Monthly Archives: May 2004

Overlooked Story of the Week

I suspect this has something to do with all the Halliburton scandals (kickbacks, overcharging, etc.), as well as how we’ve been outsourcing our military/intelligence operations to a bunch of non-accountable mercenary companies:

Established by an act of Congress in 1979, the Federal Procurement Data System was a rare island of public information, the only complete record of federal contracts. Using the database, journalists, auditors and federal investigators could review the million or so agreements with corporations Uncle Sam signed each year. They could find the companies reaping the largest awards, track the rise in no-bid deals, and measure the recent drive to replace federal employees with corporate employees. But under a new contract, the General Services Administration has now turned over responsibility for collecting and distributing information on government contracts to a beltway company called Global Computer Enterprises, Inc.

In signing the $24 million deal, the Bush Administration has privatized not only the collection and distribution of the data, but the database itself. For the first time since the system was established, the information will not be available directly to the public or subject to the Freedom of Information Act, according to federal officials. "It’s a contractor owned and operated system," explains Nancy Gunsauls, a project manager at GCE. "We have the data."

As reported here, information about who your government is contracting with, and for what — some of which was available on-line for FREE, or otherwise available for no more than $500 — could run you (and journalists, etc.) as much as $35,000 per inquiry.

Why is this worthy of your contempt? Folks, we live (supposedly) in a democracy with an open government. As one blogger said: "We can’t hold our government accountable if information about its actions is considered to be proprietary data, owned by a private corporation rather than by the American people." Amen.

Expansionism, government secrecy, human rights violations . . . Is it just me — or are we becoming more and more like the former Soviet Union every day?

Rush On Armed Forces Radio

Before I rant, a smattering of statistics:

Number of USO tours done by Al Franken: 4
Number of USO tours done by Rush Limbaugh: 0

Number of well-received USO tours done by Al Franken: 4
Number of well-received USO tours done by Rush Limbaugh: 0

Just thought I would throw it out there. You know, for perspective.

So here’s one question — why does Limbaugh’s program enjoy exclusive access to American Forces Radio and the American forces in Iraq? Remember, Rush’s program is being broadcast on AFR with your tax dollars.

Secondly, even if you think the AFR doesn’t have to be "fair and balanced", is Rush "Prison-Abuse-Is-A-Fun-Fraternity-Prank" Limbaugh the right guy? This is going out over the airwaves in Iraq, under the auspices of U.S. military (who are supposedly trying to get to the bottom of the prison abuse scandals) . . . and many Muslims have radios and understand English quite well.

Outrage Fatigue

It’s almost hard for me to get angry at the Bush White House anymore. The parade of lies and obfuscations over the past few months has left me so jaded-exhausted that each new piece of offensive news relating to the Bush Administration is greeted by me with ho-hum-so-what-else-is-new ennui, rather than the indignation it properly reserves.

Here’s the latest in the series as reported in WaPo:

The White House put government agencies on notice this month that if President Bush is reelected, his budget for 2006 may include spending cuts for virtually all agencies in charge of domestic programs, including education, homeland security and others that the president backed in this campaign year.

So heads up, folks. Bush is going to run on all these wonderful programs he’s funding for 2005. What he’s not telling you is that he’s already intending to cut them back in 2006 after he is (he hopes) elected. For example:

The administration has widely touted a $1.7 billion increase in discretionary funding for the Education Department in its 2005 budget, but the 2006 guidance would pare that back by $1.5 billion. The Department of Veterans Affairs is scheduled to get a $519 million spending increase in 2005, to $29.7 billion, and a $910 million cut in 2006 that would bring its budget below the 2004 level.

The Women, Infants and Children nutrition program was funded at $4.7 billion for the fiscal year beginning in October, enough to serve the 7.9 million people expected to be eligible. But in 2006, the program would be cut by $122 million. Head Start, the early-childhood education program for the poor, would lose $177 million, or 2.5 percent of its budget, in fiscal 2006.

The $78 million funding increase that Bush has touted for a homeownership program in 2005 would be nearly reversed in 2006 with a $53 million cut. National Institutes of Health spending would be cut 2.1 percent in 2006, to $28 billion, after a $764 million increase for 2005 that brought the NIH budget to $28.6 billion.

I don’t mind the cuts. We have a deficit, and we need cuts (as well as tax increases). But the election-year bait-and-switch is so transparent and, well, outrageous. If I could be feel outrage, that is.

New York Times Embarrassed By Its Lack Of Rigorous Reporting

I know many on the right like to paint the New York Times as ultra-liberal, but today’s editorial in the NYT — which borders on an apology — points out just how the NYT failed its readers by being too accepting of many of the claims being made by the White House about Iraq.

In most cases, what we reported was an accurate reflection of the state of our knowledge at the time, much of it painstakingly extracted from intelligence agencies that were themselves dependent on sketchy information. And where those articles included incomplete information or pointed in a wrong direction, they were later overtaken by more and stronger information. That is how news coverage normally unfolds.

But we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge.

* * *

Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper. Accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted. Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.

The Times give some examples, too. Here’s one:

On Sept. 8, 2002, the lead article of the paper was headlined "U.S. Says Hussein Intensified Quest for A-Bomb Parts." That report concerned the aluminum tubes that the administration advertised insistently as components for the manufacture of nuclear weapons fuel. The claim came not from defectors but from the best American intelligence sources available at the time. Still, it should have been presented more cautiously. There were hints that the usefulness of the tubes in making nuclear fuel was not a sure thing, but the hints were buried deep, 1,700 words into a 3,600-word article. Administration officials were allowed to hold forth at length on why this evidence of Iraq’s nuclear intentions demanded that Saddam Hussein be dislodged from power: "The first sign of a `smoking gun,’ they argue, may be a mushroom cloud."

Five days later, The Times reporters learned that the tubes were in fact a subject of debate among intelligence agencies. The misgivings appeared deep in an article on Page A13, under a headline that gave no inkling that we were revising our earlier view ("White House Lists Iraq Steps to Build Banned Weapons"). The Times gave voice to skeptics of the tubes on Jan. 9, when the key piece of evidence was challenged by the International Atomic Energy Agency. That challenge was reported on Page A10; it might well have belonged on Page A1.

What liberal media? (You KNEW that was comin’, right?)

More Abu Ghraib Photos

Some have justified the abuses at Abu Ghraib, claiming that it was necessary for interrogation purposes, and if we can get information that saves ONE American soldier’s life, it was worth it blah blah blah . . .

capt.ny11805200003.prisoner_abuse_ny118.jpg

This guy is dead. He died while in U.S. custody at Abu Ghraib. What information was Army Spc. Sabrina Harmon of the 372nd Military Police Company (pictured here) hoping to obtain from him?

D’oh!

As reported here:

A German couple who went to a fertility clinic after eight years of marriage have found out why they are still childless – they weren’t having sex.

The University Clinic of Lubek said they had never heard of a case like it after examining the couple who went to see them last month for fertility tests.

Doctors subjected them to a series of examinations and found they were both apparently fertile, and should have had no trouble conceiving.

A clinic spokesman said: "When we asked them how often they had had sex, they looked blank, and said: "What do you mean?".

"We are not talking retarded people here, but a couple who were brought up in a religious environment who were simply unaware, after eight years of marriage, of the physical requirements necessary to procreate."

U.S. Reportedly Kills 40 Iraqis at Party

BAGHDAD, Iraq – A U.S. helicopter fired on a wedding party early Wednesday in western Iraq, killing more than 40 people, Iraqi officials said. The U.S. military said it could not confirm the report and was investigating.

Dr. Salah al-Ani, who works at a hospital in Ramadi, put the death toll at 45.

Associated Press Television News obtained videotape showing a truck containing bodies of those allegedly killed.

About a dozen bodies, one without a head, could be clearly seen. but it appeared that bodies were piled on top of each other and a clear count was not possible.

Read more about this — the latest in our attempts to liberate the Iraqi people — here.

Bush “ForAgainst” Many Many Things

Today, the New York Times reports that the Bush administration has been trumpeting a number of programs that they actually tried to cut or even eliminate:

For example, Justice Department officials recently announced that they were awarding $47 million to scores of local law enforcement agencies for the hiring of police officers. Mr. Bush had just proposed cutting the budget for the program, known as Community Oriented Policing Services, by 87 percent, to $97 million next year, from $756 million.

The administration has been particularly energetic in publicizing health programs, even ones that had been scheduled for cuts or elimination.

Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, announced recently that the administration was awarding $11.7 million in grants to help 30 states plan and provide coverage for people without health insurance. Mr. Bush had proposed ending the program in each of the last three years.

The administration also announced recently that it was providing $11.6 million to the states so they could buy defibrillators to save the lives of heart attack victims. But Mr. Bush had proposed cutting the budget for such devices by 82 percent, to $2 million from $10.9 million.

Whether they involve programs Mr. Bush supported or not, the grant announcements illustrate how the administration blends politics and policy, blurring the distinction between official business and campaign-related activities.

From Matt Yglesias

I Belong To A Cult

Yes, it came as a surprise to me, too, but here it is in black-and-white (bullsh*t registration required) in the Dallas Star-Telegram:

According to the office of Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Denison Unitarian church isn’t really a religious organization — at least for tax purposes. Its reasoning: the organization "does not have one system of belief."

Never before — not in this state or any other — has a government agency denied Unitarians tax-exempt status because of the group’s religious philosophy, church officials say.

Fortunately, the Texas courts have ruled against Strayhorn, but . . .

Strayhorn vows to continue the legal fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. "Otherwise, any wannabe cult who dresses up and parades down Sixth Street on Halloween will be applying for an exemption," she said in a April 23 news release.

That’s a very telling quote, especially when you consider that the Unitarian religion is very liberal. Which means it is (among other things) gay-friendly. Get it? "Dresses up and parades . . . on Halloween"?

But motives aside, it is distressing to learn I am in a cult. I’m sure this would come as alarming news to other Unitarians, including President John Adams, President John Quincy Adams, Abigail Adams, Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine, Paul Revere, Daniel Webster, William Cullen Bryant, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Nathanial Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Isaac Newton, Alexander Graham Bell, Susan B. Anthony, Albert Schweitzer, Beatrix Potter, Ray Bradbury, Frank Lloyd Wright, Clara Barton, and Superman (well, Christopher Reeve).

As for the claim that the UU church "does not have one system of belief", that’s true and not true. You be the judge. (I’m not trying to make converts here — in fact, if I were, that would be un-Unitarian of me).

Quote of the Day

“Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to Complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British army in their Treatment of our unfortunate brethren.” – George Washington.

Yes, that George Washington, speaking to the officer he placed in charge of 211 prisoners taken at Princeton.

Any right wingnut care to attack his patriotism?

(P.S. After the war, many of those prisoners decided to remain in the new democracy. That’s how you change hearts and minds, folks!)

Vindication?

The press is reporting on the discovery (and detonation) of a roadside bomb discovered in Iraq, which released a “small quantity” of sarin gas. The gas temporarily bothered two American soldiers, and (presumably) put them off their lunch. But that’s about it.

Clearly relieved to finally have some "happy" news to crow about, the right-wing blogosphere is all over this, hyping this story as proof positive that Bush wasn’t jerking America around about the need to invade Iraq.

So maybe it’s time to revisit what Bush told America in his 2003 SOTU speech:

Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He’s not accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

Note to the right-wingers: It’s kind of easy to feel that Bush has been vindicated, but that’s only because the bar has been set so low. That’s what happens with failure after failure. Oh . . . and haven’t you been burned before by jumping to premature conclusions based on vague press reports (i.e., the "mobile labs")?

It Gets Worse For Bush

As most of you probably know, Sy Hersh at The New Yorker has placed blame for the Abu Ghraib scandal directly at the feet of Rumsfeld.

But this independent Newsweek investigation brings it directly to the Oval Office.

The money quote:

But a NEWSWEEK investigation shows that, as a means of pre-empting a repeat of 9/11, Bush, along with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, signed off on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door to such methods. It was an approach that they adopted to sidestep the historical safeguards of the Geneva Conventions, which protect the rights of detainees and prisoners of war. In doing so, they overrode the objections of Secretary of State Colin Powell and America’s top military lawyers—and they left underlings to sweat the details of what actually happened to prisoners in these lawless places.

What does this mean in political terms?

Blog_bush_approval_may_2004_1

Heh. Hat tip to Kevin Drum.

Bush to Seek Another $25B for Iraq War

As reported here.

As the story reports, this request for additional funds is a "retreat from the White House’s earlier plans not to seek such money until after the November elections. "

In my view, the request for more money — and the apparent necessity of asking for it now instead of after the elections — forces Bush to admit one of two things in the upcoming heavy election season:

(1) The war has become more of a failure (or less of a success) than the Administration realized; and/or

(2) The administration was never straight with the American people on the costs of the war/re-building.

Take your pick.