what a loon this guy is and to feel good about enjoying bad things happening to bad people read this. Actually the most shocking thing is that W was going to get this mope a lifetime appointment to a Federal Appeals Court (not even simply a district court) before the Democrats blocked it. I guess stealing toasters won't help his chances for a similar job in the future. But with this bunch of "proud to be Republican and corrupt" failing upwards is the norm.

I also learned that after watching Nanny 911 I should be up for parent of the year. In the most shocking episode I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot, toddlers eating from the pig food dish, mommy keeps a 130 lbs. pot-belly pig in its own room in the house, and drinking from the cat water bowl were fine with mommy and daddy. And that was the least appalling thing I saw. I'll spare you the flinging of poop from diapers situation on the show but rest assured, you are a better parent than you think.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Dictatorship and chicken salad

I could spend my time today blogging about recently retired Sandra Day O'Connor warning that the journey to dictatorship starts with steps very much like what has been going on in this country but my thoughts on chicken salad are more important. Oh. ok. At a speech at Georgetown University, the Reagan appointee and first woman to serve on the High Court all but named names in thinly veiled attacks on former House majority leader Tom DeLay and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, and ended with a stunning warning.

O'Connor told her Georgetown audience that judges can make presidents, Congress and governors "really really mad," but she said judicial effectiveness is "premised on the notion that we won't be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts." While hailing the American system of rights and privileges, she noted the founding fathers knew statutes and constitutions don’t protect judicial independence, "people do."

Then, she took aim at former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. She didn’t name him, but she quoted his attacks on the courts at a meeting of the conservative Christian group Justice Sunday last year, when DeLay took out after the courts for its rulings on abortion, prayer, and the Terry Schiavo case. This, said O’Connor, was after the federal courts had applied Congress' one-time-only statute about Schiavo as it was written, not, said O'Connor, as the Congressman might have wished it were written. The response to this flagrant display of judicial restraint, said O'Conner, her voice dripping with sarcasm, was that the congressman blasted the courts.

It gets worse, she said, noting that death threats against judges are increasing. It doesn’t help, she said, when a high-profile senator suggests there may be a connection between violence against judges and decisions that the senator disagrees with. She didn’t name him, but it was Texas Sen. John Cornyn who made that statement after a Georgia judge was murdered in court and the family of a federal judge in Illinois murdered in the judge's home.

O’Connor observed that there have been a lot of suggestions lately for so-called judicial reforms -- recommendations for the massive impeachment of judges stripping the courts of jurisdictions and cutting judicial budgets to punish offending judges. Any of these might be debatable, she said, as long as they are not retaliation for decision that political leaders disagree with

I, said O’ Connor, am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning. Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and formerly Communist countries, where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.

And that's not from some blogger like Capt. Fogg who rants about the coming dictatorship as passionately as the passionate rant about the coming Rapture. That's Sandra Day O'Connor. Can't wait for the Swift Boat Veterans for Fascism 527 ads about her.

But I digress. I am making a bold statement today. After much research I have come to the conclusion that while most everything in Whole Foods Market grocery stores are great their prepared deli section blows. Everything looks great and calls to you to buy, bring home and eat. But just like a siren song that draws you into a rocky shoreline, the first bite out of the microwave instantly tells you you've been had. The original chicken salad is good but everything else isn't.

So there it is. I dislike Whole Foods' deli as well as dictatorship. I know I'll have less of the former. I'm not as optimistic on the latter.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The bill just came due

Dubai is threatening retaliation against American strategic and commercial interests if Washington blocks its $6.8 billion takeover of operations at several U.S. ports. As the House Appropriations Committee yesterday voted 62-2 to the ports deal, the emirate let it be known that it is preparing to hit back hard if necessary.

A source close to the deal said members of Dubai’s royal family are furious at the hostility both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have shown toward the deal. "They're saying, ‘All we’ve done for you guys, all our purchases, we’ll stop it, we’ll just yank it,’" the source said.

Retaliation from the emirate could come against lucrative deals with aircraft maker Boeing and by curtailing the docking of hundreds of American ships, including U.S. Navy ships, each year at its port in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the source added. Boeing has been made aware of the threat and is already reportedly lobbying to save the ports deal. The Emirates Group airline bought $9.7 billion of Boeing 777 aircraft last fall and will decide later this year whether it will buy Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner or its competitor, Airbus A350. The UAE military also bought Boeing’s Apache helicopters. Meanwhile, Boeing has been in talks with the emirates to try to sell its AWACS planes.

When it comes to the emirates’ cooperation in the war on terrorism and in intelligence gathering, there is concern that some help may be pulled. Dubai is a critical logistics hub for the U.S. Navy and a popular relaxation destination for troops fighting in the Middle East. On many occasions since the ports story erupted, the Pentagon has stressed the importance of the U.S-UAE relationship. Last year, the U.S. Navy docked 590 supply vessels in Dubai, plus 56 warships, Gordon England, deputy secretary of defense, said in a Senate hearing last month. About 77,000 military personnel went on leave in the UAE last year, he added. During the hearing, he warned about the implications of a negative decision on the ports deal: “So obviously it would have some effect on us, and I’d not care to quantify that, because I don’t have the facts to quantify it. It would certainly have an effect on us.”

W's position is to threaten to veto legislation that hasn't even been passed yet and if he did, it would the first, repeat, the first veto W has used in six years as president. W hasn't vetoed a single dollar of federal spending, giveaways to the oil industry or tax breaks for billionaires. But now he's going to use his veto power to protect a foreign corporation's business deal. The "war president" thinks terrorism and protecting the American public are the most important issues -- unless of course it gets in the way of a business deal with a foreign undemocratic oil sheikdom.

We got another bill today when the new record trade deficit number for the month of January came in at $68.5 billion. The previous record was $67.84 billion in October. So we are borrowing billions from the Chinese and Japanese to buy their stuff. When that bill comes due China may ask for Taiwan back or the enabling of this borrow and spend policy will end. Just another Asian pied piper that will eventually get paid.

And speaking of numbers in the aftermath of Dana Reeve's death from lung cancer it was startling to see federal yearly funding of lung cancer research is $250 million with breast cancer reesearch getting $570 million. Add prostate cancer and colon cancer research and the U.S. government spends less on yearly research for those cancers than we spend in Iraq in a week. Not even $1.5 billion a year cancer research and we are tab in Iraq will be nearly $400 billion by the end of this year. Another bill that came due too early and too cruely for Dana Reeve and her orphaned 13-year old son and maybe someday, someone you know. Pay your bills now or really pay them later.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Just when you think it can't get worse

Yesterday, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted along party lines 8-7 to prevent any hearings on the NSA domestic wiretapping program. Republicans took their orders from the White House and killed any chance to find out who the government has been spying on, for how long and for what purpose. After claiming the FISA law was too old to follow, passed in 1978 and amended repeatedly and even after 9/11, the White House ordered their servants in the Senate to pass another law so they can ignore that one too. And the new one is breathtaking.

The new agreement, between Republicans spying on Americans and those protecting their right to do so, would "reinforce" the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was created in 1978 to issue special warrants for spying but was sidestepped by the administration. The measure would require the administration to seek a warrant from the court whenever possible. Remember those words, "whenever possible" because you are going to see them a lot more in the bills passed by the Republican Congress for the Republican President to execute "whenever possible." It's like adding the words "in bed" after reading a fortune cookie. You must follow the law - whenever possible.

But wait you say. There still is oversight since if the administration elects not to seek a warrant after 45 days, the attorney general must certify that the surveillance is necessary to protect the country and explain to the subcommittee why the administration has not sought a warrant. The attorney general would be required to give an update to the subcommittee every 45 days. So if they are spying without a warrant and choose not to seek a warrant after 45, sometime after that, perhaps another 45 days, the Republican Attorney General will ask a subcommittee of seven Senators, four Republicans and three Democrats, if they can continue with the warrantless spying. So oversight now for the Bush Administration's NSA spying program is in the hands of four Republicans who already voted to prevent hearings and to loosen the already loose FISA law. Bravo. Well done.

To quote one of the funniest lines in movie history, "could we be worse...could be raining." I think we just heard the thunderclap. And all of us without an umbrella or our privacy rights.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Groundhog Day

Vice President Darth Cheney warned Iran that enrichment of nuclear fuel was unacceptable and threatened that Tehran would face "meaningful consequences" if it continued to pursue its nuclear program. Here we go again. Didn't I also hear U.N. ambassador John Bolten warn of "tangible and painful consequences" to Iran the day before? What tough guys. What chickenhawks. Instead of saying we should have been dealing with Iran's real nuclear program after 9/11 they decided to go after an imaginary nuclear program in Iraq. That's an easier target (all evidence over the last 3 years to the contrary) a paper tiger like Saddam Hussein boxed in from the north and south no-fly zones. Right now I'm monitoring cable for the words "there is no doubt" croaking from the lips of shoot 'em up cowboy Cheney.

Let's be honest. Iran is probably the greatest threat to the stability of the region and the world today. And unfortunately there are many saying we need to prepare ourselves for a nuclear Iran because our fearless leaders didn't get the divine word from their religious Bat-phone telling them "Iran, Iran, Iran" rather than "Iraq, Iraq, Iraq." Maybe they just misheard it due to the cheering and clapping from their legion of giddy American Idol-like followers drowning out reason and reality as well.

For a guy who was never ambitious in his first 40 years W seems to be trying to make up for lost time. Having done a half-baked job in Afghanistan and a quarter-baked job in Iraq, he wants to send whatever we have left at the ready to attack Iran. "Trust me" he'll say. Isn't that what mothers tell their daughters to run away from? The way to attack Iran is probably over. Attacking their income of petrodollars was the way to de-fang this tiger but alas W opted for tax breaks for SUVs so as not to interfere with suburbanites driving to the local Starbucks. And because of that, the insane mullahs have a Mt. Everest-sized pile of billions and their hand on the oil pump which allows them to do whatever they want. Buy off their population and build nuclear weapons both of which keep them in power. Imagine if oil were $20 a barrel rather than $60. Iran wouldn't be able to buy off the people and wouldn't be in power.

But alas. It's easier to talk tough, issue threats and send other people's kids into battle. Wonder if they'll have the proper armor or equipment this time? If not I'm sure it will be Clinton's (either one or both) fault. So strap yourself in, listen for "no doubt," "mushroom cloud" and "grave and gathering threat." Then the fun begins. And when it all goes bad it will be blamed on the media, the Democrats and the Clinton family. It's deja vu all over again.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The little guy just got littler

The Supreme Court refused Monday to consider whether a top judge in Illinois improperly voted to throw out a $1 billion judgment against State Farm Insurance Co. after accepting campaign donations from company lawyers and executives. Thus the case is over and State Farm won. The little guy (or gal) just got littler. The case raised an important question about judicial ethics: does the Constitution entitle average citizens a day in court before an impartial judge? Apparently not.

State Farm customers filed and won a class-action lawsuit that the company committed fraud for refusing to pay for top-quality replacement parts on damaged cars. Illinois (my home state sadly to say) Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier was a deciding vote in a decision to throw out the entire judgment last year. Karmeier, a Republican, and his Democratic opponent spent, combined, more than $9 million in 2004 in what experts called the most expensive judge race in American history. Karmeier directly received $350,000 in State Farm-related donations. After taking the bench he sided with State Farm, and separately voted to throw out a $10 billion fraud judgment against Philip Morris over the marketing of its "light" cigarettes. Pretty good return on investment: spend $350,000 to prevent losing $1 billion. Probably just a coincidence in who State Farm executives donated to.

A dozen public interest groups had pressed the Supreme Court to declare that people have a due process right to an unbiased judge, pointing out that 30 states will hold supreme court elections this year and money may taint those contests. Lawyers for the groups, including Common Cause, told justices that high-dollar judicial races "engender an appearance of corruption that critically threatens the very foundation of the courts, and the rights of the litigants who appear in them."

But lawyers for State Farm flatly denied that and said the company itself gave no money to Karmeier. "This court should reject (their) attempt to salvage some part of their case by improperly impugning the integrity of Justice Karmeier and the Illinois Supreme Court," lead lawyer Sheila Birnbaum said in a filing. Don't you have to have some integrity before it can be impugned?

My favorite columnist Michael Kinsley once wrote that there is no such thing as an "appearance of impropriety" or an "appearance of a conflict of interest." Either there is one or there isn't. Sort of like the appearance of being pregnant. Either you are or you're not even though some women, and men for that matter, look pregnant when they aren't. But I digress.

So you be the judge. Was there an "appearance of corruption" in this case or just corruption? Is there an "appearance of corruption" in the Republican Congress, House and Senate, or just corruption? It appears to me to be an easy choice.

Friday, March 03, 2006

I don't recall and 9/11

"I don't recall" and "9/11" have been the two answers for everything for this administration. I guess "no one could have imagined" is also in there as in "no could have imagined using planes as missiles," and "no one could have imagined the breech of the levees." How about "no one could have imagined how incompetent you all are at trying to run a government."

From conflating Saddam and 9/11 to "9/11 changed everything" to "I don't recall who I leaked all that classified information to and besides I had Vice-Presidential authority to do it," it's been a breathtaking five years. Asking to drill in Alaska because of 9/11, torturing detainees, most of them released as innocent of anything, because of 9/11, illegally wiretapping Americans and of course invading a country that never attacked us because of 9/11 has been a cynical and calculated policy to mislead and manipulate the public using a national tragedy as the universal remote of politics. In fact, just days after the attack the Corrupticans were arguing that the capital gains tax needed to be reduced because of 9/11. And just when you thought they ran out of things to link to 9/11 and to further desecrate the Pearl Harbor of our time the Corrupticans find another way.

America's obesity epidemic will dwarf the threat of terrorism if the nation does not reduce the number of people who are severely overweight, Surgeon General Richard Carmona said Wednesday.

"Obesity is the terror within," Carmona said during a lecture at the University of South Carolina. "Unless we do something about it, the magnitude of the dilemma will dwarf 9-11 or any other terrorist attempt."

What's next? Taking animals off the endangered species list because of 9/11? Increasing subsidies to sugar or corn growers because of 9/11? Offering advertising at Ground Zero of course not to pay down the deficit but to subsidize tax cuts for T. Boone Pickens? Maybe even Richard Carmona for President? Remember, 9/11 changed everything and I don't recall how you run a decent, competent government.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I came, I saw, I spent

Vice President Dick Cheney urged Americans Thursday to do a better job of saving and challenged policymakers to strengthen pensions and fix Social Security to help people in their golden years.

"The American dream begins with saving money and that should begin on the very first day of work," Cheney told a conference here exploring how to encourage people to boost savings and be better prepared for retirement.

Too often, workers are living paycheck to paycheck and are not saving sufficiently, Cheney said.

Of course government leads by example. Right?

Shortly before he was fired, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill confronted Cheney about the Administration’s latest proposal to cut taxes by another six hundred and seventy-four billion dollars over ten years, pointing out that the country was “moving toward a fiscal crisis.” The Vice-President stopped him. “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter,” he said. “We won the midterms. This is our due.” In fact, Reagan didn’t prove anything of the kind. Early in his first term, Congress was forced to adopt emergency tax increases and spending cuts to restrain the ballooning budget shortfall. Despite this remedial action, it wasn’t until the early nineties, when George Bush Senior and Bill Clinton raised taxes, that the nation’s finances were put in proper order, opening the way to the longest economic expansion on record.

So for all you kiddies out there rememeber: saving your money is the responsible thing to do but the U.S. government borrowing $2 billion a day from China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Japan to subsidize tax breaks for billionaires is also the responsible thing to do. Makes about as much sense as shooting a guy in the face because you thought he was a pigeon.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Americans are stupid, what else is new?

So more Americans know the names of The Three Stooges than the Supreme Court. And why not? The Three Stooges are funnier and perhaps even more intelligent. So it's no surprise when I read that Americans apparently know more about "The Simpsons" than they do about the First Amendment.

Only one in four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances.) But more than half can name at least two members of the cartoon family, according to a survey. A study by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that 22% of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just one in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms. The survey found more people could name the three "American Idol" judges than identify three First Amendment rights.

It also showed that people misidentified First Amendment rights. About one in five people thought the right to own a pet was protected, and 38% said they believed the right against self-incrimination contained in the Fifth Amendment was a First Amendment right, the survey found.

None of this really bothers me. Of course people don't know this stuff. They don't study it day in and day out. What bothers me is the people who do study it their whole lives don't know these rights. The President, Congress and the Judiciary seem to maybe know the words of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution but not the real meaning or reasonable interpretation or application of the concepts. My favorite example of late was the former head of the NSA Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden denied that the Fourth Amendment contained the words "probable cause" when of course they are there.

So no, I'm not bothered that my auto mechanic or my lawn guy doesn't know about the "due process" or "equal protection" clause. I'm bothered that W, Cheney, Rove the Justice Department and everyone else in government who should know about it don't.